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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. My daughter recently took here 1990 Acura into here local auto shop because her front brakes had a hissing sound. Mileage at that time was 35.000 miles. The shop examined her car and gave her an estimate of $500 and said that it needed new rotors, calipers and front pads. About two months before, the same shop gave here a brake check (for which she paid $30) and said that they were OK. I am somewhat confused as to how the brakes could be fine and then need new rotors, calipers and new front pads two months later. I am aware that driving short distances reduces the number of miles that you can get on your brakes, but I'm confused as to why so much was needed in such a short period of time and mileage. Could it be that the brakes were not checked and the damage had already occurred or that this all happened in the last 1000 miles? We would appreciate your comments and advice so that we can avoid surprises like this in the future.
J.W. Moraga, CA

A. When I gave classes on brake repair I made sure that my students understood that the first step in an inspection is to check for hydraulic leaks from damaged tubes, hoses, wheel and master cylinders and/or calipers. The second aspect is to check and make a notation on the repair order of the percentage of original lining material left on the existing brake pads and/or brake shoes and how long they're likely to last. I suspect that this essential step wasn't done on your daughter's car. If 95 percent of the lining material is gone, the brakes are still "OK" but they aren't going to last long. Honda and Acura recommends replacing brake fluid at 60,000 miles to flush out metallic bits that accumulate there from the ABS system but I'd be surprised if damage was done to the expensive calipers at such low mileage.

Q. I am interested in seeing and possibly buying one of those Hummer or Hum Vee vehicles, the type that they use in the Army. I've seen one being driven by a local woman but I couldn't ask her where she got it because she was on the road. I wouldn't mind going anywhere on the West Coast if that's what is necessary but nobody here knows who to ask.
J.K. Crestwell, OR

A. Although the AM General company doesn't list itself in any of the press organization contact lists that I have access to, that company has a web site (http:/ that gives information that covers the history of the company, when it started building Hummers for the military, as well as photos and descriptions of the latest Hummers. It also states that there are 80 civilian and industrial Hummer dealers around the world but to find out who and where they are, you'll have to call its customer service line at 1-800-732-5493. Hummers come with diesel engines as well as V8 power and are the darlings of custom-car builders who modify them for carriage-trade customers. Probably the most famous civilian owner of a Hummer is movie muscle-man Arnold Schwarzenegger and somehow his ownership seems appropriate.

Q. We bought our 1993 Nissan Quest when it was three years old and had 55,000 miles on it. From day one it has had a slight whine in the automatic transmission when we're traveling between 30 and 45 MPH and are cruising. The noise hasn't increased over the years and we have had the oil in the transmission changed twice but the noise hasn't gone away or gotten worse. We had it checked by an automatic transmission shop and were told that it was not an uncommon complaint with these vans. We were also told it would require a complete overhaul to get rid of the noise.
T.T. Athens, GA

A. The problem comes from a slight defect in a sun gear set in some of the transmissions. It's replacement is expensive and since it doesn't seem to be getting any worse, I'd leave it alone but have that automatic transmission shop pull the ATF again and check it for ferrous chips.

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