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Automania/Repair & Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 03

by Bob Hagin

Q. My '92 Plymouth Laser has a five-speed with all-wheel-drive. The car was towed with only the front wheels on the ground for almost a mile while the rear wheels were off the ground at approximately a 45 degree angle. During the towing, the front wheels locked up. What parts of the transmission would be affected by this type of towing on an all-wheel drive car? The towing company has offered $700 towards the repair of the damage which will cost $2100 to repair. They say that the industry recognizes a standard transmission life to be 100,000 miles and they prorated the repair costs. Have you heard of a 100,000-mile life expectancy on a '92 five-speed transmission?
J.L. Redlands, CA

A. The prescribed way to tow a vehicle (stick-shift or automatic) is to put the driven wheels on a dolly to avoid having them turn while the vehicle is being towed. Since your car drives through all four wheels, the wheels not on the "hook" end should have been on a dolly. When the drive wheels on a stick-shift are allowed to free-wheel (especially at high speed) and the car is towed tail-high, the cluster gear in the transmission is no longer lubricated as it spins. In the case of an automatic, the ATF pump doesn't work with the motor not running and it simply fries the gearbox if it's towed with the drive wheels on the ground. It's impossible to tell how much damage was done to your car, since even the transmission case itself could have been warped or damaged. The arbitrary life expectancy "the industry" recognizes doesn't take into account that your transmission was OK when the tow truck operator began working on it and in short order, he or she destroyed it.

Q. Since I've been reading the auto section of our local newspaper, I've come to enjoy reading the paper when I come home from school. How do you get all the pictures that appear in the auto section? In the special section on '98 cars, you had pictures of all of them. Do you do special request articles on particular cars? Can you do one on a fairly new Lamborghini Countach, especially the 25th anniversary edition? As you can tell, I'm already an auto enthusiast.
J.B. Carrollton, VA

A. I'm a syndicated columnist and don't put together the auto section of the paper you read. Photos of new cars either come from the public relations departments of the auto makers or a newspaper staff photographer who takes a photo of a new car that's been lent to the auto editor. I don't do articles on collectible cars, but public libraries usually catalog back issues of magazines like AutoWeek, Car and Driver, etc. You might be able to find a story there that you like. I checked on the internet and found several Lamborghini sites. Like you, I got interested in cars as a teen-ager but in my case, the motivating car was the "new" '49 Jaguar XK 120. I learned to be an auto mechanic, then an auto shop teacher and finally wound up writing about cars. Take auto shop and journalism in school and someday you may take over this column.

Q. We own a 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier with an automatic transmission and a four-cylinder engine. It has about 54,000 miles on it and for the past few months it has been hard to start and idles rough. Our mechanic tells us that it has a leak on the intake manifold gasket. He says that these gaskets were faulty when they were new and ours should have been replaced a long time ago. Shouldn't Chevrolet have to pay for this?
M.M. Cleveland, OH

A. It probably did back in '93 on a factory recall. Your car is past the warrenty period and I don't think that Chevy will pick up the tab on a five year old car but you can ask a local dealer. Don't have the job done by an independent and then ask for a repayment. That almost never works. But get the job done as soon as possible because among other problems, a leaking intake manifold gasket can cause valves to burn.

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