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Automania/Repair & Maintenance
AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 35
by Bob Hagin
Q. When I was young, the annual appearance of the new models put out by the auto makers was a really big thing. The dealers had searchlights out in front of their showrooms and even covered up their windows to make the presentations more dramatic. These showing always took place early in October and the dealers would vie with each other to make their showings more spectacular the other guy's. Now it seems that in some cases the '97 models are on the showroom while the '96's are still there. What has caused this change and how can next year's cars be introduce the previous February or March.
A. There are lots of reasons and most of them seem to reflect our changing culture. Back then, new car presentations didn't have so much entertainment competition. Now they would have to compete with dozens of television shows that families can watch without leaving the house and movies that contain special effects that are lots more dramatic than lifting the curtain on a new car. The auto business is now international and closely supervised by the government. Corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) ratings are based on a "mix" of the cars a manufacturer makes, from subcompacts to large gas-guzzlers. In order to make the mix correct, some makers find it advantageous to bring out a particular model early in order to "sweeten" the lineup for the coming model year. Most modern family members would find those vintage new car showings pretty boring but like you, I miss them.
Q. We have a 1984 Chevrolet Citation four-door sedan with the 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine. We bought it very cheap a couple of years ago and use it as a second car. It has well over 100,000 miles on it and runs OK aside from the fact that the brakes are very tricky and the rear brakes tend to lock up. I have learned to live with that and I use it to only to commute to work. My problem now is that the water pump has developed a slight leak and there doesn't seem to be any way to get to it except by taking out the engine. I had an estimate made on having the job done and frankly, the car isn't worth it. Is this something I can do myself?
A. If you try it yourself, you'll need a good selection of general hand tools and a couple of special tools to remove and replace the water pump. It will also be a help if you have a comprehensive shop manual like those made by Chilton's Publishing or the Haynes manual on the car. Aside from having to remove and replace the battery cable, the a/c compressor (if your car has one), the heater pipe, the alternator and the power drive belts, you'll have to take off the water pump pulley before you can get to the pump itself. This last operation requires a special puller to get it off and then a hand-operated press to get it back on. These are kind of expensive and I don't think you'll have much luck renting them. As always, the automotive tool industry makes tools to do the job and your local full coverage auto parts store can get them for you through its Kent-Moore tool catalog.
Q. I've read about alternative computer chips that make cars go faster and accelerate quicker. They're not cheap but I'd like to try one on my '95 Chevrolet Camaro Z28. Is there anything detrimental about installing and using one?
A. Aftermarket computer chips are illegal in many states because your Z28 was government-certified with a different one. The hot-rod chip changes to pollution output from the motor but it takes some pretty sophisticated equipment to detect the change. If the chip makes the fuel mixture excessively rich (they're production is sometimes haphazard), it could result in damage to the catalytic converter, the EGR system, etc.
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