My Taurus can barely make it over an 8-9 thousand foot mountain pass. Is it suffering from oxygen deprivation?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Dec 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

Last summer, my family and I loaded up the '91 Taurus and went for a drive
in the mountains. When we got to an altitude of 8,000 or 9,000 feet, we
seemed to lose more and more power, and about the only way to maintain
speed was to floor it until we got into passing gear. I assume the car was
suffering the effects of oxygen deprivation. Is there a simple adjustment
that I can make to the car when we drive over the mountains again next
year? -- Mark

TOM: Well, I suspect that the only adjustment you could make would be to go
around the mountains instead of over them, Mark.

RAY: Your car has a Manifold Absolute Pressure (MAP) sensor, which
automatically adjusts the fuel mixture to compensate for altitude changes
-- and the relative lack of oxygen at higher altitudes.

TOM: The problem is that it can only adjust so far. Once you get up to
8,000 or 9,000 feet, the air is getting pretty thin. And my guess is that
the car just doesn't have as much air as it would like at that altitude.
And when there's not enough air, the engine-management system cuts back on
the gas. And when there's less air AND gas, you get what? Less power!

RAY: Keep in mind, this car was not exactly "over-powered" to begin with.
Plus, you're also asking the engine to do its maximum amount of work under
those circumstances. You've got the whole family in the car, and you're
climbing a mountain. So if that's the only time you've noticed the problem,
I suspect it's an "environmental" problem rather than a mechanical one.

TOM: Of course, it's also possible that you've got a clogged filter. If
your fuel filter or air filter is clogged, for example, the car would
demonstrate the same symptoms under maximum load. So have that checked. But
my guess is you're just going to have to slow down and smell the fir trees
next year, Mark.
* * *

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