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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We own a 1998 Dodge Neon with 20,000 miles on it. The problem with the car is that the suspension doesn't soak up the bumps very well. The car rides hard and choppy. Also, the seats are hard, making the ride even worse. Is there something that can be done to either situation to make the ride a little more livable?
D.G. Rotterdam, NY

A. I get a lot of letters from vehicle owners who are unhappy with the way they fit into the driving position, the way their machines ride, how they perform or how they handle. There's almost nothing "wrong" about a car that can't be rectified and it's only limited by the amount of money the owner wants to spend. The Neon is built to a price and the shock absorbers are, by necessity of price shaving, not high quality items. A set of high quality, technically-advanced shocks would no doubt improve the ride and a set of more comfortable aftermarket front seats can be found in the advertising sections of auto magazines like MOTOR TREND, CAR AND DRIVER and ROAD & TRACK. It's a mistake to buy a vehicle without giving it a comprehensive road test over as many miles and road conditions as possible. A ride around the block in a demonstrator can lead to buying a vehicle that soon proves to be unsatisfactory.

Q. I purchased a new '99 Honda Accord EX sedan last August and discovered my speedometer reads very high. The car is as it came from the dealer. No changes in tires or anything else. At 65 MPH I'm only doing 60. At 70 MPH I'm doing 65, etc. These speeds have been verified at the Honda dealership on a dynomometer. I now have 14,000 miles on the car and it is still under warranty but Honda refuses to do anything to correct the speedometer. They claim it is well within their specs of a 10 percent high error margin. Incidentally, the odometer is accurate. Can these speedometers be recalibrated or do I have to live with this error for as long as I own the car?
H.V. Sacramento, CA

A. Since the odometer is accurate, you won't have the worry of having the warranty on your Honda expiring 10 percent early, but that's not the only problem that you may be facing. You'll have to check with the vehicle laws in your state to see if there's a legal limit to how far off a speedometer can be. Usually a driver won't be stopped for going 10 percent over the legal limit but it's up to the discretion of the particular officer. A specialized automotive instrument repair shop might be able to recalibrate the speedometer side of your unit, but the most reasonable cure would be a new speedo "head." The problem in this case is that you'd have to pay for it yourself. I'd try going after the Honda factory again but you may have to take off the kid gloves.

Q. My vehicle is a a 1988 Ford F-150 Club Cab with an eight-foot bed and a 302 cubic-inch V8 engine. It is used mostly for trips and it rides like a Caddy. It has only 74,000 miles. My last trip with it was in September '99 and on the return trip I noticed a humming noise in the cab and a vibration. The noise was more obvious than the vibration. I took it to three mechanics and all thought it was in the drive train. The universal joints have been replaced and a close inspection was made for any drive shaft dents, missing weights, etc. This has resulted in some improvement, but not a total cure. One mechanic put clamps on the shaft to try to create a balance but it didn't eliminate the problem.
T.H. Harbinger, NC

A. Have the slip joints in the drive shaft checked for wear, then have it balanced by an expert. Also check all the flexible mounts on the transmission and rear end. If the transmission is an automatic, drop its pan and check for metallic chips that might indicate worn bearings or bushings that might cause your vibration.

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