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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1987 Ford Thunderbird coupe with a 3.8 liter engine that has over 200,000 miles on it and a lot of valve noise. The engine burns no oil, but it has a considerable amount of piston ring blow-by. Every 2000 miles or so, I have to add a quart of oil. I was told to install a high volume oil pump in it and that this would stop the valve clatter.
K.T Frisco, NC

A. Somewhere in my files, I have an old Ford factory procedure sheet that states that the company considers the burning of a quart of oil in 1000 miles normal usage. The oil your Thunderbird is using is going past the piston rings or the valve guides, is partially consumed in the combustion process and then cleaned up by the exhaust system catalytic converter. The first thing to do is to check the engine's actual oil pressure. You can do this by temporarily installing a hydromechanical oil pressure gauge into its oiling system. Then you can see what the oil pressure is with the engine hot and idling. If it's down around zero, it's possible that your oil pump is worn out and needs replacing but at such high mileage, I suspect other problems. The connecting rod, crankshaft and camshaft bearings may well be worn and losing oil pressure which would starve the engine's hydraulic cam followers and they'd clatter. It's also possible that the camshaft and/or its followers are worn out and simply have too much clearance. All these things can be dismantled and checked (including the wear factor on the oil pump) but on a high-mileage engine, it's simply exploratory surgery. If you like the car, be ready for a rebuilt engine or turn up the radio.

Q. I have a 1989 BMW 325i with 30K original miles. A couple of months ago, I had it inspected at a local BMW dealership. After the inspection, I shifted into Drive. The car took off and accelerated quickly and out of control. The anti-skid brake system failed. Instead of entering the highway, I steered the car within the dealership lot but could not avoid hitting three new BMWs in the process. After careening into the third car, I finally gained control of my vehicle and stopped it. However, my car was totaled. I would like to write the automaker and let him know what happened. Would you be kind enough to provide me with the name and address of a BMW representative who would be willing to listen?
T.D. Virginia Beach, VA

A. I assume by the tone of your letter that you've already talked to a factory person and got an unsatisfactory response. I don't know any BMW factory reps personally, but the address of BMW is Box 1227, Westwood, NJ, 07675. If the problem was caused by a factory defect, you should contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration at 800-424-9393 and/or search the internet for BMW recalls or class-action suits. If the problem was caused by faulty workmanship at the dealer's shop, I can't give you advice since I'm a mechanic and not a lawyer.

Q. I have a photo that was given to me by a friend. It pictures his mom, dad and sister standing beside a 1931 Ford. The part of the photo that interests me is the front tires. He said that in '44 and '45 tires were rationed so his dad got surplus aircraft tires and had the wire wheel rims cut down so they would fit. He said a shop in Tulare, Cal. did the work. Have you heard of this before? I'm 67 years old and I don't know of anyone who did that around my hometown of Danbury, Conn.
A.W. Yuba City, CA

A. Drivers did inventive things to keep cars running during the war. Re-rimming wheels to adapt them to different tires was fairly common, but in those days it was usually done on race cars before over-the- counter stuff was available. Back then, mechanics had to be part technician, part blacksmith and part magician. My great-uncle was an auto mechanic at the turn of the century and sometimes had to make his own parts like chain sprockets and pistons.

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