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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We have a 1984 Mercury station wagon Grand Marquis/Crown Colony. The engine is a 302 with 190,000 miles. The transmission is automatic. There is a problem with the motor dying. The worst part is that it is erratic and doesn't seem to relate to heat of cold, a/c or heater on or off. It may run for days or weeks without dying but once it begins, it stalls until it has been turned off for 15 minutes or so. It only dies when you are slowing down a great deal or are close to stopping. We have had it to three shops with no success. The first charged us $700 and when it didn't fix the problem, we were told that the car needed the repairs that had been done and that we could bring the car back when it died again. The second said that they couldn't get it to stall while the third replaced some parts at under $100. When the job failed to fix the problem, they admitted that they experienced the problem but couldn't find the reason. I've talked to others who have the owned Ford and Mercurys of the same year and sold them when a cure couldn't be found.
S.G. Elk Grove, CA

A. Your problem used to be very common with Ford products of that era. We found that the cause was usually a faulty ignition module and never had a reliable test except that when it happened, there would be no spark to the spark plugs. When it happened in the field, the module would "rest" long enough to start working again. We tried to duplicate the problem by putting a drop light on top of the sealed unit the get it hot but it never worked. Finally Ford's tech department told us to replace it with a "known good unit" and run it for a while. This meant that we had to keep one in our tool chest, install it and hope it worked indefinitely. If you had sent a copy of your repair invoices along, I would have known if the first shop had replaced the ignition module.

Q. We have had three General Motors vehicles in eight years, a '92 Chevy half-ton pickup and the current '93 Astro. This we traded in on a '90 Astro a year ago. You may call us slow learners and we admit it. All three have had paint peeling problems. It seems that every third Astro that we see on the road has a similar problem. Is General Motors taking any responsibility for this? Do we have any recourse? It has taken us eight years to have my husband say he will never buy another General Motors vehicle. Meantime we face a $2600 paint bull for our Astro van.
J.S. Sweet Home, OR

A. General Motors did, indeed, have a big problem with its paint techniques in those days but it didn't seem to affect all GM products. I've never seen a Cadillac or Buick with paint peeling off hoods and tops. You're between a rock and a hard place since you didn't buy the '93 Astro new. When the vans and trucks were new and the paint started peeling within the first year of ownership, General Motors usually paid for a partial repaint but very often, the problem then showed up in areas that hadn't been repainted. I'm told that it was a somewhat experimental painting technique that was abandoned later. You might find a class-action suit in progress on the subject that you can get in on if you diligently surf the internet using the search-words "auto recall."

Q. My '97 VW Passat runs like a dream but at 23,000 miles the "Check Engine" light came on. My dealer's shop says it was a clogged EGR valve and it had to be cleaned for $79. I didn't make it home before it came on again. This time the repair took a week and cost $471 for an air flow sensor and an EGR solenoid. A week later the light came on again. Are other Passats failing? How long can I run with the light on?
C.M. Aurora, IL

A. You'd do well to ask your dealer for a conference with the VW/Audi factory rep for your area. The pollution control systems you paid to have repaired may be covered under a federally-mandated warrenty. I've passed your letter on the folks at Audi for comment.

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