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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I own a 1979 Pontiac and I'm having a problem locating parts. I pulled on the hand brake and broke off the handle. My spouse has tried everything to put it together short of bubble gum. I'm now tired of his so-called expertise. Can you tell me where it can be taken to be fixed?
M.G. Seattle, WA

A. Like it or not, your Pontiac may have entered the ranks of "unusual" cars that can require you to network with other owners in order to keep it running. Once a car reaches 20 years of age, it's prone to fall into this category. If your local Pontiac dealer's shop can't or won't do the job, it shouldn't be much of a trick to find a mechanic capable of replacing the broken parts on your hand brake among the ranks of independent shops. These kinds of problems are common to technicians who do body work and repair structural damage, but be ready to pay the going rate. It costs just as much to repair an old car as it does a new one and it's often more difficult since parts may be harder to find. If your Pontiac dealer's parts department can't come up with the items you need, try the auto dismantlers in your area. Used parts are usually considerably less expensive and if your husband watches it being removed from a salvaged Pontiac or some other similar General Motors vehicle, he might be able to figure out how to replace it on your car.

Q. I have a Buick Park Avenue with a 3.8 liter V6 engine. At 82,000 miles, I had to have four freeze plugs replaced. Now at 103,000 miles I have had to have three more of the freeze plugs replaced. Is this normal for this motor? I have never had to replace any freeze plugs on any of the cars that I have owned before.
K.G. Cottage Grove, OR

A. I haven't had any letters regarding the replacing of freeze plugs on the General Motors 3.8 liter V6 before now and it's been used on a great variety of G.M. vehicles over the years. Freeze plugs are discs or cup-shaped metal plugs in a block and cylinder head that are pressed into holes left in the casting through which the casting-sand core is removed when the part is made. The holes open into the cooling system and the plugs are supposed to pop out if the coolant freezes, thus preventing cracks. This isn't much of a problem anymore since most motorists use at least a 50/50 mixture of antifreeze and water as a coolant. If the coolant isn't changed and flushed out often enough, the antifreeze can lose its anti-rust properties and allow the soft iron freeze plugs to rust and corrode. This is especially true of engines that have aluminum parts which set up a low-voltage current in the system and corrode the plugs. In some cases, the transmission or the engine itself has to be removed to get at them. As a matter of practice, I used to replace the freeze plugs in engines that I overhauled or rebuilt with brass plugs to avoid this. A way to avoid the problem is to use a radiator cap that contains a sacrificial anode and change the antifreeze at the recommended intervals.

Q. I have an '96 Toyota Camry LE with the 2.0 liter four-cylinder engine. The car has a sever vibration that comes up through the steering column at idle and when it's in gear. If the A/C is on, it's worse but it runs fine on the road. My local Toyota dealer's shop diagnosed it as broken motor mounts and replace the two that were bad, but it still vibrates, especially in reverse. The mechanic said that the "old" 2.0 liter engine was built without a balanced crankshaft and that as the cars get older, they vibrate and that there was no fix. Is there anything that will fix it or do I have to live with it?
E.J. Bakersfield, CA

A. My Toyota info source says the problem is common and to check the transmission mount for correct installation. Other than that, the only cure he knew of is a teardown for balancing.

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