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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I recently purchased a 1993 Volkswagen Eurovan with 120,000 miles. Everything seems to work well except the automatic transmission. The shifting up and down in moving from a resting position to 40 MPH and then back to slower speeds is very rough and jerky with a noticeable "klunk" between gears. I have told that this is a common fault with this Audi-made automatic transmission and that it isn't a fault or a problem of something being worn out. It's just that these transmission aren't as smooth as American transmissions. I find it difficult to understand why that difference should exist when all the other parts of this unit have such refined engineering evident. I would greatly appreciate your opinion as to the desirability of having a rebuilt transmission installed or is there some adjustment I should have made.
J.B. Florence, OR

A. Those five-cylinder VW Eurovans had lots of engine problems as well as a rough transmission. They weren't imported in from 1994 to 1998 because they were too expensive and underpowered compared to their American minivan competition but the '99 V6 version is another story. They're relatively expensive to repair, so get iron-clad estimates before you have anything done. Another problem you'll encounter is in finding a shop that can do the job correctly. A shop that generally does American automatics might have a problem finding a source of parts and might have to learn its "tricks" on your transmission. If you can find another owner of a Eurovan like yours, you may be able to find a VW expert who will undertake the job and can do it right.

Q. I bought a new automobile in 1996 with a 2.0 liter, single- overhead-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine. Although I have driven the vehicle under normal conditions, the cylinder head gasket started leaking in 1997 at 12,000 miles and had to be replaced by the dealer. The same exact problem happened again in 1998 at 24,000 miles and the gasket had to be replaced a second time by the dealer. Can you give me any advice on how I should deal with an indicator that I could be experiencing more serious problems with my engine in the future? My car is only under warranty until July.
J.S. Monterey, CA

A. You don't mention the brand of car, but it doesn't really make much difference except that some late model four-bangers are more prone to head gasket failure than others. If your dealer's mechanic simply slipped in a new head gasket without trying to find the cause, I can understand the second failure. Head gaskets fail for many reasons, but it could be caused by a coolant leak which causes overheating, a cracked head which blew out a part of the gasket, the bolts that hold it down not installed correctly or a couple of other remote possibilities. The second time around, the technician should have had the head pressure- tested for cracks and examined for warpage. If this wasn't done, you may be facing the problem again. Examine your warranty invoices and determine exactly was done to prevent a reoccurrence.

Q. We bought a 1998 Chevrolet Malibu new last year and soon found that the air conditioning system takes ten minutes to come on when the car is first started. After six tries at a repair, the selling dealer was told by the factory that all '98 Malibus have the problem and that it was incurable. I'm being told to live with it while they look for a fix.
S.M. Shoreline, WA

A. The engineers at G.M. designed and built the system and if they say it can't be fixed, they may be right. But just as a test, try taking it to an independent a/c shop for a second opinion. They may know something the factory guys don't. I've passed your note on to the public relations department of Chevrolet for comment. Let me know if it brings a response from the factory.

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