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Automania/Repair & Maintenance
AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 39
by Bob Hagin
Q. In 1993, I bought a 1989 Ford Tempo with an odometer reading of 60,909. The current reading is 92,000. The car has been serviced regularly and has had only a few minor problems until the past year. In September of 1997 it was necessary to replace the alternator and this was done by the mechanic in a recognized national service center. This was the first of five alternators put in this car in the ensuing 12 months. The service manager and the mechanic have been through the entire electrical system and find no problem. They tell me that they have called several sources and none of them, including the Ford Motor Company, have a solution. These breakdowns have been very unnerving. I'm almost afraid to back out of my garage without alerting the tow truck.
A. Take your Tempo to a qualified automotive electrical technician to have it checked for a poor ground somewhere. If the alternator has an improper ground in its electrical system, the alternator won't last long. This may have been the cause of the original malfunction which means that the basic problem may never have been repaired. Other technicians I've talked to also replace the plug-in connector when they replace the alternator on any older Ford product for fear that the connector is faulty. These harness plug ends are usually available through auto parts houses, but you have to find one that hires trained and experienced parts technicians and not simply floor-mat and accessory sellers.
Q. I bought a '95 four-cylinder Toyota Camry that now has about 50,000 miles on it. I had my first flat tire on it recently on the left rear wheel. In trying to remove the wheel and install the spare from the trunk, I found that the wheel lug nuts had frozen onto the wheel studs. The nuts were forced off and one stud was broken off while the other four were stripped. In investigating the other three wheels, I found that the lug nuts could be removed easily. All four wheels had been removed two months prior to this problem and the wheels were spin- balanced. What caused the left rear wheel nuts to freeze on the studs.
A. The first thing I'd suspect is that the technician who installed the wheels after the balancing job put on the left rear with an air/impact wrench and got them too tight. Wheel lug nuts are supposed to be installed to a predetermined tightness using a torque wrench and in some cases, installing them too tight can warp the hub they're attached to. Most times a torque wrench isn't used but it usually doesn't create a problem because an experienced installer knows better than to put on lug nuts killer-tight. I once had to put rear brakes on a truck that had been used to launch a power boat into salt water and I had to fight the lug nuts all the way off and it still didn't strip the threads on the lug bolts. I don't have an answer for the stripped threads unless those nuts were all cross-threaded - an unlikely situation.
Q. My 1980 GMC half-ton pickup has a V8 engine and about 182,000 miles on it. Mostly I drive it to work and for hauling things to our cabin in the country. Recently it has started to miss when I'm going uphill or have it loaded with gravel. It will also sometimes simply die and won't restart until I let it sit a while. My brother-in-law replaced the spark plugs but it didn't help. I haven't done much to it for a long time.
A. Your brother-in-law may have been on the right track, but it's possible that he didn't go far enough. Run the engine at night with the hood up and have him check to see if there's any arcing around the top of the distributor. A faulty coil could be the problem but have it checked before you replace it. It may be time for a new coil, rotor, distributor cap, and spark plug wires. Nothing lasts forever.
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