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Does my GPS need an update?

Dear Car Talk:

I received a letter stating that I can now update the factory GPS in my 2015 Ford Explorer. I was under the impression that a factory-installed GPS would automatically update itself. Should I pay the $150 for the update, or am I being scammed? – Thom

RAY: Yes, and yes.

Yes, you should probably update it, and yes, you’re being scammed. Most factory-installed GPS systems do not update themselves. We’re starting to see more over-the-air updating now, but it wasn’t around when you bought your 2015 Explorer.

And since you probably spent $1,000 for the navigation system, you’d think they would update it for free, right?

Mmm … no.

Now, not a lot changes in terms of roads. They tend to stay put. But things do change slowly over time. Roads get rerouted or changed for safety, streets get renamed, bridges get replaced, traffic patterns are modified.

So, if you use the navigation system often, and drive a lot in unfamiliar places, then it’s probably worth updating every four or five years.

Here’s a good test: If you’re following your navigation instructions, and you suddenly find yourself being passed by a sailboat, it’s time for an update.

It can be a pain in the butt to do the update yourself. It’s not always user-friendly. If your Ford dealer is willing to install the update for you for $150, that’s not a bad price. We’ve seen much worse.

If you’re not wedded to the built-in GPS, then you have the opportunity to switch over to a superior mapping system that’s completely free – unless you count them knowing everything about your every movement as a form of payment.

We’re talking about Google Maps, which is available, and constantly updated, on any smartphone. It’s easiest to use if your car has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which mirrors your phone’s screen on your car’s screen.

But even if you don’t have that technology, you can come close with a good phone holder that puts the phone high up in your line of sight while you’re driving, so you’re not taking your eyes off the road to look down at it. There are some pretty good phone holders that clip to your air vents, and others whose base sits in your cup holder, with a long gooseneck to bring the phone up to eye level.

In our experience, Google Maps is up to date, easy to use and factors the most accurate traffic conditions into its navigation instructions.

The choice is yours, Thom. But one way or another, it might be time for an update.

Mechanics can wave a magic wand

Dear Car Talk:

I have a very puzzling and scary problem with my 2004 Chevrolet Trailblazer.

About six months ago, it started to have a gas smell in the cabin when the engine was started. It would dissipate in about 10-15 minutes. It didn’t happen often, but I mentioned it to my mechanic who said he had never heard of that.

About two months ago, it started happening again and now it happens more frequently. It happens whether the gas tank is full or not, and the fumes are coming from the air conditioner vent.

Sometimes it smells strongly outside as well as inside, as if someone is pouring gas inside the vehicle. I'm actually scared the vehicle could catch fire! Of course, when I take it back to the mechanic, the smell has dissipated and even leaving it with them for days reveals nothing. Can you help? – Donna

RAY: Well, it's a 2004 Trailblazer, Donna, so the first thing I'd consider is lighting a match. But if you'd like a less messy solution, you need to find a mechanic with an old-fashioned emissions testing wand.

Back before cars tested themselves, and we could just plug into their computer to get the results, we used to test a car’s emissions by sticking a wand up its tailpipe. The wand would detect unburned hydrocarbons (i.e. gasoline) in the exhaust, which would tell us whether the emissions system was operating properly or not.

Whenever we have a customer with a gas leak, we still use that wand to sniff it out. It’s very sensitive, can detect gasoline in concentrations of parts per million, and pinpoint exactly where a gas leak is coming from.

The reason it seems like a huge leak is because it doesn’t take much gasoline to create a big smell. So, if it’s just a drop or two of gas that’s leaking onto the engine, evaporating right away, and wafting in through the ventilation system, it’s unlikely that your mechanic can find it with his naked eye. Or his naked nose, especially after that nose has been bombarded with engine fumes and car-dog odor for decades.

Find a shop with an emissions wand, leave the car overnight, and have them use the wand to sniff around your fuel injectors and fuel rail. You probably have a leaky injector or a leaky seal there.

While not impossible, it’s not likely to catch fire if the leak is that small. But I’d wear sneakers when you drive just in case, and get it fixed soon, Donna.