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Automania/Repair & Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 18 YEAR 2000

by Bob Hagin

Q. In our local paper a Ford Motor Co. report was described involving my '95 Ford Taurus LX station wagon with the 3.8-liter V6 engine. It stated that the head gaskets had failed on a large number of these '94 and '95 cars as well as Windstars of the same years. It said that there would be no recall but owners would have their warranties extended for seven years or 100,000 miles. My car has not shown a problem and my Ford service manager advised me not to have the job done until the gaskets failed. My normal practice is to repair and maintain whatever is necessary to ensure the reliability of car safety and performance. Should I change the head gaskets and pay for it to avoid problems? The service manager didn't know how many vehicles were affected. If it were five to 10 percent, I's prefer to fix the gaskets if the replacements are better than the original. If 100 vehicles out of 700,000 have failed, the odds would be in favor of the status quo.
R.T. Seattle, WA

A. Ford has recently extended it's 3.8-liter V6 seven year/100,000 mile head gasket warranty to cover '94 and '95 T'Birds, Mustangs, Cougars, Sables and V6 Continentals, too. Ford will also reimburse owners who already paid for the job. A lot of Ford products, maybe a couple of million, are involved. A blanket recall would be disastrous to the company and even the current program has to put a small dent in its budget. It's an expensive job and if you get the job done now, you have no chance of having Ford pick up the tab unless you can convince them that your vehicle is edgy. My advice would be to hang with it until it acts up (loses coolant, overheats, etc.) and then let Ford pay for it.

Q. I bought a '96 Dodge Intrepid that was sold to me as a used car. It runs very well and I like it. My son was washing it on a bright, sunny day and came into the house to announce that leaves and dirt were getting into a body cavity. By the bottom hinge on the driver's side door there is an opening that lets dirt and debris to get into the inner panel. I know that this will rust-out the body. Was this a thing that was overlooked by the engineers who designed the Intrepid? What action should I take?
H.A. Geneva, IL

A. Look at the hinge area on the passenger's side door to see if the same cavity is there. If it is, the factory made it that way. Also check other '96 Intrepids to see if they have the same problem. If the body on the driver's side looks "wrong," for lack of a better word, it may have been in a collision. If you bought it from a Dodge dealership, have it's body shop check it out. If you bought it from a private party, have an independent body shop do an evaluation.

Q. I'm single and depend on my mechanic to keep my Ford in top condition since I can't afford to have it out of commission or have a roadside failure. I follow the instruction manual to the letter and he services it regularly for me. I've read about your advice on people changing the timing belt and how bad it can be for their engines if it breaks so I asked my mechanic about it on my car. He said that my car doesn't use a belt to work the camshaft and the only belt my car uses is a serpentine belt that runs things like the air conditioner, the water pump, the power steering and the alternator. He says mine looks fine but how often should this belt be changed?
C.M. Portsmouth, VA

A. If your ancillary units drive belt fails, the results aren't catastrophic but your power steering goes away which makes it hard to steer and the coolant pump stops which can cause overheating. Your mechanic no doubt checks yours periodically but the belt makers say they're ready for replacement any time after four or five years.

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