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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We own a 1989 Mercury Grand Marquis with a V8 engine and an automatic transmission. We have had the car since it was new and do a lot of traveling around the country pulling a medium-sized trailer. It now has 165,000 miles on it and we can't decide whether to have this car overhauled or buy a new one. We've thought of buying an RV to travel in but that would require pulling a small car behind it so that we can "explore" the areas we camp at but we like having a big, comfortable car for this. Are new cars capable of towing a trailer? Would a sport/ utility truck be a good choice for us? We are comfortably retired.
L.H. Suffolk, VA

A. If you go through your Mercury, you'll have the advantage of having it done to your own specifications. If you've maintained you car, chances are the mechanicals aren't going to be a problem for a long time but the electronics and the automatic transmission may cause problems in the near future. It would be a good idea to have them gone through. You could put a great deal of money into your present car and still be money ahead over buying new. I'm not an exponent of towing a trailer long distances behind a sport/utility vehicle.

Q. For the past three years I've been reading your column and have never seen any comment regarding the Fiat X1/9 automobile. I am the owner of one that I bought new in 1975 right off the showroom floor. Everything is original on my car and now it is in my garage where I am slowly working it. It runs very good and the body is in very good condition. What I want to know is if the Fiat X/19 will ever be a collector's car. They seem to be an advanced fun cars. It came with retractable bumpers, fold-down headlights and other advanced features.
Z.B. Oakley, CA

A. You haven't been reading our column long enough. We did a complete story on the Fiat X/19 ten years ago. The Italian Fiat made a fair showing on the American market several decades ago but it developed a reputation for being unreliable and its sales tumbled. The last Fiats imported were '80 models and began to rust out as they came off the ship. In its ensuing legal problems with the government, Fiat decided to buy them back and close up shop in this country. The X/19 is a neat mid-engined "targa" coupe that handles well but is underpowered in its original form. After Fiat left, the X/19 was imported as a Bertone in '83 and sold through selected ex-Fiat dealers. It disappeared in 1990. Your X/19 is an neat little machine and examples are selling for $3000 to $5000 in Hemmings Motor News. The car is already a collector's car but it's not a high-ticket item. Other Fiats are more desirable and sell for bigger bucks. The front-engined Spider 2000 of the late '70s is a two-placed convertible that has become a hot item as a collectible but drivable sports car. In '84 and '85, this car was brought into the U.S as a Pininfarina and like the Bertone, was sold by former Fiat dealers.

Q. Last year some vandals put Super Glue into the driver's side lock of my Toyota Corolla. Everyone says that I have to replace the lock and this includes the dealer who sold me the car. I've resisted the expense and open the passenger's door, reach across and open the driver's door from the inside. This is getting pretty old at this point. Is there no solution other than replacement?
D.A. Seattle, WA

A. Bite the bullet and have the lock replaced. The intricate and minuscule tumblers, springs and other parts inside the lock mechanism are very fragile. They would be impossible to free-up even if there was a solvent available that would melt the glue. Make sure that whoever does the job matches the replacement lock with the coding on the other side. While it's not a major problem to have different keys for each of the front doors, one for both is lots easer in the long run.

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