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Automania/Repair & Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 24 YEAR 2000

by Bob Hagin

Q. I'm curious. Would you happen to know what is the oldest Datsun, Honda, Mazda and Toyota on the American road today? While at a local junkyard I came across a 1962 Datsun 1200. The engine was very small.
H.S. Springfield, OR

A. When I was stationed in Korea in '54, I took a week's leave and went to Japan. I was astonished to find a plethora of tiny post-war Japanese cars, but they were only used as taxis. I later learned that the Japanese population was just getting into private auto ownership and few citizens knew how to drive. The first Toyotas to get here were called Toyopets and I had the misfortune of having to put one back together in '59. Two-cylinder Honda 600s began to appear in '69 and there's a couple of restored sedans in my home town. Mazda shipped over its rotary- powered and piston-engined versions in 1971. I had an early RX-2 and was amazed at how fast it was. Datsun began to export small sedans and trucks into the U.S. in '58 and I worked at a dealer for a short time in '59. The Datsun engines and transmissions were almost identical to the British Austin drivetrain, so much so that a fellow mechanic slipped an Austin/MG engine into a Datsun pickup with almost no changes necessary.

Q. My 1992 Toyota Camry is a four-cylinder model and it has an automatic transmission. It has around 134,000 miles on it and I have had it since it was new. I haven't maintained it as frequently as the owner's manual calls for and recently I have been experiencing a problem with the brake pedal. About a month ago the brakes began to make a terrible grinding noise and it seemed to be coming from the front. My son took off the front wheels and said that the brake pads were worn down to the metal and that the brake rotors were scored. I called several shops in the area and the prices quoted were very high. My son took two years of auto shop in high school and volunteered to replace the parts. He bought a shop book on Toyotas and he was able to put in the new pads, but he didn't have the right tools to replace the scratched rotors. Since then, the brakes haven't made any noise and they work fine when I push hard on them, but if the car is rolling slowly and I push on the pedal gently, I feel a slight pulsating feeling through the pedal. My son took off the wheels again and says that he put everything back correctly, but that maybe the old rotors aren't straight. The car stops fine, but I wonder if the pulsing brake pedal indicates that something major is wrong.
M.J. Concord, CA

A. I admire your son's wisdom to fix something that he understands and then stop when the problem gets beyond his capabilities. He's right about the rotors and they probably should have been replaced or machined smooth and "trued" for a perfect job. One or both of the rotors are slightly warped, something like a bicycle wheel that's a little bit bent, and that's being transmitted back to the pedal. If the pulsations aren't bad, I think you can live with it, but if the pads wear out again, plan on having the rotors replaced.

Q. I recently broke the tail light lens on my 1996 Pontiac Grand Am four-door sedan and being fairly handy with tools, I decided to replace it myself. I was appalled at the outrageous price that the Pontiac dealer was asking for the lens, so I went to a junk yard to get one from a wreck. It was cheaper, but not cheap. When I tried to take off the broken one, I found it was glued in place. Why do car makers make things so expensive and hard to work on?
O.F. Bothell, WA

A. Style and price rules how cars are built and as long as the public doesn't ask for easy-to-fix vehicles, auto makers won't build them. Few buyers ask questions about parts and repair cost before they buy.

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