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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We own a 1994 Honda Accord with a four cylinder engine and a standard transmission. The car has 78,000 miles on the odometer but it only had 24,000 on it when we bought it from the original owner a few years ago. It's given us good service except that we had to have the back brakes replace shortly after we bought it. It has one annoying trait that my wife and I have learned to live with. Normally we drive around town using only the first four gears but when we shift into fifth outside the city, the gears grind unless we hesitate slightly as the lever goes through the neutral position. Our problem is that our teen-aged daughter is learning to drive and she isn't able to get the hang of pausing between gears. I took the car to a Honda dealer's shop and was told that the transmission would have to be removed and overhauled with a lot of new parts. Isn't there some adjustment that can be made to keep the gears from grinding?
J.F. San Francisco, CA

A.I hope your new-driver daughter doesn't have to drive into downtown San Francisco with that stick-shift Honda. Those hills are daunting even to a seasoned driver who has had experience with the brake/clutch/gas pedal routine needed to keep a car or truck from rolling backwards when a street signal light changes. The fifth gear shift fork on your Accord was manufactured incorrectly and the cure is its replacement along with a handful of other transmission parts. It's not an inexpensive job and if you decide to continue living with the problem, have the transmission oil changed since it may contain brass and iron filings from missed shifts. Maybe you should consider another car for your daughter, one with an automatic transmission.

Q. My '95 dodge Neon is having an oil pressure problem. When I'm making a long turn off a highway on or off-ramp at regular highway speeds, the oil pressure light comes on. This only happens on long turns and the light always goes out once the car is going straight again. The first time it happened I pulled over and checked the oil level but the it was right on the mark. A neighbor who does a lot of work on his own hobby car hooked up an oil pressure gauge to it at his house and said that the oil pressure was almost 30 pounds even when the engine was warmed up and idling. I've changed the oil and filter several times but the problem hasn't gone away.
T.H. Seattle, WA

A. You have a major problem that could lead to big trouble in your engine. I assume that you have a single-cam 2.0 liter engine in which case the problem is possibly blocked oil return holes from the cylinder head to the oil sump and oil isn't draining back fast enough. In some cases, the return holes in the head had ragged casting flaws that require a cleanup. A mechanic can check this without dismantling the engine but if the job needs to be done, the head has to be removed and the holes redrilled. It's a touchy operation since the mechanic has to make sure he hasn't drilled too deep and that none of the chips get into the valve train. There's been lots of engine failures in those Neons.

Q. My question is academic. When we recently went shopping for a car, a brochure in the showroom said that the car we were looking at had a passenger compartment air filter but the salesman couldn't tell me how often it should be changed.
T.D. Norfolk, VA

A. If you buy the car, the owner's handbook will have that information but as a rule of thumb, 20,000 miles is the limit unless you drive in a particularly dirty or dusty area. If it becomes blocked, the system starts to recycle interior air only and can even lead to moisture in the evaporator case that can breed the fungus that produces a "dirty socks" smell in the heating and cooling system.

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