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Drove through stink at construction, engine started missing

Last Friday evening, I drove through a strange stink at a road construction site. It smelled like linoleum cement. The engine immediately started missing.

The continuous missing tapered off and went away about a mile later, but it still missed and bucked on every upshift of the automatic transmission (making me think I had a transmission problem too). But after about ten miles, it was mostly gone, and the next morning it was completely gone. It has not come back.

Can a gas ingested in the air intake cause fouled plugs?


The plugs and wiring (which had been original from 2002) were replaced 6 months ago after a truck sent a wave of rainwater into the engine compartment.

I had just filled up with gasoline just before this happened. But I am still using the same tank of gas with no trouble…

The engine was hot when I filled up, as I had just driven 40 miles.

If there was a leak of a non flammable gas at a construction site it could cause you car to miss. You need all air for the oxygen to burn the fuel.

I also need air to breathe.

And while I noticed the smell for a few seconds, the engine continued to misbehave for over an hour,

I’d say bad gas. The stink was coincidence. Now if you drive through the same stink and it happens again…never mind.


The stink was unrelated to the car problem. Air is about 77% nitrogen, 21-22% oxygen, and 1-2% argon, CO, CO2, and other junk. Your nose can detect many smells in PPB levels (parts-per-billion). Any gas that displaced oxygen in the air at a level significant enough to affect your car’s engine operation would have killed all the construction workers by displacing too much of the oxygen in the air they were breathing.

It is, however, possible that whatever is causing your erratic operation is a result of the incident six months ago. Perhaps it initiated corrosion of the battery posts or connections, or of the alternator internals, or something of the sort. I’d start with the basics. Check the ECU for stored codes, check the connections for corrosion, check the alternator (load test), and stuff like that.

That too is a possibility. Bad gas gets blamed for far, far more problems than it actually causes, but it does occasionally happen.

I doubt the odor was related to the engine stumble. If the two actually were related, more likely than spark plug fouling imo, is the chemical could have polluted the upstream o2 sensor. O2 sensors are very sensitive to certain chemicals, for example those found in rtv sealants.

I doubt the gas was bad because I am still on the same tank. This lasted an hour.

My smell does remind me of RTV. They are rehabilitating an overpass. There was a tent over some of the lanes (closed) on my side. I was in the open lane closest to the tent.

Will pollution of the O2 sensor cause the engine to miss under extra load. And will it go away after an hour?

The engine was not turned off until the symptoms were nearly gone. They were totally gone the next morning.

The battery is under the back seat. The alternator was also replaced at the time of the soaking because the regulator had failed. Also, at that time, a leaking heater hose elbow, one coil, both fog lights, and one headlight were replaced (probably the bulbs failed due to the failed regulator).

I never even had a check engine light during this. I checked all the instruments for abnormal readings when the engine was missing. There were none. I will have the codes read tomorrow.

That’s the first thing you should have done. It would eliminate a lot of speculation.

It was a weekend and I had to be out of town. Then the problem went away. Most places that read them were closed when it was doing it (around 9pm).

They just completed the renovation of about 10 bridges over the expressway here. I know the smell you describe. It’s the epoxy paints they use to repaint after media blasting the steel. The tenting is to contain the blasted off old paint and to minimize the drift of the new paint over spray. It stinks big time. I’ve driven through it many times and never had any adverse reaction from the car. Doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen though since just a thin film of the wrong kind of RTV curing can pollute an O2 sensor.

I’ve had this happen over the years on two occasions right after a fill-up. Like you, it lasted less than an hour. Water contamination in the tank causes ethanol to separate and migrate to the bottom of the tank. Symptoms go away when the bad gas layer is used up.

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I had the codes checked. There were no codes in the computer.

Actually, I don’t think I drove far enough for any gas in the tank to have gotten to the engine yet. I came right from the gas station to an on ramp that went under the bridge.

A fuel-injected engine that circulates fuel back to the tank will see new fuel appear at the injectors very quickly.