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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. My son has a 1990 Ford Probe with a 2.2 liter four cylinder engine. It has a battery that is about two years old. It has failed to start three times in the last 18 months. During these times the key just turns and there's no other action or sound. Each time it had to be jump started, and he then immediately drove it to the shop that sold it to him to have the electrical system checked. He was told each time that they couldn't find anything wrong. The last time was just three weeks ago and the battery was putting out 10.5 volts and the alternator checked out OK. He keeps it tuned and takes very good care of the car. All electrical connections seem to be tight. Could it be an intermittent short in the ignition system or any other place?
C.S. Seattle, WA

A. Take off the battery cables and clean their ends and the terminals on the battery with a battery terminal inside/outside brush. If it happens again after that, turn on the headlamps and see if they come on. If they light, try to start the engine and see if the light immediately go dim or out. This is a quick test for a weak battery. Your battery should put out at least 12.6 volts in normal weather and not drop below 10.5 volts when subjected to a load-test with a battery tester. If the cells have individual electrolyte caps (not many do these days), you can test the specific gravity of each cell with a hydrometer and they should all read evenly, even if the battery is flat. Twice I've come across batteries that have terminals that have broken loose from the internal plate they were attached to, but it's kind of a rare thing. It's possible you have an ignition switch or connection problem but try these simple tests first.

Q. I had my transmission rebuilt on my '84 Toyota Cressida and now it bumps so hard it feels like someone is running into me. Do you know what could be the problem? It only has 20,000 miles on it. Do I need a new transmission? The problem has existed since the first day I got it back from the transmission shop, but the shop manager says that there is nothing they can do to it. I've had it back to them about 20 times.
S.B. Castro Valley, CA

A. After 20,000 miles, you don't have much of a chance of having the shop make good on its poor workmanship. If the shop that did the job originally was part of a nationally franchised chain, you might have had some luck going through the headquarters complaint department since they're touchy about their perceived bad reputations. There's a problem somewhere in the modulation system that makes it shift too hard and it may be a fairly simple fix if the mechanic knows what he or she is doing. It's unlikely that you need a new transmission so much as you need someone to fix yours correctly.

Q. We have a 1994 Ford Taurus sedan with a 3.2 liter V6 engine and an automatic transmission. We bought it with very low mileage and it now has 64,000 miles on it. We have maintained the car according to the recommended schedule and it has given good service. The only problem we have with it is that it gives off a faint metallic clicking sound when we are backing up. It becomes slightly louder when we are on a slight uphill grade. We have taken it to a repair shop and were told that it is a common trait with these cars and that it won't do any damage.
M.M. Norfolk, VA

A. Your mechanic is right in that it's somewhat common with '94 to '96 Tauruses as well as some Lincoln Continentals of '95 and '96. It's a problem in the transaxle wherein one of the gears is just a bit too close to the transaxle case and under certain conditions touches the side of the case. There is a cure for it (the installation of a modified support unit) but there isn't a recall on it that I know of and unfortunately, your Ford is well beyond its warranty period.

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