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Automania/Repair & Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR 1997 WEEK 02

by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1984 Renault Encore. Several weeks ago I had to replace a stuck thermostat. Since then, whenever I start out and drive about a mile, the temperature gauge goes up in the red while the heater blows out cold air. After about a minute, the gauge drops back down to normal and the heater works. If I stop for even a few minutes, it does the same thing over again. The coolant level is always OK. I haven't been able to find anybody with an answer.
W.D. Emmett, ID

A. It's sometimes difficult to find a mechanic who knows anything about an orphan car. You don't elaborate on the reason why you replaced the thermostat but I assume it was because the engine overheated. Those Encores were prone to develop major problems when the cooling system malfunctioned, and lots of them did. Better pull out that replacement thermostat and check its operating temperature by putting it in a pan of water with a temperature gauge, bring the heat up on a stove and see when it opens. If it's not original equipment, make sure that it's dimensions are the same as the original and not hanging up before it opens. It might pay to put it back together without a thermostat to see if the problem remains. Also check the actual operating temperature of the engine by installing a "master" mechanical gauge just as a test. My guess is that the electrical temperature gauge or its sending unit were damaged when the engine overheated. Just on a wild hunch, it might pay you to check the engine to see of it has a leaking head gasket, another common problem with Encores.

Q. I recently had the oil and filter changed in the automatic transmission of my 1987 Cadillac deVille. It was done at our local service station and this was the second time it has been done. The car has a little under 100,000 miles and I was getting a little apprehensive about it. After it was changed, I checked the dip stick myself and found that it wasn't really all that clean. I'm sure the job was done as I saw the mechanic doing it but I'm curious as to why the oil isn't perfectly clean.
K.K. Bakersfield, CA

A. There's really two parts to an automatic transmission but they share a common supply of ATF or automatic transmission fluid. The transmission itself has gear sets that are in mesh all the time and their action is controlled by hydraulic ATF pressure. The other part is the torque converter, a device that takes the place of the clutch in a manual transmission. The torque converter is in essence two fans that face each other in a sealed "drum" filled with ATF. The torque converter can't be drained since it has no drain plug so an ATF replacement really only removes about half the fluid. What's left mixes with the new stuff and discolors it. Waiting that long for an ATF change is risky and I'd suggest that you have it changed again after another 30,000 miles.

Q. I've recently been offered a 1966 Ford Fairlane sedan that has around 150,000 miles but has been taken care of very well. I'm considering buying it as I've always been interested in owning a classic car. It needs some work on the bumpers and has several minor dings in the body and in the doors. Is this a reasonable kind of car to buy? Can I get it restored for a reasonable investment?
S.P. Tacoma, WA

A. That '66 Fairlane may be a nice old car but it's not a classic and it's borderline collectible. The old car guides still lists them and while the muscle car versions and convertibles can bring up to $15k on a good day, the plebeian models are more in the neighborhood of $2500. Chroming is expensive and so is quality paint and body work. If you can buy it right and have fun with it as a weekend driver, that's OK but don't plan your retirement around what you can sell it for.

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