Toyota Camry seems to swallow driver’s credit card

Dear Car Talk:

I own a 2016 Toyota Camry. Yesterday, on my way to the gas station, I pulled out my credit card and set it on the center console. When I pulled up to the pump, I reached for my card, and it dropped down between the seat and the console.

I squeezed my hand into the space and was able to push the card forward enough to grab it. Ever the klutz, when I went to grab it, I pushed it back instead.

When I tried to grab it again, I couldn’t locate it. I got out and looked everywhere around the seat. I was on my hands and knees looking from the front and the back of the seat. I searched from every angle. The card was gone.

It was like the car opened up and swallowed it! How is that possible? My car is uncluttered; it is easy to see something out of place. Where is it? – Donna

RAY: I don't know. But when you find it, I bet you'll also find a bunch of single socks.

I think we’ve all done what you did, Donna. A credit card, a key, a phone drops between the seat and center console. And as you reach your two fingers in there to feel for it, you push it further into the abyss.

My guess is that your credit card slipped under the carpet. There are cuts in the carpet at the four points where the seat is bolted to the floor. Try moving the seat all the way back. Then, from the floor of the front seat, feel around for where the seat is bolted in. You should be able to find an opening in the carpet there. If there’s no sign of the card, move the seat all the way forward and try from the back seat.

If that fails, and you’re really attached to this particular card (maybe you spent months memorizing the three-digit security code), your mechanic can definitely find it.

The first thing we’d do at our shop is we’d blow compressed air under the seat. We have a nozzle on our air hose that can blow about 150 psi of wind under there. That’s a category 4 hurricane. If something is there, it’ll usually come out. If it doesn’t, your mechanic can always unbolt the seat. That’s not a big deal. It’s a half-hour job.

On the other hand, calling your credit card company and asking them to send you a replacement card is a five-minute job.

His spark plugs are ready to blow!

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2001 Ford Expedition 5.4-liter V8. I’m having an odd problem: This week marks the third time that a spark plug has been ejected from my engine.

The first time this happened, my mechanic said he “tapped” it. The second time, he assured me that it would never happen again.

I’m not sure if it’s the same cylinder, but it just happened for the third time.

Do you know what is causing this? Thanks. – Frank

RAY: This is a well-known problem in this engine, Frank.

Apparently, the aluminum cylinder head doesn’t have sufficient threads to keep the spark plugs in place. Those spark plugs are under tremendous pressure from the explosions inside the cylinders. Once they start to get loose, it’s just a matter of time before they take off like a North Korean rocket.

The solution is what your mechanic did. You “tap” a new spark plug hole. There’s a kit we buy that comes with an insert. It’s a sleeve that’s slightly bigger than the existing spark plug hole and has threads on the outside and the inside. We drill out the new hole, which is a little bigger than the old one. Then, we screw this sleeve in there and epoxy it in place. The spark plug threads inside that new sleeve.

They work. Your mechanic is right that the insert should not fail again. So, I’m guessing you’ve had three different plugs blow out. The good news is you only have five more inserts to pay for!

The bad news is that because each spark plug in this engine has a coil built on top of it, and that coil gets ruined when the spark plug blows out, each insert is going to cost you about $400 a pop.

You can do them prophylactically and replace them all now, so you won’t have a problem again. But since this truck is going on 20 years old, you might want to take it a plug at a time. Who knows what else might go in the truck before you get through five more inserts.

You might even be able to delay future problems by checking and tightening your plugs on a regular basis. Like once a week. Or twice an hour. Good luck, Frank.

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