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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1991 Nissan pickup truck with 88,000 miles. I'm not sure how it happened, but its speedometer needle is warped. I contacted our local Nissan dealership and was advised that they could only sell me a complete new dash and instrument unit for $189. They said that I could not just buy the needle. I have tried to heat the plastic needle but it will not straighten out. I contacted the Nissan customer service division and they said that they were sorry, but I could not buy just the needle, only a complete new unit. I tried local wrecking yards but they too said they couldn't supply a need but they would sell a complete unit for about $120. The odometer on my truck works just fine and its only problem is the warped speedometer needle.
D.B. Rialto, CA

A. Since its very early days, the auto repair industry has been a trade of specialization. Some specialty shops do nothing but automatic transmission, others do only exhaust systems and some do only automotive electrical repairs. Now there's even been a proliferation of auto specialty shops that only do clutch and flywheel work. One of the specialty shops that I used a lot during my days as a shop owner was an operation that only worked on speedometers, tachometers and other automotive instruments. It served everybody in the industry (new and used car dealers, repair shops, manufacturers, etc.) and it's still in business after 50 years or so. Look in the phone book of your local area under Speedometers and the chances are good that you'll find one. I had them do jobs that ranged from reattaching a needle that had fallen off (British cars did things like that) to complete rebuilds to recalibrating the unit to compensate for a different differential gear ratio or tire size. Their jobs were lots cheaper than new units.

Q. I recently bought a '90 Ford Probe in excellent condition with high mileage. Water leaks into the trunk and settles into the spare tire well. When I got the car, water had damaged the plywood cover on the spare and started to rust the spare tire rim. The carpet never gets wet so I assumed that the water get in through the back hatch or possibly the antenna. I removed the antenna and put clear RTV around the mount and did the same to the tail light lenses and gaskets. This seems to have slowed it down somewhat but not completely. I wonder if the engineers in Dearborn have figured out a solution.
C.S. Virginia Beach, VA

A. Leaks into a trunk are among the most frustrating problems in the repair business. On occasion, I've had to get inside the trunk with a flashlight, have a colleague shut the lid and then spray down the back of the car with a garden hose. I don't recommend it to those with claustrophobia but sometimes it's the only way. If you've sealed off all the possible leak sites on top, examine the welded body seams under the car and in the fender wells. These are sometimes flawed and the cure then is to have another very thorough underseal job done to the car.

Q. I had an accident with my '96 Honda Accord four-door sedan and it destroyed the driver's side quarter panel. I believe that the left rear quarter panel on Accords is the same from '94 to 97. As of now, there isn't one in the U.S. There must be a million of these cars on the road but if they get body damage like mine, they won't be able to get fixed. I guess someone at Honda goofed.
A.D. Seattle, WA

A. The problem isn't so much a Honda goof as it is a Honda policy. The factories only produce parts on a "run' of a certain number of units and as the stock gets low, the computer sends the word to make more. If there's a run on that particular part, the computer isn't programed to rush an order through. It's not unique to Honda and I've heard of other popular cars waiting three months for replacement body panels.

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