Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Car Talk

  • Updated

Please settle an argument between my housemate and I: Should you fill your tank from the side opposite the pump — i.e., stretch the pump hose across your car? I say you should not do this.

Well, to settle the first argument, it should be “my housemate and me.”

Unfortunately, you lost the second argument, too. If the hose reaches the fuel filler neck and “seats” in there well enough to allow you to activate the fuel pump, you can pump away.

Many modern gas pumps still use a rubber bellows around the filler nozzle that seals the filler hole and captures gasoline vapors, rather than letting them escape into the atmosphere. Those rubber bellows are being phased out, but there are still a lot of them around.

On those pumps, if that seal is not formed, the pump won’t activate — and you’ll be standing there listening to the handle go “click, click” without pumping any gas.

But if your car is narrow enough, and you park close enough to a pump that you can reach the hose across your trunk and fit it comfortably in the filler neck, you have our blessing, and the blessing of the petroleum industrial complex.

I am a recent widower. My 22-year-old granddaughter is coming to live with me. Her dad (my son) gave her his 2004 Ford Focus. It has 106,000 miles on it. He did the basics, e.g., changed the oil, bought new tires, got brakes and an alignment. It has the original plugs, and the transmission has never been serviced. What else does this vehicle need to keep it safe and serviceable? It runs fine now. Thanks.

Well, you don’t say if your son did all the scheduled maintenance on this car during the time he owned it. Ask him. If he did, that’s great.

In any case, the best thing to do is to take it to a mechanic you trust, and have it checked out — as if you were buying it as a used car.

If you don’t have a mechanic you like, enter your ZIP code and do a search at That’s a database of mechanics that other listeners and readers of ours use, trust and recommend.

Anyway, your mechanic will check all the basics — belts, hoses, water pump, brakes, steering, exhaust and suspension components. He should be able to let you know if there’s anything unsafe, or anything that needs immediate attention.

I’d also ask him to see if he can remove the spark plugs. If they’re original, they might never have been unscrewed from the cylinder head. And over a long time (like 106,000 miles), they can get stuck in there and basically fuse themselves in the cylinder-head threads. Then when you need to change them, you won’t be able to get them out.

That’s something I’d want a mechanic to do, because he’ll have a feel for how hard he can push on a tight or sticky plug before it’s likely to break. You don’t want to try that yourself.

If the car checks out pretty well, and the plugs are removable, then you just need to follow the maintenance schedule from here on out.

In the back of the owner’s manual, there’s a mileage schedule that tells you when to do what. For instance, at 120,000 miles, it tells you to change the timing belt. I’d recommend that you do that now so your granddaughter doesn’t get stranded when it breaks. Then she’ll hit you up for a ride home in the middle of the night in addition to a new timing belt.

Got a question about cars? Write to Car Talk in care of this newspaper, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

More from this Author

Similar Stories