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Automania/Repair & Maintenance
AUTO QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR WEEK 48
by Bob Hagin
Q. I purchased a used 1995 Ford Taurus with the Flex Fuel (gasoline/methanol) engine. The Ford owner's guide specifies the use of oil that meets Ford specs WSE-M2C909A. Two major oil companies had no information on this spec and had never heard of it. The Ford service manager rather vaguely said that I should use synthetic oil due to special seals in the fuel delivery system. Since I will be using gasoline exclusively. After the warranty is up, can I use conventional motor oil without causing any harm to the engine?
A. My source of information on the use of oils is an engineer for a major oil company and he knew lots about the stuff. It's probably Mobil One with some additional additives to resist the corrosive action of the methanol (wood alcohol) that can be used in your car. If you use only gasoline, you can use conventional petroleum-based motor oil rather than the specified synthetic, but you have to make sure that your lube system is purged when you make the change. The use of alcohols (methanol and ethanol) as a fuel and/or as a gasoline blend was a big deal some years ago and a lot of government money was spent doing research to see if it was viable. Cars like your Ford were produced for government and corporate fleets. I had a Chevrolet that was dual-fuel a few years ago and found that if I wanted to use the M-85 alcohol blend it was built for, I had to travel 35 miles to a special station. The methanol was so corrosive that it ate up the aluminum filler nozzles at the pumps and attracted water, problems that gasoline doesn't have.
Q. I recently purchased a 1988 Nissan Sentra from a used car dealership. The vehicle runs dead cold during the winter months and does not provide enough heat although when I am stopped in a traffic jam, the temperature increases to where I get satisfactory heat. Once I start moving again, the engine once more becomes stone cold. I have replaced the thermostat two times as well as changed the radiator cap in an attempt to gain a normal operating temperature. I have had the cooling system checked and there are no leaks.
A. Your letter doesn't say whether the problem is that your Nissan doesn't get as much heat indicated on the temperature gauge as it should after it's been running a while, or if low temperature coolant running through the heater doesn't provide enough heat to make the interior of the passenger's compartment comfortably warm in cold weather. Step one is to use a mechanic's testing temperature gauge (non-electric) the see if a low gauge reading is a malfunction of your car's gauge. If it's actually low, try another thermostat. They can be had in varying temperature grades clear up to 215 degrees, so you may have installed two low-temp thermostats. If the coolant temp is actually low and the interior is cold, you might want to experiment with blocking off a third of the radiator with a sheet of cardboard wired into place in cold weather. Volvo used to assemble its cars with a "window blind" in front of the radiator that was operated by a pull chain mounted on the dash.
Q. Last summer I came across a large pre-war car parked in the parking lot of a vintage car event when I was vacationing in California. The name on the grille was LaSalle, but I couldn't find the owner. I'm not an old car buff but I'm curious about the LaSalle.
A. In its last days, the LaSalle was really a little brother of the Cadillac. In '27, GM targeted it to fill a price gap between the Buick and the Cad, but the Depression and the fact that it was a baby Cadillac without the Caddy name did it in. 1940 was its last year. Cadillac made a LaSalle-like model in '41, priced it accordingly and sold lots of them. Then as now, the name means a lot in selling cars.
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