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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I want to have the air bags disconnected in my 1996 Infiniti which we bought from a local dealer. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent me a letter granting my request because of my size. The shop at the dealership where I bought the car refuses to do this service. The person at the Infiniti 800 toll-free number told me that the job required special tools and to ask the dealership to buy them and to do the job. After I made the call, I contacted the shop again and was told that the people who gave me that information didn't know what they were talking about. This expensive car now sits in our garage unused.
R.K. Concord, CA

A. The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) and the federal government have given to go-ahead to owners to have their air bags electrically disablable with an on/off switch but it's up to the local dealership to decide if it wants to do the job. The mechanic's labor is like a part in the parts department: it belongs to the dealership and the management is under no obligation to the factory or the car owner to "sell" it. Nationwide, dealerships are gun-shy about disconnecting air bags for fear of getting sucked into complex law suits involving cars with disconnected air bags that are involved in accidents. Another problem involves insurance policies. One insurance association wants the NHTSA to inform its member companies when a bag is disconnected so that insurance rates may be chainged on that car. The people at Infiniti have suggested that you simply keep looking for a dealership that will do the job since they can't force an independently owned business to perform the service.

Q. We have a 1987 Toyota Cressida and bought it new. It has been a great car except for the fact that the engine has always missed badly under any circumstance until it has been well warmed up and is at its running temperature. We have yet to find a garage that is able to find the problem.
B.N. Bellevue, WA

A. In most instances, a mechanic will be called upon to find a cold-only problem in a vehicle after it has been warmed up and driven into the shop at which point the problem has gone away. Unless the misfire problem is sporadic and affects individual cylinders at random, the most logical method of chasing down the malfunction would be to check it out when the misfire is occurring. This would involve leaving the car in the shop overnight and for the technician to start it up with it sitting in his/her stall hooked up to a diagnostic machine. The malfunctioning cylinder or cylinders could then be pinpointed. Off the top of my head, I'd say that there is a vacuum leak somewhere, maybe a loose intake manifold fastener or a slightly leaking intake system gasket. If this were the case, everything would expand as the engine got hot and seal off the leak. Find a shop that can take the car overnight in order to check the problem as it's happening.

Q. How does a person go about finding a good repair shop? I've had my 1989 Buick into several places for routine service and have almost always gotten the car back with the job either not done correctly or not cleaned up after the job was done.
P.O. Portland, OR

A. You could look in the phone book under auto repair shops for the biggest ads but that only indicates that the shop owner has a good advertising budget. You could also take advantage of discount coupons that you get in the mail but that only indicates that the shop needs the work. But the best way to find a good auto repair shop or a mechanic is by asking other owners for recommendations. The best advertisement a shop can have is satisfied customers and people who are pleased with "their" shop will usually give it glowing praise.

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