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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. In November of last year I bought a 2000 Mazda MPV minivan. Almost immediately it developed a terrible vibration that can be felt strongly driving around town and becomes really bad at around 65 MPH. I took it back to the selling dealer in December and reported what I thought was a steering wheel vibration to the service department. The dealer's shop balanced the wheels but the vibration remained. A few weeks later I took it back again and the vibration was identified as a transmission problem affecting third gear. The technician replaced it with a rebuilt unit after keeping it for four days. It shuddered worse than the original one. A week later I returned to the Mazda dealership complaining that now the transmission vibrated at 45 MPH. The dealer verified that it had an abnormal vibration but told me that there was no way he could fix it. I've driven three other Mazda MPV minivans and none of them have the vibration problem that mine does. The dealer refuses to let me bring it back for further work and the Mazda customer complaint department hasn't responded to my calls. What is the problem and how can I get it fixed?
S.M. Antioch, CA

A. I recently drove a 2000 Mazda MPV minivan and didn't experience any vibration either, so there has to be a way to rectify the problem. Some auto makers have the philosophy that it will only pay for a warranty repair once and if it doesn't work, it's up to the dealership to make it right. If a new vehicle absolutely can't be repaired, most states have lemon laws that require the manufacturer to take it back and issue a refund. I've sent your letter on to my contacts at Mazda some weeks ago, but I haven't heard back from them yet.

Q. I have a '96 Ford Windstar bought new in '97. Starting six months ago, from time to time it would shake when I first started it. It would also do it after short stops, but would calm down after five minutes on the road. I reported it to the dealer's shop but they couldn't recreate the problem so they said they couldn't fix it. Recently the car acted up again and the same dealer's shop now says that there's a problem with both tie rods and that they should be replaced. The warranty is still in effect but only until March.
G.K. Bothwell, WA

A. I hope your problem occurs not when you initially start the engine but after you get under way. Tie rods have nothing to do with engine performance. I'm surprised the mechanics couldn't spot worn tie rod ends when they had your van in the shop. It's a pretty simple test. If the repairs called for are covered by your warranty at absolutely no cost to you, have the dealer's shop do the job, then ask to see the old parts. If not, have your tie rod ends checked at another shop just to make sure the evaluation was correct. Windstars have had lots of brake and front end problems, so you have to make sure it will cure your van's shaking.

Q. My sister's '93 Chevy Astro van had 125,000 miles and needed the transmission repaired. A few years ago, I had a shop repair the transmission on my Thunderbird and was happy with it. Their price was by far the best quote we got on the Chevy. They installed a rebuild three months ago and since that time, it's been back three times and each time the owner of the shop says it looks like it had been through a war. He's not sure what causes the breakdowns but he hasn't charged us and has towed it free each time, twice at a distance of 100 miles round trip.
J.M. West Dundee, IL

A. If your shop buys rebuilds from an outside source, maybe he got two or three from a faulty batch. Whoever built them should have some insight into the problem. Have your mechanic contact them for an bit of troubleshooting. If he rebuilt them himself, ask for your money back and go somewhere else.

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