Dear Car Talk:
I bought a Saturn Ion new in 2003, and it has been really good to me.
During one period of time, I neglected to check the oil or change it when I should have. I then noticed it running a little rough, so I started changing the oil regularly again.
Now, I notice that when I come to a stop in traffic and take off, smoke comes out of the tailpipe for a second or two. I hate to get rid of the car, because, other than the smoking, it runs well.
I tried over-the-counter products that are supposed to stop it from smoking, but they have not. Are there any stop-smoking products that actually work? — Jesse
I’m not optimistic that you’re going to find a $10-in-a-can solution for this, Jesse. It sounds like you’re burning oil. And the "miracle" products at the auto parts store are really designed more for leaks than oil burning.
When they work (which is only occasionally), they work by softening up stiff, dried out rubber seals and — hopefully — getting them to seal again for a while.
I think it’s likely that a dozen years ago, when you ran the car out of oil, you did some damage to the piston rings. And there’s nothing you can add to the crankcase that’s going to fix those now.
Plus, the car is 16 years old. Even if you hadn’t had an oil "incident" in the past, simple old age and high mileage might have caused this by now.
So, don’t get down on yourself, Jesse. You got more years and miles out of this car than anyone at Saturn ever expected you to. In fact, it’s probably a rarity when you see another one of these on the road. When you do, flag down the driver immediately and form a support group.
If you want to keep this thing on the road as long as possible, the most important thing you can do is the exact opposite of what you did in its early years. You now want to pay extra attention to your oil level and oil changes. Check your oil regularly, and top it up when it’s down half a quart. Also, change the oil every 3,000 miles or so, because newer, cleaner oil will burn less quickly than old, dirty oil.
When that puff of blue smoke eventually becomes a steady stream — like a contrail from an F16 — that’ll be your cue that the end is nigh for the Ion, Jesse.
Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
© 2019 by Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman