A new tool designed to detect hydrocarbon leaks in vehicle evaporative emissions systems will begin making its way to the 6,000 Ford Motor Co. dealers in North America.

The device will help service technicians find hydrocarbon leaks faster and cut down on chances repairs will be misdiagnosed.

It's developed by Ford Research Vehicle and Technology engineers and STAR EnviroTech Inc., a Costa Mesa, CA-based leak detection company that does work with the Big Three.

Ford says it is making a “multi-million dollar investment” in providing the tool to all its North American dealers for free.

A vehicle's evaporative emissions system is used to trap and reuse fuel that evaporates inside the fuel system, increasing fuel economy and reducing harmful emissions. A leak in the system would prompt the “check engine” warning light on the vehicle's dashboard.

But sometimes this light is triggered without a defect present in the system, Ford says.

“A customer may bring an automobile in for repairs because a warning light appears on the control panel, when actually a simple human error, such as accidentally leaving a gas cap off, was what really triggered that light,” says Mike Masten, Ford's supervisor of the evaporative systems group. “This new tool enables technicians to rule out such human factors with one simple test.”

The tool first checks for a pressure leak in the evaporative emissions system. If one is found, the device blows nontoxic smoke through the system, making the leak easy to find.

Ford says it is using the device at its assembly plants to ensure emissions systems are leak-free prior to shipment to dealers. Mr. Masten says Ford decided to provide the tool to dealers because of its positive impact on the environment and customer satisfaction.