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Auto Doctor: Chemical smell not normal in hybrid cars

Hybrid cars, including the 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Hybrid cars, including the 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid pictured above, should not smell like chemicals. Credit: Toyota Motor Company

Dear Doctor: My 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid has always smelled like chemicals, especially in the air conditioning vent. The dealer says all hybrids smell and this is the battery. What should I do? -- Anthony

Dear Anthony: I can tell you that some car interiors have a chemical smell that goes away within six months. However, in my opinion your Camry Hybrid's smell is not normal and it is not the battery -- and if it were the battery, then the battery is defective.

Dear Doctor: I own a 2008 Nissan Altima coupe. When I first open the windows I smell a musty odor -- like wet carpet. I felt all around the carpets in the cabin and trunk. Nothing was wet or damp. All drain holes were checked and they were clear of any blockage. The smell eventfully disappears. Can you suggest anything? -- Woody

Dear Woody: A musty smell is caused from moisture that is usually built-up in the heater box. There is always the possibility that there can be moisture built-up under the floor mat or carpet that you cannot see or feel without lifting the carpet off the floor. We use any good disinfectant spray to help kill the mildew. I start with making sure the cabin filter is clean. With the engine running, set the heater on high and spray the disinfectant into the heater air intake at the bottom of the windshield for 45 seconds at a time. You want to spray it 4-5 times, then set the temperature to cold and repeat the process. You can do this weekly until the smell is gone and then once a month when needed.

Dear Doctor: I have a 1982 Mazda RX-7 with a rotary motor with about 121,000 miles on it. I noticed a vibration that gets worse as the rpms go higher. It runs about 10 to 15 pounds of oil pressure, but I'm told that's normal for a rotary engine. Is the motor gone? -- Matthew

Dear Matthew: Any engine that develops a vibration has something out of balance and should be looked into. The rotary engine does have lower oil pressure than conventional piston engines. Rotary engines also can rev much higher than the conventional piston engine.

Dear Doctor: I own a 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.0. It has 167,000 miles on it. Would installing a performance chip significantly change the performance and increase fuel economy? If so, do you recommend any specific brand? The SUV runs well, but I would like to increase the horsepower. -- Shawn

Dear Shawn: I am a believer in power programmers, fresh air intake, free flowing exhaust systems, and a lower temperature thermostat. All of these upgrades will increase performance. The power programmer or power chip, increases ignition timing, fuel curve, transmission shift points and firmness, and electric cooling fan operation. I have never had an unhappy customer with the installation of these upgrades that are done at the same time. To get the most power out of the upgrades premium gas is recommended. Synthetic oil is also a big plus for 90 percent of the cars and trucks on the road. As for brand name products, all brands work the same. The difference is the cost.

Dear Doctor: My friend owns a 2011 Nissan Murano. I find the Murano and bit big and a stretch for me to get into. I'm considering getting the Nissan Juke, which is smaller and much easier for me to get in and out of. What do you think about the Juke? -- Jill

Dear Jill: My wife and I have driven both the Murano and Juke. My wife is 5'6" and said the Murano was also a stretch to get in and out of. She also said the Juke was everything she would need in a small all-wheel-drive SUV. Gas mileage on the Juke was also impressive at 25 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. This is impressive with a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder with 188 horsepower. Our 2012 test car was the Juke SL all-wheel-drive the CVT automatic transmission priced at $26,400. Like a lot of today's vehicles this small SUV was fun to drive. 

Junior Damato is an ASE-certified Master Technician. E-mail questions to

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