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Automania/Repair and Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 15

by Bob Hagin

Q. I just bought a clean '94 Mercury Cougar. I know how to take care of the interior and exterior but would like to know how the keep the engine in original condition. Being nearly new, the engine dirt is mostly dust. Like most new cars, it has so much electronic equipment and wiring that dusting with a rag doesn't help much. With an older car, I could spray on some cleaner and hose it off or use a coin-operated car wash sprayer with no problem. With all the electronics that are under the hood, I'm concerned that hosing might cause electric problems. A mechanic I know says there should be no problem if it's not overdone. He uses a universal cleaner and light water spray with no ill effects. Is the self-service car washer pressure sprayer OK to do the job?
D.A. Grass Valley, CA

A. Thirty years ago I had a service customer who kept the engine compartment on his Volvo as clean as the exterior - which was immaculate. He told me that he learned about engine cleanliness the hard way. The engine in his previous car had caught fire due to a ruptured fuel line and the gasoline saturated the thick coating of grime and grease that was on his engine. It burned so hot and so long that his fire extinguisher couldn't put it out in time and the car burned down. The underhood electronics and wiring in new cars are is built to withstand extremes in weather and the salty water that's splashed up in snowy areas. Washing under the hood with a light detergent spray won't hurt the electrics as long as you do it in moderation. Some of the electric connectors are coated with a non-conducting grease and heavy water pressure could blow some of it away. I bought a home water spray washer from my local mass merchandiser and it works fine.

Q. I have a 1995 Oldsmobile van which has been in the shop 21 times since I bought it and I have had to use nine rental cars during that time. Recently I had to take it back again since the windows wouldn't go up and down and the automatic door locks wouldn't work. The dealership never fails to pay the bills for the rental car and I'm never charged but I'm getting impatient with never having it right. This work has wasted my time for 14 months. I was offered a '97 model with my van as an exchange but I can't afford the difference. My tow truck driver told me that there has been two different batteries installed in my van because of an electrical short. I've made at least 40 calls to the olds headquarters in Lancing, MI but I've gotten the runaround each time. Do you think I bought a lemon of an Oldsmobile? Is there such a thing as a Lemon Law?
B.B. Bell Haven, VA

A. After 21 trips to the dealership I think it's safe to say that your '95 Olds is a lemon. Lemon Laws are in effect in several states but there's no federal law in effect so check with your state consumer affairs department. Usually these cases go to arbitration first and here in California, it's a very rare case in which the owner wins. A few years ago August Buenz, head of Oldsmobile public relations, personally intervened on behalf of one of my readers and the problem was resolved. I've sent your letter to him and we'll see if we get the same results. One problem with your letter is that you didn't include your phone number. Corporate officials prefer to make phone calls rather that commit themselves in writing.

Q. The window sticker on my '96 Toyota RAV4 states that I should get 24 MPG city and 29 MPG highway. My averages are 18 and 20. The selling dealer got 23 on the highway when he did his own test. What's wrong?
F.L. Radnor, PA

A. I think that you got an early model with the wrong computer programing chip but if window sticker mileage numbers were assigned to a college course, it would be in "Fantasy Literature."

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