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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I recently bought a 1982 Honda Accord with 190,000 miles on it for $600 because I desperately needed a car. I had to get a job now that I'm divorced and I needed a way to get to work. I had the oil and oil filter changed at a shop and when I got it back, the mechanic added a note to the bill that said that the timing belt should be replaced since it probably hadn't been done in a long time. I called the former owner and he said that he had never had it replace but that he wasn't the original owner. I don't want to waste the money (it isn't a cheap job) but I don't want to take the chance of having a problem. The car works fine.
D.O. Eugene, OR

A. If that timing belt fails, your engine will stop and develop almost fatal engine problems. That belt is only good for maybe 80,000 miles so yours could be living on borrowed time. Have the job done but make sure they replace the crankshaft front oil seal while it's easy to get at.

Q. I have a 1989 Isuzu Trooper that my son drives. He would like to get more performance out of it. He's talking about getting a bigger engine for it, but I thought maybe he would be better off to get a bigger carburetor. This is not going to be a do-it-yourself project. What's the best way to improve the performance of an engine? Is there something in the library that we can research or would it be simplest to ask a repair shop that specializes in Japanese cars?
C.N. Virginia Beach, VA

A. The simplest way to achieve your goal is to buy a more powerful vehicle. Hopping up an engine or installing a bigger, more powerful one is a problem because it would involve electronic and/or emission control systems that regulate how the vehicle runs. I'd be surprised if a conventional repair shop would undertake such as losing proposition but you might be able to get advice from a local (to you) 4X4 specialty shop that is involved in off-road racing or the building of "macho" wagons. A job like that will put a big dent in your bank account.

Q. I have a 1992 Volvo 960 that has been into the dealer's shop and to several expert transmission people and they are unable to tell me what my problem is. When the automatic is in Drive or the third gear position, on a slow stop or when I'm driving around town, the transmission hangs up when I come to a complete stop. If I put the transmission in neutral, the vibration stops. The problem will not occur all the time and when it happens, it acts like it is lugging down the engine to a vibrating stop before whatever is causing the problem finally releases. This situation is now happening more frequently.
E.H. Pacific Grove, CA

A. As a quick guess, I'd say that you torque converter (the device that takes the place of the clutch in a stick-shift) is hanging up. One of the many drawback of the modern new car sales promotion gimmick of extended service frequencies is that small problems that might be caught during a normal 3000 to 5000 mile servicing can develop into big, expensive ones. You don't mention the present mileage on your Volvo but if you're an average driver, the car will have in the neighborhood of 70,000 miles on it. The transmission service industry says that your ATF (automatic transmission fluid) should have been changed at least twice during that time. Changing the fluid involves changing the transmission ATF filter too and it gives the technician a chance to see if there's an abnormal amount of debris is present. Many shops have a power flushing system that will push fresh ATF through the transmission and torque converter which will force out most of the debris that has built up. Have your mechanic pull the ATF out and examine it for debris, then have the transmission flushed and refilled. If that doesn't cure it, the box will probably have to come out. Modern services are expensive but they're lots cheaper that transmission and engine overhauls.

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