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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I've read that Volkswagen is getting ready to sell a new version of the Beetle in this country but that it's actually a modern front-wheel drive car with a body that looks like the original Bug. When we were on vacation in Mexico last year, we saw original Beetles that were new. Why can't Americans buy these Mexican Beetles?
R.C. San Antonio, TX

A. The reason Beetles stopped being sold here is that they couldn't be made to meet to our safety and pollution laws. If you really want a new original Bug, you'll have to live in Mexico or one of the third world countries where they're still being made or have an old one restored.

Q. We acquired an '87 Nissan King Cab pickup with a stick shift in 1990 when it had only 40,000 miles on it. In August of 1993 we began to experience a light vibration and a squealing noise during startup in first gear. We had the clutch replaced for $350. During the next 12 months, the noise intensified and we had the transmission rebuilt for $550. Three months later the vibration and the squealing returned and we had a rebuilt clutch put in for another $125. In 1995 the problem returned and the Nissan dealer we took it to replaced the throw-out bearing for $287. The vibration problem returned a month later and a clutch specialty shop reported that the transmission mounts were OK but that the input shaft was burred, the pilot bearing was bad and the flywheel needed resurfacing. We had all this done for $246. That June we took it back to the clutch shop because the vibration had returned but the mechanic said that there was nothing more he could do.
L.G. Bakersfield, CA

A. I experienced the same problem in a customer's still-warranted Datsun pickup some years ago when I was still pulling wrenches. After several clutches (always with new pilot and throw-out bearings), and a transmission teardown, the factory rep finally used a dial indicator and a straight-edge to determine that the transmission bell housing was slightly warped which put the transmission input shaft, clutch assembly and pilot bearing in the crankshaft slightly out of alignment. This forced the clutch to take hold unevenly which resulted in the judder and caused the transmission input shaft to put unaccustomed side-thrust pressure on the pilot bearing which made the squeal. The bearing wore unevenly, overheated and scored the transmission input shaft. The cure was a completely new transmission, clutch assembly and pilot bearing.

Q. Our 1995 Mercury Tracer has very low mileage since we are retired and only use it for shopping or visiting friends. Although my husband says that he cannot hear it, I'm bothered by a high-pitched squeal that comes only when the car is being driven at speeds of 30 miles per hour or less. This means that the noise is prevalent most of the time but it does go away if my husband steps lightly on the brake pedal. He says that he understands about carS and that when he had our mechanic lift up the car to check the brakes, they found that they were fine and not worn much at all.
O.C. Sun City, AZ

A. You're both right: the brake pads up front can be in fine condition and still make a noise shrill enough to take the enamel off your teeth. For a couple of years in the '90s, Ford Escorts and Mercury Tracers had a brake pad noise that was caused by a high-frequency vibration between the pads themselves and the brake rotors. According to the company, the sure-cure is to replace the pads with Ford's own upgraded brake kit that includes new pads, some shims that slightly "wedge" the corners of the new pads against the rotors and some vibration-absorbing caliper grease. While the job is being done, have the rotors machined a bit just to give them a fresh, even surface since they tend to warp a bit in general service and sometimes develop a slight brake pedal pulsation.

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