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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a '92 Dodge Spirit which began overheating last month. Since then, the car has been to two different shops and has had the thermostat, radiator and some high-class circuit boards replaced twice. After two unsuccessful attempts at repairs (and nearly $1000 in bills), I had the heat sensor replaced a second time and now the car doesn't overheat, but runs hotter than before. Then the needle on the gauge would rarely pass the half-way point but now it rests on the upper third of the gauge and often stays just below the "hot" zone. The last shop that worked it flatly denied that I had either a cracked cylinder or a blown head gasket while the first shop said that I did. Barring these possibilities, is there any other way I can make my engine run cooler?
R.S. Fairborn, OH

A. Use a mechanical "master" temp gauge to make sure your electric gauge is accurate. There are two sure checks for a combustion chamber leak. The first uses an infrared analyzer to sample the vapors (but not the liquid) in the cooling system. If it shows HC (hydrocarbons) and/or CO (carbon monoxide) is in the cooling system, they're coming from a combustion leak somewhere. The other method is to use a Leak-Check kit made by Test Tools, Inc. of Portland, Oregon, and sold through various retailers. It consists of a turkey baster-like device that sucks out the gaseous content (but not the fluid) of the cooling system and bubbles it through a special liquid that comes in the kit. If the liquid changes from blue to yellow, there's HC and/or CO present, which would indicate a combustion chamber leak. If the leak is slight, the fluid changes to green. I've used this test since the '60s.

Q. Why do auto makers install right-side mirrors that say "Objects may be closer than they appear?" Some years ago a friend was hauling a trailer and decided to move to the right after checking his mirror and determining that he had enough room. Immediately he was warned by the horn blown by the right-hand lane occupant. The mirror had misinformed him but luckily the alert driver has seen what was happening and blew his horn thus preventing an accident. I have a 1995 Nissan and it has one of the above described. Do others still use this type mirror? If so, why? Probably a small price difference, I suppose.
A.L. Yachats, OR

A. The reason that the auto makers install those convex right-side mirrors is that the federal government says they have to and I suspect that they cost more rather than less to make. We have an early Honda Accord that has that same legend on the factory-installed right outside mirror. On the vehicles we use for towing trailers, we have flat aftermarket mirrors attached to the right-side doors to which we attached small, round, convex mirrors in the lower right-hand corners. They give the driver a better view of what's happening on the passenger's side. I recently reviewed an old Pennzoil video called "The National Driving Tests" and one of the questions referred to a driver changing lanes (either side) after checking in the outside mirror. Almost everyone got it wrong since the correct response was for the driver to check the outside mirror and then turn his or her head to make sure the lane was clear. If your friend did that and wasn't able to see if it was clear, he should have stayed put. I missed the question too.

Q. We bought a really rough and rusty but running '64 Chevrolet El Camino as a a family project. What can we expect to spend on it?
T.J. Norfolk, VA

A. According to current price guides, a really good '64 El Camino goes for around $8000 and then to the right buyer. Check with a restoration shop before you spend any money. The El Camino is somewhat fragile having been made from sedan underpinnings and may have been brutalized beyond economically feasible repair.

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