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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I own a '96 Ford Mustang with a 3.8 liter V6 engine and an automatic transmission. A friend told me that Ford had goofed in the 3.8 liter V6 with the aluminum heads and iron block. He says they've been having engine problems at 20 to 30 thousand miles with head gasket failure causing water to leak into the cylinders. This would result in bent connecting rods, crankshaft damage, etc. My son-in-law has a garage and is a veteran mechanic with years of experience with Fords and Chevrolets. He says that with proper coolant and oil levels no trouble should ever be experienced. I find it hard to believe that Ford, with its experience in engine building, could make a mistake like this.
W.R. Eugene, OR

A. Ford V6 engines with aluminum heads and iron blocks have been built since the early '80s and they have, indeed, had lots of cylinder head problems. A friend has a typical comprehensive automotive machine shop (six to eight technicians) and he'll have two to three sets of these heads come through the shop every week. Most of them have cracks in them. Sometimes the cracks are on the "step" that contains the lower- edge set of head bolts, while others are in the combustion chamber around and under the exhaust valve seat. About half have to be sent out to be welded, while others have to be sent in to be totally remanufactured. Some are simply beyond help. This machinist says that Ford will often take care of the problem on a "squeaky spoke" warranty if the car is under five years but past that, the owner is out of luck.

Q. My 1990 Toyota pickup is an X-tra Cab model and it has a 3.0 liter V6 engine. I bought it second hand and it has 91,000 miles on it. When I bought it, it had around 50,000 miles. I really wanted one with an automatic transmission but I had to settle for one with a five-speed manual but now I'm beginning to wonder if I've made a mistake. Recently I've been having trouble keeping it in third gear. It usually pops out after I've just put it in third gear and start to accelerate. The shift lever has a funny feel when I shift into either first, third or fifth gear. I've been told that the transmission needs an overhaul and the price I've been quoted is very high.
K.M. San Bernardino, CA

A. It's possible that you may not need transmission work if it hasn't been jumping out of gear for very long. At the lower end of your gearshift lever there is a ball that the lever swivels on and the ball rests on a concave plastic ring that keeps the metal ball from "working" on the metal cup. These plastic rings disintegrate over a period of time and produce enough "slop" in the shift mechanism to keep the gears from meshing fully. Eventually, this wear doesn't push the gearshift synchronizer teeth into the transmission gears deep enough and they wear. Have that plastic ring replaced and you may catch the problem in time to avoid an expensive overhaul. On some vehicles the transmission doesn't even have to be removed to replace this part.

Q. Two months ago while rotating my tires I noticed that the front brake pads were getting low, so I bought a set from a parts store and installed them myself. Shortly after, a vibration started when I applied the brakes. Since my '96 Honda Civic has 31,000 miles and is less than three years old, I took it to a Honda dealer for warranty repairs. There I was told that my aftermarket pads had produced too much heat, had warped the rotors and that Honda cannot warranty machining them. I'd never heard of brake pads that were detrimental to your car.
B.B. Virginia Beach, VA

A. Hard or high-metallic pads last longer, but they put out lots more heat. Civic brake rotors won't take excessive heat and they warp. That's why Honda uses soft linings. Most shops won't even machine the rotors but simply install new ones. It saves the shop hassles in the long run.

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