Getting back on the road is tough after thieves ruin gas tank

Dear Car Talk:

My newly acquired 2018 Nissan Rogue was vandalized.

Late at night, after returning to my car in a parking lot, we discovered a massive gas spill and odor around the car. Then we noticed gas was coming out from under our car.

A tow was ordered, and the fire department dispatched. There was gas everywhere! I was questioned: “Did you run over something?” I hadn’t.

After the gas had stopped seeping, the car was towed to a mechanic. The mechanic called the next morning and said, “Someone crawled underneath your car, used an 1/8-inch drill bit and made a hole in your tank!” Wow.

Now, six weeks later, my car has yet to be repaired. Though at a reputable repair shop, a gas tank for such a new car is just not available! It’s been back-ordered for six weeks. I wait patiently each week for an update from the mechanic (which they duly provide), and the last communication was that “the tank is now on its way from Tennessee!”

This has been a most agonizing and upsetting, not to mention inconvenient, ordeal. I had the car barely four months when this happened.

Have you heard of this? I’ve been told that because it’s such a new car, Nissan would not just have gas tanks sitting around for replacement.

Does that sound legit? Please provide any thoughts on this senseless crime. – Rita

RAY: Well, it’s unfortunate that these knuckleheads didn’t decide to smoke a cigarette while they were drilling into your gas tank. Then you could’ve gotten a brand-new 2020 Rogue. There’s probably no waiting for those.

What these criminals did was obnoxious, and the result of a bad upbringing. But I’m not sure it’s completely senseless, Rita.

My guess is that somebody needed gas. They probably had a 5-gallon gas can or an empty 2-liter soda bottle. So, they drilled a hole in your tank, took whatever they could and then ran away, leaving the rest to spill out on the ground.

It’s a rotten thing to do to another person, but that’s my guess as to what happened.

And the explanation for why there are no replacement tanks available does sound legit. There really is little to no reason for Nissan to stock gas tanks for brand-new cars. There’s simply no demand for them.

Because of where the gas tank is located – tucked safely away from the perimeter of the car – if you had an accident that crushed your gas tank, replacing the gas tank would be the least of your problems. The car would be totaled.

There was a time when gas tanks would get replaced because they would corrode after a few years. But now gas tanks are plastic. So they really never fail.

We’re glad yours is finally on its way from Tennessee. Maybe you should have ordered two, so you can scalp one to another vandal victim on eBay?

Automatic or stick shift? The answer will cost you

Dear Car Talk:

I have an ’87 4Runner that I bought new. Yes, that makes me older than dirt. But my love is still true.

When I put the truck into reverse, the backup light doesn’t come on.

I had a mechanic fixing something else who said he could fix it for about $400. I think he said it had something to do with the mechanism in the shifter.

It’s been a while since then, and he’s not around now. Any ideas how I could figure this out myself? Thanks. – Paul

RAY: Well, lucky for you, Paul, I’m old enough to be dirt’s father, so I’ve worked on plenty of 1987 4Runners.

But whether it’s going to cost you $40 or $400 depends on what type of transmission you have.

If your 4Runner has a stick shift, there’s a $40 switch that controls the backup lights. You can find one online and it’s a piece of cake to replace. It just screws into the outside of the transmission.

If it’s an automatic transmission, the switch is also easy to replace since it bolts to the outside of the transmission, but, unfortunately, it’s a lot more expensive. On automatics, the backup light switch is built into the neutral safety switch – which prevents you from starting the truck unless the transmission is safely in park or neutral.

Before you replace the neutral safety switch, it’s a good idea to check the wiring. You’d hate to replace the whole switch only to find out you had a broken wire somewhere.

But if the wiring is good, it’s almost certainly the switch. Don’t even bother shopping for a new one. The price will give you heart palpitations. It gave me heart palpitations, and I don’t even own a 4Runner.

So, my advice would be to spend some time looking for a used one. Try your local automotive recycling centers (aka junkyards), and look online, at places like eBay. If you’re lucky, you can find one for a few hundred bucks.

Or, for four bucks, you could Velcro two plastic flashlights to either side of the rear quarter panels. Before you back up, get out and turn them both on. Just giving you options, Paul. Good luck.

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