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Automania/Repair and Maintenance

AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 41

by Bob Hagin

Q. My 1995 Toyota Tacoma pickup has 21,000 miles and has developed a squeal on the undercarriage when it's in motion. The shop at the dealership has ruled out brake adjustments, bearings and things that might be binding. The driveshaft, universal joints and the differential have not been ruled out yet. This was the first year that the Tacoma was sold and I wonder if there is a factory defect that I'm not aware of. My truck has an automatic transmission and a four cylinder engine.
D.Y. Colton, CA

A. You left out a couple of things in the description of your truck. As in ordering parts for almost any vehicle (especially a truck), it's best to give information like whether or not it's two-wheel or four-wheel drive, regular or extended cab, etc. This is really important when you are buying parts and accessories since items that will fit one model won't fit another. It also sometimes helpful to give the VIN (vehicle identification number) because a particular problem may only affect a certain number of vehicles and they're identified only by the VIN. The only factory problem I know of in the Tacoma was in the shock absorbers and springs on the suspension. The factory authorized replacement of the certain road springs and shock absorbers and if that is indeed the problem, your dealer's shop now has that information and a list of parts that have to be replaced.

Q. My '86 Nissan Sentra hatchback wagon has an automatic transmission and has done 108,000 miles. There is a metallic clatter or chatter coming from under the hood when I accelerate from 20 MPH to the 30 - 35 MPH range. The severity of noise and vibration depends on how hard I accelerate. Mild acceleration produces mild vibration and noise. Both increase as I accelerate harder. The automatic transmission on this car has an external governor that can be serviced from the outside. Could this governor be the problem? Is the engine and/or transmission to the point where it will fail on the highway?
A.S. Germantown, OH

A. If you haven't done an examination of the car and tried to pinpoint the problem, now would be a good time to start. If the noise/vibration is present when you run up the engine in Park, it may be a faulty vibration damper, an out-of-balance ancillary engine component, a loose mounting bracket or a broken engine mount. From your description, the problem seems to only occur when you're underway. I'd be suspicious of bad half-shaft CV joints, especially if the noise and vibration goes away if you ease off on the accelerator at a constant 30 MPH. If it doesn't, it's possible that the drive plate to which the transmission torque converter is attached is cracked or broken. To pinpoint the problem, you'll need to get it up in the air (a shop hoist is the safest way to do this), run it in Drive and narrow down the source of the noise using a mechanic's stethoscope.

Q. I want to learn to take care of my '87 Ford Tempo as much as I can to avoid or delay major repairs. I'm a single mother of three and am on a very restricted income. I know very little about a car but I have more time than money. How much can I do and where do I start? Should I buy a set of tools first?
C.M. St. Petersburg, FL

A. Get some education first. If your local high school or community college offers home auto maintenance courses, its a good place to start. Books like THE GREASELESS GUIDE TO CAR CARE or CAR OWNER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE help you to understand what's going but beware of taking on more than you can finish. If you break something while you're replacing a water pump, for example, it's going to cost you more in the long run. Start with easy stuff but even changing the oil and oil filter can be a nightmare if you haven't done it before. Buy tools as you need them.

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