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Automania/Repair and Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 17

by Bob Hagin

Q. Recently the oil warning light has been going on in the '89 Dodge Omni of a friend. When it started, she simply began adding oil without checking the level. Eventually I drained the oil for her and refilled it with the proper amount. She now checks the dip stick to make sure that the level is correct. She took it to a shop and was told that it needed an oil pressure sending unit and that the engine was leaking at the rear main seal, the valve cover and the rear camshaft seal. The price of the repair was given at $630. The car has 72,000 miles on it and I've learned that cars of that age leak a bit without it being an urgent problem. I was tempted to replace the oil pressure sending unit but didn't. There isn't any oil on the pavement under the car and the engine is fairly clean. Now she checks the engine oil regularly but it goes over 1000 miles without using any.
C.H. Sacramento, CA

A. Learning to check the oil level on her Omni is an educational step in the right direction. Now she needs a more advanced class in auto maintenance and she may be ready for one of the many consumer "text" books on the subject. Get her to have the oil and oil filter changed every 3000 miles or so and perhaps the car will last another 70,000 miles. Don't delay changing her oil pressure sending unit - it's often the source of an oil leak itself. Look under the car to see if oil is being sprayed along the undercarriage as it rolls along. Oil leakage most often occurs only when the car is running and underway so you wouldn't find major oil puddles on the ground. Oil is lots cheaper than engine repair jobs and a quart in 1000 miles isn't bad oil mileage.

Q. I have a 1991 Dodge Colt that was service by a a local dealer's shop in December. They changed the timing chain and clutch and said that they had drained the standard-shift transmission at the time. My son drove the car back to school after Christmas and 1000 miles later, the transmission locked up. A shop near his school determined that the transmission was dry and that there was no indication of leakage even though they found the drain plug installed securely. No one had serviced the car since it had left our home. Several mechanics told me that there would have been enough residual oil left in the transmission to last 1000 miles even if our local shop drained it. The service department here denies liability stating that the vehicle couldn't have run 1000 miles with no oil in it. No one has given me an explanation of how the transmission could have run dry with the drain plug in place. Is it possible that the mechanic had been refilling the transmission, become sidetracked and fail to fill it up?
J.G. Chesapeake, VA

A. When I was 17 I drained the transmission in a Lincoln and neglected to refill it. The customer went about 500 miles before the transmission gave up the ghost. Since the Omni's transmission drain plug and the refill plug aren't one in the same, I'd guess that the technician simply neglected to fill it up after the job was done. Check the repair order that you received when the clutch was replaced to see if you were charged for replacement oil. If you go to court over the problem, make sure that you have lots of documentation.

Q. A neighbor of my girlfriend recently offered to give me a British Austin-Healey Sprite that her husband has had in their backyard for many years. Is it worth taking and restoring? It's been there so long that weeds grow out of the body seams.
B.R. Lincoln, NE

A. Any Sprite is a genuine fun weekend cruiser and you can't lose if it's a gift. There are lots of specialty shops listed in the magazine British Car that sell parts and service for Sprites but be advised that Sprites tend to rust pretty easily and the parts are expensive.

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