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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1992 Toyota Camry LE, four-door sedan with a four cylinder engine and an automatic transmission. It handles and performs very nicely. The only problem I'm having is a slight but noticeable and very irritating vibration in the steering wheel when I pull up to a stop with the transmission in any gear. It does not vibrate with the transmission in Park or Neutral or when traveling at any speed. Can you tell me what the problem is and should this be a cause for concern?
W.P. Elmira, OR

A. In effect, what you're saying is that your steering wheel vibration only happens when you're rolling up to a stop with the brakes applied and doesn't occur when the car is static. It sounds like the problem is in the front brakes, a common problem with Camrys. The disc brakes in the front of your Toyota are something like the front brake on a modern bicycle. If the front wheel on a bicycle is bent, the rider feels it when the front brake is applied and its pads grip the irregular surface. Disc brakes on a car are much the same with pads that "pinch" a rotor that revolves with the wheel. Although the rotors on your car are ventilated to keep them cool, they still get overheated and warp. A brake shop can check this out and can sometimes save a warped rotor by "turning" it on a brake lathe but it will require new brake pads, too. But before you go to that expense, check with a local Toyota dealer to see if the problem is covered by an extended warranty. As I recall, certain Toyota year/models had such bad problems with front brakes that all of them were recalled for free repairs. Yours may not be covered, but the worst thing they can do is to say no.

Q. I have a 1998 Dodge Ram 2500 pickup truck with a Cummins turbo diesel engine and an automatic transmission. I bought it new and it now has 14,000 miles on the odometer. It has an oil leak that seems to be coming from a ventilation tube on the engine. I leave oil spots everywhere I park and it's embarrassing. I talked to the shop at the Dodge dealership where I bought it and was told that they all leak and that there's nothing that they can do about it. I hate to leave oil spots in driveways were I park.
C.P. Bloomington, CA

A. I've talked to five people I know who have Dodge pickups with Cummins diesel engines and although the oldest is a '91 model, none have experienced the oil leak that you describe. Unless the factory has had a change in policy during the past year, you're being shined on. My contacts have also told me that Dodge is very anxious to uphold the reputation that its Cummins diesel has acquired and it has bent over backwards to keep owners happy. One even got a free repaint on his hood and cab when it began to deteriorate. Have a dealer call in a factory service representative to check your truck and let me know what happens.

Q. Our Mercury Marquis has a 5.0 liter engine. It was purchased new in 1990, and it now has 46,000 miles. We've followed the manufacturer's maintenance instruction explicitly except that we've changed the oil at 3000 mile intervals. Our problem is that the oil drain plug on the front part of the pan can be turned in both directions. It can't be removed but it doesn't leak. The dealer says that the engine must be removed and the pan replaced at a cost of $1000. I've discussed the problem with two other mechanics and they say to leave the front plug as-is and continue to change the oil through the rear plug at 2500 to 3000 mile intervals.
C.E. Mercer Island, WA

A. That faulty front plug can be drilled out and replaced by a slightly oversized self-tapping plug. I've done it a couple of times but it's messy and the tech has to be careful to recover the chips. If the original doesn't leak, I'd leave it alone. Save your $1000.

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