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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1978 Lincoln Versailles with a 302 cubic-inch engine, automatic transmission and 168,000 miles on the odometer. This car has a new fuel pump, new modulator (it has electronic ignition), a new alternator, new distributor wires, new spark plugs, two new fuel filters and had the vacuum lines checked for leakage. This is a beautiful car, it has an expensive paint job ($3500), Dunlop real wires, etc. It's a real head-turner. For the past year when I'm on the freeway or at a stop sign, the engine will shut down and not restart until I wait for 30 minutes or so. The car is garaged at night and starts OK in the morning. I'm getting a little jittery at stops and intersections. I'd like to keep this car but I need dependability. I have had a mechanic work on this but he's baffled.
D.C. Sacramento, CA

A. I've come across this problem on lots of Ford vehicles of that vintage, from Pintos to Mustangs, and the usual problem is an internally overheated or incorrectly installed ignition module. Unfortunately, I've experienced many failures with aftermarket modules for these cars and have only had success with original Ford equipment. I tried testing cars that experienced this problem by letting them run in the shop with a drop light on top of the module hoping it would overheat and quit, but I only had this test work twice. It's also possible that corrosion has built up inside the plug-in connector of the module. The only way I know of to test the module is to replace it with a known good unit and I used to keep a good one in my tool box to test with.

Q. What is the difference between a premium oil and a private label? I went to a well-known auto parts store for some motor oil. He didn't carry my brand but he suggested his label brand which he says is made and packaged by the same company that I want. My car dealer says I have to use their brand to cover my guarantee.
F.L. Aulander, NC

A. If your dealer says to stick with a particular brand of oil to keep the guarantee valid, my suggestion is to keep using it rather than become involved in a hassle in the event something goes wrong. My personal opinion is that there isn't much difference between brands of oil as long as the ratings and specifications on the can or plastic bottle are the same. I usually get a lot of negative mail when I make this statement, but I've never seen proof that one brand or another extends engine life when the oil and oil filter are changed at the recommended frequency. I have seen sub-standard oil filters fail, however.

Q. Is there such a thing as a front-wheel-drive small truck? I need a king-cab with good mileage but I don't want to pay the cost of a four-wheel-drive. For traction, front-wheel-drive cars are super but what about trucks? I wouldn't even need bricks in the back on those icy winter roads.
L.M. Marcola, OR

A. There have, indeed, been front-wheel-drive pickups but not for a long time. Volkswagen made a Rabbit pickup from 1980 to 1983 but it was more like a coupe with a big trunk and wasn't really designed to do any serious cargo hauling. For one year, the Rabbit pickup could even be had with a diesel engine but it had a poor performance record as an oil-burner. Chrysler also made the small front-wheel-drive Dodge/Plymouth Rampage pickup in those years to capitalize on what it perceived as a trend but Chrysler guessed wrong. The Rampage was really a modified Dodge Challenger/Plymouth Turismo sporty car but it could also be had with four-wheel drive. If your plans are to buy a new or a used late-model pickup, you're pretty well stuck with what you see on the market today.

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