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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. The heater on my 1994 Buick Skylark has never produced enough heat to get the car to a comfortable level. I purchased the car new and the current mileage is 39,000. During the warranty period the local dealer here performed five warranty service repairs on the heater with the assistance of the factory service representative. They checked the thermostat, the heater hoses, the temperature gauge and the air ducts to make sure that they weren't blocked. They also replaced the heater core. Recently, we drove the vehicle some distance and the interior temperature never rose above 60 degrees.
H.M. Kitty Hawk, NC

A. The heater system on any car is usually pretty simple. Engine coolant is piped into a small ancillary radiator usually located on the firewall between the engine compartment and the passenger compartment. An electric fan blows air over that radiator through ducting and into the passenger area. Some of the things that can cause low heater temperatures are engine coolant that's too cold, restricted coolant flow into the heater radiator, air ducting that's not directing the air flow correctly or an automatic climate control system that's misreading the interior temperature and cooling when it should be heating. Start by checking coolant temperature (maybe the thermostat's temperature is too low), then the flow of the coolant into the heater radiator. If the flow is controlled by an electrical solenoid, this device may not work correctly. From there, each of the other components have to be analyzed independently. There's no magic to auto repairing, just a lot of analysis, experience and common sense.

Q. I own a '94 Isuzu Rodeo with 52,000 miles. When I'm due to change the oil at the 3000-mile mark, the oil dip stick shows that it is two quarts low. This happens every time I change the oil. I check it at least two to three times between changes. I've only owned this car for less than a year now, but I bought it with less than 35,000 miles and didn't know the previous owner. I contacted my local Isuzu dealership service department and was told that it's normal for their cars to use oil like it is. I'm positive that it's not burning oil, at least I can't see it when it's being driven. Is it possible that it's internal or is this normal? I bought a warranty but it doesn't cover oil usage.
C.D. Greenfield Center, NY

A. Oil consumption is something auto makers avoid talking about and most will say that whatever you're getting is "normal" since they're the guys who arbitrarily set the standard. If you're getting 1500 miles to the quart, your about in the middle of the norm. One reader got 3000 miles without any oil use, while another owner got only 500 miles to the quart. The cars were almost identical, yet the factory stated that both were getting normal oil mileage. You could try changing brands and go to the high side of the recommended oil viscosity but the important thing is to never let it get two quarts low. The oil in the motor is one of the items that are factored into the cooling of the internal parts of the engine. If a modern car is burning as little as a quart in 1500 miles, the driver won't see it because the catalytic converter burns it up before it reaches the end of the tail pipe.

Q. I subscribe to Motor Trend, Automobile, Road & Track, Car and Driver and Hot Rod magazines. Over the years, they've become concentrated on the reviews of new cars and trucks or in the case of Hot Rod, a display of fancy professionally-built custom cars and street rods. Is there a magazine that is dedicated to the nuts-and-bolts side of the car? I've never found one on any magazine stand.
B.B. San Francisco, CA

A. The only one I know of is Motor, which is trade-oriented and my be too technical for your taste. Fax them for a sample at 516-229-3629.

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