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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I recently purchased a 1999 Park Avenue Buick. I have put about 2800 miles on it and I've had a constant whistling noise coming from the front of the car. I took it to the shop of the dealer who sold it to me and they said that it was coming from the alternator. They put on a new alternator but said they would not guarantee it to stop the noise. It did not stop the noise when I accelerate or decelerate. A friend of mine in Minnesota had the same problem and he had to have the power pack replaced. Is this a common problem or do I have some dealer recourse?
R.L. Elgin, IL

A. I just talked to a Buick public relations representative and faxed your letter to him. He assures me that the company is anxious to take care of owners of new Buicks and that he's forwarding the information to the factory service rep in your area. He reminded me that owners can take their cars to any franchised Buick dealer anywhere to get those kinds of problems rectified. This applies to the owner of any brand of vehicle that's still under a factory warranty. If an owner doesn't get a satisfactory response from a dealership, he or she can call the service "hot-line" that's given in the owner's manual, but this very often results in a less-than-gratifying solution. After these two avenues are explored, the next request should be for a factory representative to check the vehicle in person. Unless they all do it (a not uncommon response from disinterested mechanics) yours shouldn't do it either.

Q. I recently found a 1984 American Motors Alliance. It has a four- cylinder engine, an automatic transmission and is in need of considerable engine work. It hasn't run or been licensed for several years. The owner is willing to give it to me and I think it would be a good project for me to use to introduce my son to the basics of the automobile and that we can learn together. He just turned 15 and will soon want to get a license and drive his own car. I can't find much information or a source of parts for this car and need to know if there is an Alliance club somewhere.
D.S. Carmichael, CA

A. In this case, you should look a gift horse in the mouth. The Alliance was actually a Renault 9 made at the AMC factory in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The car had lots of built-in mechanical problems and today a perfect specimen is worth perhaps $1000. It would be easy to sink considerably more than that into a bad one to get it running and if it hasn't been licensed for many years, the fees and penalties might be pretty high too. Before you start an automotive educational project, find a source of parts, repair information, the value of the completed project and anything else that might involve time or money. It's easy to have a worthless car wind up costing you more money for disposal. Also determine if you have the tools and space to do the job as well as the interest level of your son. He may discover girls halfway through the project, if he hasn't already. I'm speaking from a five-son experience.

Q. My 1994 Honda Accord has 101,000 miles on it and has been using some oil. Our mechanic says that the probable cause is that the seals on the valves are worn out and should be replaced. It blows out a little smoke when it starts up in the morning but after that, I don't see any smoke coming from the tail pipe. I'm afraid to have the engine taken apart because I've heard that they are never quite right after that.
D.S. Springfield, OR

A. A repair is only as good as the mechanic who does the job and if you have a good one, trust him or her. Replacing the valve stem seals doesn't require removing the cylinder head in most cases and if your mechanic has been in the business for a while, it shouldn't be much of a problem. If the head has to be removed, decisions then have to be made about how much more work should be done.

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