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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1995 Ford Escort four-door LX with a manual five-speed transmission and 45,000 miles on the odometer. I have serviced it regularly as per the owner's manual at my selling Ford dealer. The last time, I had the shop do a 25-point service inspection and the report said that the transmission leaks. I was taken aback when the service writer who handed me the report thought I had an automatic. When I questioned him about the leak, all he said was that the tech noted some "seepage" and that the transmission guy would be the best to talk to. He offered no more. I looked under the car when I got home and didn't observe any leak. The car is garaged and the floor is clean. I have a manual on the car that says you can check the transaxle lubricant level by removing the speedometer cable, etc. I don't want to get into that. Should I have the fluid level checked out and should I have it done by the dealer or an independent shop? Is it a good idea to have the transmission's lubricant changed every so often? If the transmission lubricant level on my car is OK, should I disregard these inspections and just have it checked out every few thousand miles?
G.A. Elk Grove, CA

A. It would have been a good idea to have had the transmission "seepage" shown to you when you picked up the car. It wouldn't have taken much time and it would have put your mind at rest. If the seepage or leak is at the transmission input shaft seal, the lubricant can get onto the clutch and ruin it. It's a good idea to have periodic checks as per the owner's manual, but I'd be leery of a shop that says in writing that something leaks if it doesn't. It may be time to change shops.

Q. I have a '91 Honda Accord with a 2.2 liter, four-cylinder fuel injected engine with 122,000 miles on the odometer. At 90,000 miles I had the timing and balance belts changed, which is inclusive at the 90,000 mile maintenance requirement, and since then, the engine has not idled properly after it's warmed up. The engine starts, runs and accelerates efficiently with no problems. I've recently had a mechanic check the ignition timing and the belts for proper installation of both belts. The idle speed was also checked as well as the distributor cap, spark plugs and wires. The mechanic found no problems with these items. The engine runs great but this idling problem is annoying. Is there anything else that should be considered in resolving this problem?
G.H. Chesapeake, VA

A. It's easy to ignore some of the basics when you're troubleshooting a problem like yours. Check to make sure that all the cylinders are firing evenly at idle and this can most easily be done by shorting out the spark plugs one at a time to make sure that the engine RPM drops the same amount each time. If one causes less of a drop than the other three, you can go from there. Also check for a vacuum leak, which would cause a rough idle but OK performance at higher revs. The rough idle may be something that was coincidental to the belt replacement.

Q. I've had my '88 Chevrolet Celebrity sedan for many years and it has 167,000 miles on it. I use it only to go to work. Although the paint is badly peeled and it has many dents, it suits me fine as a second car. Over the past several years, the steering has gotten harder and harder and its very "notchy" especially in the morning. In really cold weather, it takes several miles before it eases up at all. What is wrong and how can I fix it?.
O.C. Boise, ID

A. General Motors cars of that era had a power-operated rack-and- pinion steering system that tended to have sticky hydraulic valves. They can be dismantled and repaired but the easiest fix is to replace it with a rebuilt unit. They're available through most auto parts stores.

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