QDear Tom and Ray:

I have a problem. I recently bought a 1992 Subaru Loyale. I hope it will be the best $400 car I ever bought, but there is one small problem. The heat stinks! I started taking out the dash in the car, searching for the mouse and squirrel keg party gone wrong. After getting the dash about halfway out, the pile of screws and panels was higher than the dash itself. I got scared and put it back together. What do I do? -- Gabe

ATOM: There are several possibilities, Gabe. The one you should pray for is a plugged-up evaporator drain. When the air conditioner removes moisture from the passenger compartment, that moisture is supposed to drip out under the car through the evaporator drain.

RAY: That drain can easily get plugged up with debris. So, start by asking someone to blow out the evaporator drain with compressed air and treat the ducts with some mold-killing spray, and hope that solves your problem.

TOM: When it doesn't, you're going to be forced to conclude that what's causing your smell is a decomposing mouse.

RAY: I'll even tell you where it is. It's in the box that surrounds the heater core. So you were right to start taking apart the dashboard to get to it.

TOM: But, having looked at the repair manual for the '92 Loyale, you were right to stop, too. I don't blame you for leaving that as a last resort.

RAY: What's your first resort? Although it can take months, the mouse will eventually decompose completely. You can hasten that process, and make it more bearable, by emptying a can of Lysol in there. To do it, turn on the engine, put the heat and fan on high, open all of the windows and spray the deodorizer into the fresh-air intake at the cowl, outside the car where the hood meets the windshield. Then let it work its way through the vents for a while. It should help.

TOM: You'll probably need to do it several more times during the next few months.

RAY: But just as important, you need to prevent future mice from following in this little rodent's tragic footsteps and seeking warmth in your heating ducts. You need to either park in a garage, use a secure car cover or put some sort of screening inside the cowl to prevent mice from climbing into your heating system.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I seem to recall arguments going back to the original oil embargo about whether it's good or bad to shut off the engine frequently to save gas. Hybrid engines stop and start on their own all the time. Does this raise concerns about engine longevity? -- Paul

TOM: No. When a hybrid engine shuts itself off at a stoplight and then restarts itself, no damage is done to the engine. In fact, if you do this yourself in a non-hybrid car, you can even produce some tangible benefits.

RAY: In the old days, when cars were carbureted, there was some truth to the warning against restarting frequently. Because carburetors were so imprecise, they'd essentially dump gasoline into the cylinders whenever you started the car. And some of that gasoline would wash down the cylinder walls, rinsing off the crucial film of oil on there. Then that mixture of gasoline and oil would seep down into the crankcase, diluting the engine oil even further.

TOM: But these days, with fuel injection, only the exact amount of fuel you need is sent into the cylinders, so there's no wash-down or oil dilution, no matter how often you start the car.

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(c)2004 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman