Should I get a Hyundai Kona?

Dear Car Talk:

I’m a huge fan of your radio show, and I still listen to it today! While I was in college, I received my first car; a blue, 2011 Ford Fiesta. While it started as a loving relationship, it has turned into a “meh, it gets me from point A to B relationship.” The transmission in this car is horrible to the point Ford had to extend the warranty for up to 150,000 miles (I’m at 70k).

If I were to move on from the Fiesta to a crossover of some sort, what would you suggest? I personally really love the looks of the Hyundai Kona, but haven't test-driven one yet. – Your Fan, Alex

RAY: We like the Kona, too, Alex.

We’ve also learned over many years of answering car questions that when people ask us whether they should buy a certain car, what they really want from us is positive reinforcement.

So when an orthodontist having a mid-life crisis writes to ask us whether the Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio is a reliable car for him and his young dental assistant, we swallow hard and tell him he’ll love it and he’ll never need his AAA card.

In your case, positive reinforcement is easy, Alex, because we actually do like the Kona. It’s reasonably priced, fun to drive for a crossover, well-laid-out ergonomically, practical and versatile. (And Hyundai promised to send us our check this month.)

We consider it a little bit noisy inside, but not out of line compared with other small, inexpensive cars. And compared with a 10-year-old Ford Fiesta, it’s going to feel like a sensory deprivation tank, Alex.

It comes standard with at least a couple of the safety features we consider absolutely mandatory these days – forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. To get the equally important blind spot warning system, you’ll have to step up from the lowest trim level.

And safety is as good a reason as any to upgrade your ride, Alex. The Fiesta is tiny. And overall structural safety has improved in the years since your Fiesta was designed. And that’s not even taking into account the new, electronic safety features like the ones we list above.

So if you can manage it financially, sell your Fiesta to another needy college student who will mostly use it to get around campus at low speeds. And get yourself the Kona. Send us a picture of you in it.

Too much oil in the crankcase not the cause of this blow-by

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2015 Nissan Frontier. It only has 57,000 miles and does not leak or burn oil, to my knowledge. I take it to a reputable national oil-change place every 3,000 miles for oil and filter. I have never checked the dipstick right after the oil change, as I assume that is being done professionally.

They now tell me I have “blow-by” on my air filter. I looked in my truck’s owner’s manual, and it said my vehicle takes 5.3 quarts. The past two repair slips say they put in 6.1 quarts and 5.8 quarts, respectively.

When I told them this, they drained out a bit of oil for me and gave me a new air filter. But could this "blow-by" be a result of them overfilling the oil, or is it something else? – Bob

RAY: For those who aren't familiar with the term, "blow-by" doesn't mean what happens when you're waiting for the bus on a winter morning, and the driver doesn't see you and blows right by the stop.

Blow-by is when exhaust gasses from inside the cylinders sneak past the piston rings and get into your crankcase.

A little bit of blow-by takes place in every engine – even a new one. And normally, it’s not a problem. There’s a system called the PCV – positive crankcase ventilation – that regularly removes exhaust gasses from your crankcase by sending them back into cylinders to be burned.

But if your PCV system isn’t working properly, those gasses in the crankcase can build up.

And from your experience over a lifetime of eating beans, Bob, I’m sure you know what eventually happens when gasses build up in your combustion chamber.

That’s right, they find their way out! And in the case of blow-by, they push back through the air intake, and contaminate your air filter (which, I guess, is kind of like your car’s BVD system).

So if you’re seeing extensive oil on your air filter, the most likely cause is a stuck PCV valve – especially on a reasonably young engine like yours.

Overfilling the crankcase by half a quart or so is nowhere near enough to cause this problem.

On older engines, excessive blow-by can be caused by piston rings that are all worn out and let too much stuff get by them. And that’s a much more serious, and expensive, problem. But I think that’s unlikely in your case.

A new PCV valve for your truck costs about $10 online. And it’s really easy to change – I think it just sticks into one of the valve covers.

If you’re so inclined, you can buy one, take it out of the box, and then spend a Saturday afternoon trying to find a part that looks just like it on the top of your engine, and swap it out.

Or just let your mechanic replace it for you. Then, since you have a new air filter, at your next oil change, you’ll know whether that solved your blow-by problem. I’ll bet it does, Bob.

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