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Automania/Repair & Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 15

by Bob Hagin

Q. We have a 1990 Nissan Maximum SE, with a V6 and an automatic transmission. We bought it in '95 with mileage of 195,000 miles and it now has 210,000. No major problems except for a new alternator and thermostat two years ago. The car tends to surge or jerk when shifting gears during acceleration when I step hard on the gas. Otherwise the shifting is smooth. Occasionally when I'm taking off from a stop light, the car stalls a bit. The car "pings" during the summer when the weather is hot. Also, I'm beginning to notice oil spots where we park the car. With this much mileage, how much more life is left in the car? What kind of major expenses should we be expecting? What kind of periodic maintenance should we be doing?
A.I. Sacramento, CA

A. You or the former owner must have been doing something right to make it last 210,000 miles. If your Nissan pings in the summer, I'd suspect a carbon build-up in the cylinder heads. If this is the case (and there are ways to determine this via a compression test or a micro-video), the carbon can be removed without dismantling the cylinder heads. It could also be the cause of your stoplight stumble. At that mileage, I'd be suspicious of the life expectancy of the transmission, so you might want to have it drained and inspected for ferrous and brass debris in its pan. Have a full diagnostic service done so that a technician can look at things like the brakes, ball joints, etc. When a vehicle gets that many miles on it, the likelihood of a major failure increases, of course. Some of the parts in the electronic control system are pretty expensive and as far as I know, it's impossible to load-test them to evaluate their longevity.

Q. I own a 1985 Honda Accord SEi, with 132,000 miles and it's still going strong. Oil and filter are changed every 3000 miles, it uses no oil and it has no body rot. I have noticed lately, after driving a short distance, that I see vapor coming from out from under the hood and grille. Not much, but it's there. After a while it's gone but after leaving the car, I can smell that hot oil. I cannot find where it's coming from, although the vapors seem to be coming from the front part of the engine. Where should I look to find and correct the problem?
M.F. Chesapeake, VA

A. Hot oil vapors coming out from under the hood usually leave some traces on the engine or on the floor of the garage. Oil that drips or leaks out of an engine usually does a pretty thorough job of coating the underside of the chassis. If you can get your Honda up on a lift, check it out and you may find traces of leakage. It's possible that what you're seeing and smelling is antifreeze. A slight leak may be dripping onto a hot manifold and boiling away. A coolant leak can be found by having the radiator system pressure tested and be sure to look at the area where the cylinder head contacts the engine block. I've seen almost invisible leaks develop there that don't affect performance.

Q. Our 1993 Volkswagen Golf has about 97,000 miles on it. We have had it maintained fairly well. It has been very reliable, but it now has a problem which may or may not be serious. It makes a clunking noise in the front end if I step on the brakes when I'm making a sharp right turn. It also sometimes makes the same sound when I'm backing out of our garage. I was told by our mechanic that it may need to have its wheel bearings replaced.
M.I. Boise, ID

A. According to a Volkswagen bulletin, the problem is a lack of grease between the wheel bearings and the housings that they fit into and VW recommends that the bearings be replace with updated versions. If you have it looked into, your mechanic may recommend just greasing the bearings and their housings with a heavier grease.

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