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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1994 Geo Prizm with an automatic transmission and a 1.6 liter Toyota engine. It had 35,000 miles on it when I bought it four years ago and it now has 46,000 miles. I have had no problems until three or four months ago. I took it to the dealer where I bought it. They put a new battery in it, but it still hesitates to start right off three or four times every week. I'm wondering if it could be in the ignition switch or the safety switch on the transmission?
J.D. San Bernardino, CA

A. A great number of 12-volt batteries are needlessly changed every year and if you simply asked your mechanic to replace the battery in your Geo because you'd done your own diagnosis, you got what you paid for. It's not hard to analyze a battery to see if it has one or more faulty cells and won't hold a charge but it takes an overnight slow charge followed by a "load" test. It's also fairly easy to check for a faulty neutral safety switch and/or a malfunctioning ignition switch but again, it takes time. If you haven't actually had a technician analyze your problem, take it to someone who knows what he or she is doing. If you try it yourself, you may wind up changing a lot of parts (including some wiring harnesses) before you pinpoint the problem.

Q. I have a '93 Buick Le Sabre with a 3800cc engine. It has been hit twice on the right side. The front fender had to be replaced. The second time the back door had to be straightened and painted. It seems like the car hasn't driven right since then. It was also wearing out brake pads and rotors every six months. I finally had the calipers replaced and was told that they were sticking. The front end never feels stable. I was told that my motor mounts need to be replaced. There are three mounts to this car and I was told that there is one under the transmission on the passenger's side and under the motor. I have 106,000 miles on this car and I now feel that the timing chain is bad. It's now making that clanking noise that you hear when it's bad. I feel that I need to replace the mounts and the timing chain. Since this car is not set on a frame, I feel that whatever is bent underneath the car cannot be fixed. It will always ride bad and never feel stable.
L.B. Chesapeake, VA

A. When it comes to fixing an older vehicle that has taken a couple of hard hits, you get to a point of diminishing returns. There's a big difference between "repair" and "restore." If it was a million-dollar '32 Duesenberg, a person could spend a lot of money on it and still come out ahead. Your Buick is worth around $8000 in the best condition, according to the price guide we use and an estimate of what it would take to get your Le Sabre in excellent shape might exceed that. If you can keep driving it until it gets too expensive to fix, at least you'd have basic transportation. You could trade it off on a new or used vehicle to a dealer and it would be out of your hair forever. If it's as bad as you say, the dealer would probably scrap it or wholesale it off.

Q. Our 1995 Ford Windstar has a V6 engine and an automatic transmission. It now has 71,000 miles, and we bought it with only 10,000 miles on the clock. Since we've had it, it has developed an unbelievable number of squeaks, rattles, groans, creaks and bumps. We've taken it to our mechanic but he finds it hard to pinpoint them, since they only make noise when we're driving it. How can one vehicle make so much noise and how can we get the noises eliminated?
K.F. Boise, ID

A. According to Ford, those Windstars have 12 different locations that could be causing noises. Ford dealers have a device called the Rotunda Electronic Ear that has six microphones that are strapped to different points underneath the vehicle during a road test. It sounds complicated and time-consuming, so I wish you luck.

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