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AUTO Q AND A: Once parked, car's journey far from over

Question: When I park my 1998 Ford Explorer on a slight incline facing downhill and put it in Park, it will creep forward on its own, very slowly. According to my wife, it happens even when the emergency brake is set. Any thoughts would be apprec...

Question: When I park my 1998 Ford Explorer on a slight incline facing downhill and put it in Park, it will creep forward on its own, very slowly. According to my wife, it happens even when the emergency brake is set. Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Answer: Let's see ... "Christine" was a 1958 Plymouth Fury, so that can't be it. If you hadn't mentioned the vehicle creeping even with the parking brake applied, I would have suggested focusing on the parking "pawl" in the automatic transmission. This pawl, or finger, physically locks the output shaft to the transmission case so that the vehicle cannot roll. Perhaps the transmission shift cable is slightly out of adjustment and does not allow the pawl to fully engage, or maybe the pawl is worn or broken. If this were the issue, I think you'd hear the pawl click loudly as it skipped over the detents, allowing the car to move.

If the parking brake is poorly adjusted or the actuating cables are rusted or frozen, the parking brake may not engage strongly enough to hold the vehicle from moving. On your Explorer, the parking brake is a small drum brake assembly inside the hub of each rear brake disc. Corrosion from moisture, sand and salt -- winter's recipe for rust -- can easily prevent the parking brake from operating properly, even though the actuator pedal is firmly applied.

Thus, for the vehicle to creep downhill while in Park with the parking brake engaged, both problems would have to exist. Hmmm ... maybe it is the modern reincarnation of "Christine." (Don't forget to turn the steering wheel hard right when you park on an incline.)

Q: Which is best to store small engines for the winter? Drain the gas and run the engine until it stops, or add Sta-bil or SeaFoam and run the engine so the fuel stabilizer gets into the carb? Does it matter if it's a two-cycle or four-cycle engine?

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A: I prefer the latter: Run the engine up to temperature with a full tank of nonoxygenated fuel with SeaFoam. Leave the tank as full as possible to minimize air space and condensation. I'd rather leave gaskets, O-rings and seals "wet" with fuel than completely dry where these components could age, harden and oxidize while exposed to air during the off season. Doesn't matter whether the engine is two-cycle, four-cycle or rotary.

Q: I have a 2002 Dodge Sport Van with 61,465 miles. My "check engine" light just came on again for the fourth time. When I have taken it in to see what the problem is, it's always the gas cap not being on tight. After the third time, I bought a new gas cap, thinking that must be the problem. Now the engine light came on for the fourth time, and I don't know what to think. It doesn't keep blinking; it just stays on. Could this be a serious problem, and what should I do?

A: We need to know the specific diagnostic trouble code that triggered the "check engine" light. The system in question is the evaporative emissions system that includes not only the gas cap seal but the charcoal canister, purge valve and several other components -- all designed to prevent fuel vapors from escaping into the atmosphere. The specific trouble code will identify the specific component or function of the evap system that is causing the repeated problem.

My Alldata automotive database pulled up Chrysler service bulletin 25-001-02 Rev A, which suggested testing the leak detection pump for proper operation. Also, bulletin 18-028-03 described false codes triggered on vehicles regularly driven on steep downgrades.

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