|A "white residue" in the engine?|
Get the peanut butter!
Let's set the scene: Tom and Ray had taken a call from Ann, who begged that they were her "last hope" for an aging, ailing Subaru wagon. Ann's son apparently noted a funny white "mist" coming out of the car a few months ago. After several expensive repairs (heater core, radiator), a white, powdery substance was still forming in the engine block.
The guys considered that a single engine part had failed, perhaps something plastic or rubber, but discarded that theory since previous repairs had not fixed the problem. Then Tom suggested that the car might be continuously producing the white residue, perhaps through combustion gases which found their way into the radiator fluid through a leaky gasket.
Tom short-listed some potential combustion "bad actors" - carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide. Aha! The nitrous oxide must be forming nitric acid, thus corroding the engine block. "It's Chemistry 101!" he exclaimed.
Except...not. I know that nitrogen dioxide or NOx emissions from cars generate nitric acid in the presence of water, but last I checked, whipped cream cans and dental offices everywhere remained safe from acidic corrosion.
Undaunted, through admitting "I have no idea, I'm just making it up," Tom pressed on: perhaps a salt, such as copper nitrate (a blue solid) or, even better, copper carbonate ("It just sounds more white, like sodium bicarbonate") gummed up the works. Maybe, since the heater core was made from aluminum, that was the culprit?
Tom: "What about aluminum carbonate, A-L two C-O three!"
...or, maybe Al2(CO3)3?
Finally, Ray chimed in: "MIT's on Line 1, they want their diploma back."
Note: I paraphrased this conversation as best I could, since the recording hasn't yet appeared online. When it does, you can hear the full 3/30/13 episode at cartalk.com.