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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. My car is a 1990 Subaru Legacy with the 2.2 liter four cylinder engine and a five-speed transmission. It has 105,000 miles on it and we bought it a year ago from its original owner. We have had the oil and the oil filter changed on schedule but not by a Subaru dealer. We have had a oil quick-change place do it for us. After the last oil and filter change, two days later I noticed that the parking brake light and the brake fluid warning light were on but very dimly. I took it back to the oil change people but the manager there said that it wasn't something that could have been caused by his mechanic. The light wasn't on before I took it in for them to work on.
O.B. Denver, CO

A. The shop manager is right. I think that the dim dash lights on your Subaru are caused by a fault in your alternator which may be on its way to a failure. According to Subaru literature, the grounding circuit for those lights is in the field circuit of the alternator and when a problem occurs in that part of the charging system, it results in those dash lights coming on very dimly. Most oil change shops don't do mechanical or electrical work so you may save yourself some dead battery headaches by having the charging system checked out before it gets any worse.

Q. Is it true that the Cadillac HT4100 engine (transverse mounted) was a bad engine? I used to hear stories about how the coolant leaked into the engine. I also heard that the oil would get stuck on top and when you checked the oil level, it would appear to be low. If oil was added the seals would blow. Is this an engine that G.M. would like to forget like the diesel? My dad blew the engine on his 1987 Sedan DeVille at 42,000 mile but it was probably due to neglect. Should these cars only be maintained by a Cadillac dealer's shop? I like to know since my dad is back to his old bad habits thinking he can buy time with his new HT 4100 engine.
K.B. Antioch, CA

A. My expert on Cadillac lore tells me that the problem with those early HT 4100 engines was that the original head gaskets would "glue" themselves to the aluminum block on one side and to the iron heads on the other. Being dissimilar materials, they'd expand at different rates, tear the gaskets and allow coolant to get into the oil pan where it would emulsify into a gooey mess. The engine would starve from lack of oil and undergo a general failure. Replacement gaskets were more "slippery" and lasted longer. My colleague also tells me that the engine has to be assembled from the heads down (the crank being the last part installed) or the head gaskets could blow again. Any mechanic can work on those Cad as long as he or she understands the proper procedure.

Q. I'm planning on putting my '87 Toyota Supra with 98,000 miles on blocks for a few years and would like to know any specific procedures I should follow. The car will be in a garage and covered. I plan to drive it once a month for about 25 miles to prevent the seals from drying out. In addition the fuel tank will remain full to prevent condensation 'dry gas' will also be used.
D.B. Virginia Beach, VA

A. It sounds like you have most of the bases cover as long as you take the Supra off its blocks and taken out for exercise once a month. Problems might arise if this routine slips over the years. The only thing that I can imagine might give you a hassle is the battery. If it's left hooked up, it can sulfate and or discharge from running things like the clock, etc. It might be a good idea to disconnect or even remove it from its mounting plate between runs. Over a period of time you might find that residual battery acid has eaten a holes through the plate.

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