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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. When I had my Buick Park Avenue Ultra serviced recently, the attendant advised me that there was motor oil in my cooling system and radiator. He flushed the system out and refilled it. He said he had no idea where the oil came from. My car has been taken back to the dealer since I purchased it four years ago. No one else has serviced it or worked on it. The car is always locked. I am quite concerned about this. I would like to know where the oil came from and if it could damage any part of the motor. Could it have been a gasket?
H.A. Virginia Beach, VA

A. Oil in the cooling system is definitely not good, but coolant in the motor oil is even worse. For instance, the 4.1 liter Cadillac aluminum engine had head gasket shearing problems that dumped antifreeze into the oil pan where it destroyed the engine almost immediately. Oil could be getting pushed into your engine's cooling system through a hairline crack in a gasket or "hard" part where the passages are close together. Usually, the reverse happens too and coolant gets into the oil sump. Since they don't mix, an easy test is to have the oil drained to see if the initial fluid that pours out is a water/antifreeze mix. It's also possible that the "oil" in your cooling system was or is automatic transmission fluid (ATF). The ATF is pumped through an "intercooler" that consists of a sealed tube that runs through one of the tanks in your radiator to cool off or heat up the ATF as it operates the transmission. I've seen them leak ATF into the radiator. In either case, it will take an experienced mechanic to analyze and repair the problem.

Q. Can you tell me if there is a web site for a person to find the average price to do a repair job? I'd like to know what it costs to do a job like replacing a water pump, adjusting the valves or replacing a timing chain by giving the year and make of the car. This way we consumers will have an idea instead of calling many shops around town and we won't run the risk of getting ripped off.
J.L. Sacramento, CA

A. The only website that I can come up with that might suit your requirements is Alldata, although there may be others that I'm unaware of. Alldata is a webservice that professionals subscribe to, but it has "buttons" for other clients including do-it-yourselfers. The problem with shopping for prices for repairs is that the skill and experience of the technicians who pull the wrenches varies greatly. Penske Industries found this to be true when it took over the repair facilities of a well-known mass-merchandiser. It couldn't find skilled mechanics who would work for minimum wage and the quality of the resulting service was abominable. It's my contention that the best way to find a good, reliable shop is to ask other motorists (lots of them) for the name of the shop that services their car (preferably the same brand as yours) and give it a try. Lots of people stay with the same shop for years.

Q. I have a 1995 Dodge Stratus sedan with only 23,000 miles. We bought it from an elderly couple who drove it very little and always kept it garaged. Apparently they never drove it in the rain since the windshield wipers were almost glued to the windshield when we got it. I am putting a lot of miles on the car and have noticed that there is water accumulating in the fuel fill door after a rain.
H.T. Milton, WA

A. Sometimes you can fix minor problems without having to go to a professional. The recommended cure is to drill a very small hole in the plastic fill housing as low as possible in the sheet metal notch at the bottom of the fill housing immediately inside the door. As a precaution, put a couple of cans of "dry gas" in with a tankful of fuel to remove any water that may have seeped in.

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