Refill fluids carefully; save baster for turkeys

Dear Car Talk: I had my Kia Sorento warming up and decided to add some windshield washer fluid before driving away. I accidentally poured it into the antifreeze container.

As soon as I noticed what I was doing, I shut the car off and then sucked all the washer fluid from the container with a turkey baster.

Do I need to have the car towed to a garage to empty the radiator to see if there is damage? Or can I just refill the container with antifreeze and not worry about damage or fire hazards to my engine or radiator? —Rita

Rita: The most important thing to do going forward, Rita, is to make sure you wash the turkey baster thoroughly before next Thanksgiving.

You did exactly the right thing. As soon as you noticed your mistake and finished slapping your forehead, you shut off the car and sucked out the washer fluid out.

That plastic container is actually the coolant’s overflow bottle. The cooling system draws coolant from there when it needs more and pushes fluid back up into that bottle when it needs to relieve pressure.

Most likely neither of those activities was occurring as your car was warming up. So, I don’t think the windshield washer fluid ever mixed with your coolant. Plus, the windshield washer fluid, especially in a very small quantity, is not going to harm your engine. The washer fluid contains a type of antifreeze, too, along with water and soap.

In a larger quantity, washer fluid might reduce your cooling capacity and increase your risk of overheating. If you’re worried about it, you can always ask your mechanic to flush your cooling system and refill it. That’s not a big job.

But I’d probably just refill the overflow bottle (with coolant!) and drive it. And as long as you don’t see soap bubbles floating up from your front grill and hear the theme music for “The Lawrence Welk Show” while waiting at a traffic light, I think you’re probably fine.

Dear Car Talk: When I start my 2004 Ford Ranger, it makes a high-pitched squealing noise for a few seconds. Then it goes away.

It has been doing this for a few years. What is causing it? Does it need to be fixed? Thanks. — Jonas

Jonas: You’re a patient man, Jonas. If something was squealing at me every morning for years, I would have fixed it or dropped an anvil on it by now.

Or maybe you’re not fixing it because it’s drowning out all the other noises your truck makes.

If you do decide you’re ready to fix it, it’s probably a belt that’s old and glazed and is slipping until it warms up enough to get tackier and maintain constant contact with the pulleys.

If it’s the original belt, it’s probably time to replace it. If the squealing continues, then you probably need a belt tensioner, too. This truck has a spring-loaded belt tensioner, whose job is to maintain tension on the belt, so it doesn’t slip.

And, over the years, that spring can lose its spring. So, I’d replace that, too, and see if peace and quiet — or at least some different noises — suit you, Jonas.

Dear Car Talk: You used to have a website that listed all the good mechanics that your readers and listeners recommend.

I’m looking for the website. Do you still have it? Thank you. — Joe

Joe: We do. It’s called the Mechanics Files, Joe, and you can find it at our web site,, or at

We asked our readers and listeners to tell us about mechanics they love — folks who you’ve come to trust, who genuinely try hard to help you, and make things right if they occasionally screw up (hint: we all occasionally screw up).

We ended up with a big database of mechanics that are recommended by fans of Car Talk. And you can search it by zip code to find one near you.

And, of course, if you have a mechanic you love, don’t keep it a secret. Add them to the Mechanics Files at the same web address.

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

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