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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1986 Suzuki Sidekick with 160,000 miles on it. When I bought it I took it to my mechanic and he told me that it had piston slap but the price I paid still made the car worth the purchase. His advice was to run it until it started to used as much oil like gas. It has now reached that point. He also advised me to buy an engine from one of the engine importers rather than rebuild it as it would be cheaper. I use the car primarily as a "dingy" behind the motorhome. In two years I have put 13,000 miles on it. In your opinion, what is the best way to go on replacing my oil burner. I want to keep the car because it is a perfect towed vehicle and I do use the four-wheel drive when we get snow in our area. The 13,000 miles is driven miles and not towed. Are the import engines really imported or just recycled junkyard takeouts? Is any other engine common to the Sidekick? Is a more powerful engine available to fit?
J.C Tehachapi, CA

A.I haven't had experience with Suzukis but I've found that many other Japanese engines develop piston slap almost immediately after they're broken in. On pulling them down, I found the piston skirt-to-bore clearances within limits and could only attribute the noise to skirts built short to lighten the reciprocating mass. The engines that come from Japan are usually in very good condition and have very low mileage but they sometimes take some fiddling the get them to fit into made-for- America cars and you don't know it until you start installing them. SIdekicks and Geo/Chevy Trackers are clones but the engines may have subtle differences. If your oil pressure is good at idle and the bearings don't knock, it may be worth pulling the pistons to see if the bores would take replacement pistons and go for an overhaul.

Q. I have an '86 Toyota Cressida. I had a used engine put into it recently. Since I had the job done, the seat belt warning relay indicator beeps and its light flashes. It seems to lessen and sometimes stops when the car is at idle but the frequency picks up with speed. The mechanic who did the engine swap claims that his work had nothing to do with the relay switch which is located behind the dashboard.
C.H. Fleet Post Office

A. It's almost impossible to tell if a mechanic made a mistake in hooking up a salvaged engine unless each wire and vacuum hose is matched against a schematic. I've seen some strange hookups done when a mechanic get under the gun to finish a job. The only way to cure your problem is to trace the circuitry from the seat belt warning system back to it's power source. It interacts with the parking brake warning system, I'm told, so you might check that out. It's possible it's positioning got out of adjustment when the engine job was done.

Q. I am asking your advice about a car that I just purchased for our son who just started driving. I bought a 1986 Plymouth Reliant with a four-cylinder, 2.5 liter engine with fuel injection. I changed the oil, replaced the air filter, changed the spark plugs wires and cap, and also replaced the EGR canister. The problem I have is that there is a vacuum leak somewhere in the system. When the car is parked and at speeds up to 15 MPH, it runs rough. Once the speed goes past 15 MPH, it runs smooth as can be. I don't know what to do now. I am also trying to teach my son basic skills on car repairs but this is not helping matters.
S.J. Franklin, VA

A. You may be metaphorically trying to teach your son to run the 100-yard dash before he learns to walk since trouble-shooting is past the realm of "basic" car care. A vacuum leak in that car could be caused by loose intake manifold fasteners, bad fuel injectors, a slightly stuck EGR valve or any number of other things. Perhaps the first basic you should teach your son its to find a qualified and honest mechanic.

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