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You probably needed that new air filter anyway

That volcanic dust from the Mount St. Helens eruption Sunday may be sneaking into your car's engine - whether you have a filter or not.

At least that's what one Tri-Cities service station attendant says, and judging from Monday's increased business at Super Lube on Clearwater Avenue in Kennewick, customers aren't willing to risk disbelief.

Manager Roger Carpenter said business has increased considerably and about 90 percent of the air filters going through his shop are being replaced. That's an unusually high number, one attendant said.

But though volcanic ash is not included in any of the textbooks, Columbia Basin College auto shop instructor Jay Frishette doesn't think it will doom your car's engine.

"We've been talking about it and though we don't have much experience with volcanic ash, I don't think it should be a major problem," Frishette said.

If motorists want to be safe, a change of oil and filters might be in order, he said.

"I don't see where it is too much different from the sand storms we used to get around here," he said. "A well-maintained engine should be in pretty good shape."

But Carpenter says that the fine volcanic dust could wear on an engine's cylinders. Large amounts of the dust has been clogging carburetors in outlying areas with more ash, he said.

If that happens, Frishette said, motorists might be asking for trouble. He warned against what one impatient traveler did:

Frustrated by his engine stalling due to a clogged air filter, the motorist reportedly removed his air filter completely and continued on his way.

"If he hits much ash on the trip, it will be one engine rebuild coming," Frishette observed.

Carpenter's Super Lube has the local contract for regular maintenance of State Patrol vehicles, he said, and the Patrol's Olympia office has ordered that all cars have oil and filters changed as a precaution against engine failures and added wear.

Richland police serviced their patrol cars Monday in the city's shops. Officers were responding to dispatch calls only, police said, in hopes of keeping dust damage to a minimum.