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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1977 Pontiac Bonneville with 123,000 miles on it. It has a problem with driving straight. It pulls to the right if the steering wheel is released. I had the tires rotated and balanced and the front end aligned but it still has the same problem. I can't think of anything else it could be but I'm no mechanic.
J.H. Chesapeake, VA

A. If you asked your mechanic to do all those individual services, you probably got what you asked for. Whenever you have a problem, don't request a particular job unless you're absolutely sure that you know that job will cure the ailment. You'd have been money ahead to tell the mechanic that your Pontiac pulled to the right and that you need that problem fixed. He'd have road-tested it before he started working on it and would have gotten an idea of what might be wrong. The suspension settings (caster, camber, etc.) on your Pontiac have a lot of latitude on each side and a skilled front-end person can usually adjust one side or the other to get the desired results. Ideally, a vehicle should be adjusted with a very slight right-hand "drift" in it so that if the driver is incapacitated, the machine will pull to the right side of the road rather than into oncoming traffic. On the other hand, there may be mechanical things wrong with your car. Worn ball joints or bushings (and this includes the rear suspension too), bent front suspension parts, sagging suspension springs and any number of other malfunctions could be causing your problem. I've even seen cars that have had different left-and-right wheelbase measurements. When there's a problem, all these things have to be checked out before adjustments are made.

Q. My '97 Pontiac Grand Prix had 48,987 miles on it when I was driving home in the rain at night. As I was driving along, the left headlight lens fell off and was destroyed. When the rain water hit the halogen bulb, it blew out immediately. I pulled off the highway to see what had happened and when I realized that the lens was gone I checked the driver's side and it came off in my hand. I taped it back in and took it to my dealer who agreed that the glue had dried out but with that many miles on the car, Pontiac wouldn't replace it. I called the Pontiac Customer Assistance hot-line and was told the same thing. The lens cost $70 over the counter, so I took it home and installed it myself. My question is whether the other things that are glued together in these cars might eventually dry out and if things are going to periodically start falling off.
B.V. Alamo, CA

A. It's unlikely that every part that's glued onto your Pontiac used faulty adhesive that came from the same pot but it's possible. Might be a good idea to spend an hour or so checking out all the pieces that you can find that aren't screwed on. It also might be a good idea to file a report with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on your problem. The number is 1-800-424-9393.

Q. I bought a used 1990 Nissan Pathfinder from the original owner who lives in Los Angeles about two years ago. I recently moved to Santa Fe in New Mexico and have been experiencing trouble starting the car in the cold weather here. When I have occasion to drive back to California during the summer months, I find that the hard starting goes away. I've had the car tuned up but it hasn't made any difference. Is the problem in the gasoline that I buy in Santa Fe? Can I buy a gasoline additive that will help?
D.M. Santa Fe, NM

A. According to Nissan, the problem is that your Pathfinder has a low altitude coolant temperature sensor and needs one for high altitude. Any Nissan dealer's shop can order up the right sensor and install it for you but I'm told that it's a part that's rarely ordered.

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