Whitesburg KY

Car dies when it gets hot

Dear Car Talk:

We live in the Southwest and have a 1992 Lincoln Town Car, which is much loved by my husband. The only problem is that it likes to die when the temperature is above 96 degrees. We will be traveling for over 30 minutes and boom, it dies. It starts again in about 20 minutes, but if it is still hot, it will soon die again. This also happened once in cooler weather when we had been driving in the mountains for two hours. We’ve been given theories such as vapor lock and boiling fuel, and advice that included clothespins, but I don’t feel comfortable betting my safety on clothespins. I hope you can help us. Thank you. — Felicia

Don’t discount clothespins, Felicia. I always keep a couple in the glove box. I used to clip them on my nose whenever my brother was in the car.

Clothespins aside, your first step is a little detective work. In order for the engine to run, it needs three things: Air, fuel and spark. I’ll assume that air is not a problem, since you continued breathing long enough to write to us. So you have to determine whether the engine is dying because it’s losing fuel or losing spark.

If you were one of our customers, we’d lend you a little inductive test light and show you how to use it. If you open the hood and just touch the probe of the test light to any of the sparkplug wires while the car is running, the light will flash, indicating that electricity is pulsing through those wires. That tells you there’s spark.

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