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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1990 Buick Regal Limited purchased used in November of 1992 with 39,000 miles on it. The engine size is 3.1 liters. My problem is that the odometer sticks occasionally. I checked with the local Buick dealer and was told that I needed a new odometer at a cost of $300. Is there another alternative other than getting a new odometer? How can I get this odometer to be come unstuck? I now have a little over 60,000 on the car. This problem started a few months ago and I plan to trade the car in this year and I don't want to put any more money into it.
J.R. Virginia Beach, VA

A. There's always an alternative to having a dealer's shop do a job on your car but you have to know where to look. The place to start is in the index section of the Yellow Pages of your local phone book. You can find tune-up shops, automatic transmission shops and a host of other specialty shops that can do those kinds of jobs. In most metropolitan areas there are specialty shops that replace or repair speedometers and other automotive instruments like tachometers. A dealer's only options to doing instrument repairs is to subcontract them to one of these shops or to install a factory-new or rebuilt unit if they're available. An independent speedometer shop can also recalibrate malfunctioning speedos that are reading too fast or too slow.

Q. My car is a 1991 Nissan Sentra XE with a 1.6 liter engine and an automatic transmission. Recently I had it inspected by my local dealership after I had my front brakes replaced by a reputable garage. The mechanic at the dealership told me that the inner and outer brake pad shims were missing. I took the car back to where I had the brakes replaced and the manager there told me that the shims were not needed. I'm sure that those shims were installed for a reason.
W.N. Redlands, CA

A. I'm of the opinion that in most cases, auto makers don't put mechanical, non-visible hardware into a vehicle unless it's necessary. The shims that are found between the metallic backing of the brake pads on disk brakes and their anchoring spots are put there to dampen out high frequency vibrations that manifest themselves as a high-pitched squeal. But I've also found that sometimes these shims are only necessary with the original equipment pads and if they're left off when a brake job utilizes aftermarket, non-original equipment pads, the brakes sometimes don't squeal. But I've always reinstalled these shims when I do brake jobs rather than face the possibility of a come-back.

Q. I have a 1979 El Dorado Cadillac with a diesel engine and an automatic transmission. Recently the car stopped moving backward and finally it stopped going forward as well. I recently bought the car and it was running OK when I got it. Would make the car stop moving in either direction? Is it the transmission, the torque converter or the modulator inside it? Also how can I fix the speedometer? The dial doesn't move. Where can I get free books and advice on this car as well as advice on how to fix it? Are coupons available for discounts on repairs? How do I take my ignition switch out for replacement?
D.S. Bremerton, WA

A. Check the automatic transmission fluid and make sure it has enough but not too much. The instructions on how to check it are embossed on the dip stick. Usually it's done with the engine at operating temperature with the engine running. If it reads low or doesn't show any fluid at all, put in a half quart at a time or you might overfill it. If the fluid level is OK, you've got a big problem since a transmission rebuild is worth more than the car. Your other questions are academic until you determine if the car is worth saving. No Cadillac is cheap to work on, even one that's 20 years old.

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