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Auto Mania/Repair & Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 44

by Bob Hagin

Q. We recently bought a used 1994 Honda Accord with a standard five-speed transmission. It has relatively high mileage for such a new car with a little over 90,000 miles on it but the price was too good to pass up. The former owner had used it mainly driving on the interstates and kept it in reasonably good condition although the service record is spotty and the services weren't done at Honda dealerships. Mainly they consisted of changing the oil and oil filter and checking the tire pressures but he did have a clutch put into it at 70,000 miles. We took it to a Honda shop to be checked out and they gave it a pretty clean bill of health. The only problem is that the needle on the temperature gauge goes to "hot" as soon as I turn on the key even when the engine is cold. I'm afraid that with mileage this high, a hose or something else in the cooling system could start to leak and I'd never know it until it's too late. The Honda shop says that it just needs a new temperature gauge but it's expensive and they can't guarantee that it will cure the problem.
T.K. Tampa. FL

A. You're right about not trusting to chance about monitoring engine temperature. Without a gauge, you wouldn't know something was wrong until it was too late. The problem most drivers have is not checking the gauges often enough. Run out of gas and the car stops. Run out of coolant or oil and the engine self-destructs. According to a service bulletin I recently read, the problem of the inaccurate temp gauge in Honda Accords is limited to a batch of '94s that were made in Japan and not in the US factory. The problem is, indeed, in the gauge itself and the cure is to replace the gauge with an updated unit. It doesn't take long (about an hour, I'm told) but the new unit isn't cheap.

Q. I'm the second owner of a 1995 Ford Taurus that had 8500 miles. After eight months, I had trouble with the automatic transmission not engaging when starting from a stop. The engine would race in neutral, then engage with a jerk. The problem was that an operating piston in the transmission was made of aluminum and had developed a hairline crack which expanded when the transmission got hot. This lead to a drop in oil pressure which delayed the engagement of the gears. It was replaced with a steel piston under warranty by a Ford shop. Is this a widespread problem? Has it shown up in many '95 Taurus cars or is this an isolated case? Will it show up in other '95s that haven't had the problem yet?
G.W. Boise, ID

A. I've heard of a few cases but naturally Ford doesn't advertise the problem. I'm sure that it will happen to more of them as the cars get older so '95 Taurus owners would do well to have a Ford shop examine their cars and report on the problem. Then if the aluminum piston fails when the car is out of warranty, the owner will have a better chance of getting it replaced free as long as he or she kept the work order.

Q. I recently traded my '72 Chevy for a '94 Chrysler with a 3.3 liter V6 engine. How often should I get the transmission fluid and filter changed? The Chrysler Customer Service Dept. is evasive on this and the dealer's shop would bankrupt me with its service schedule. I change the engine oil and filter every three months as per their recommendations.
G.R. Grass Valley

A. Some factories recommend changing automatic transmission fluid at 100,000 miles while other say it never needs to be changed but I've had too many letters from owners of ailing automatics to go along with this. Changing the fluid every two years gives a technician a chance to look for ferrous and non-ferrous particles in the fluid and filter that may be a tip-off of problems to come. Remember too that these kinds of services needn't always be done by the dealer's shop to keep a warranty in force but check the warranty that came with the car for restrictions.

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