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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. My vehicle is a '96 Ford Ranger 3.0-liter V6 with an automatic transmission and about 106,000 miles. My trouble is with the courtesy dome light. The normal sequence is to open the door and the light comes on. Start the motor and the light goes off. Opening and closing the door makes the light go on and off too. It's fairly consistent when the weather is cool but when the weather and the truck warm up, all bets are off. Some of the time the light goes off in 20 to 30 seconds but not always. It's most aggravating at night. Please tell me there's a do-hickey somewhere that I can replace for $5 or $10 and make the beast work right. I'm sure the problem is not limited to my truck alone. I have several friends who have the same problem.
J.S. Rialto, CA

A. If your friends have Ford trucks like yours and they all have the same problem, it simplifies things. An auto electrical shop or an independent repair shop that has a good electrical guy should have little problem tracing it down. If you want to try it yourself, you'll need an electrical tester, a wiring schematic for your particular vehicle and a basic understanding of how auto electrical systems work. When it comes to modern auto electrical systems, it takes lots of patience to sort out problems, especially those that are affected by temperature changes. Sometimes you can find help by going on the internet and do a search on the problem. Your local auto parts store can probably set you up with a comprehensive manual on your truck. There's no magic bullet and nothing on a car or truck cost $5 or $10 any more.

Q. Recently, I took my '86 Nissan into an independent garage for a valve adjustment, a timing belt change, replacement of all the accessory drive belts, replacement of the firewall-mounted gas filter, repair of a burned-out turn signal bulb and a state inspection. The original estimate was $235, but the final bill was $660. In subsequent calls from the shop's service writer, I was told that the positive crankcase ventilation valve was bad, a tire wouldn't pass inspection, the water pump should be replaced, the battery was weak, the ground cable was no good, and the crankshaft, camshaft, oil pump and rear main crankshaft seals should be replaced as precautions. The car only has 52,000 miles and the reason I had it all done is that I'm giving it to my daughter and I wanted to make sure it won't have any problems. Being an ex-aircraft engine mechanic, I could have done the jobs myself until I got too old and disabled. Please give me your opinion on replacing parts that are still functioning. I don't envy anybody who works on cars today with transverse engines and an engine room filled with accessories.
J.H. Virginia Beach, VA

A. Every car comes with a list of recommended services and if a driver adheres to that list, there shouldn't be many unexpected problems. "Fixing" items that aren't broken is very profitable for a shop and remember that the real title for a service writer is Service Salesman. I would have passed on the items that were OK and stuck with the original estimate. I put in a couple of hours a day in my son's independent repair shop assembling engines and the line technicians he hires seem quite happy to work on modern cars but he had to invest in three lifts to facilitate timely repairs. I guess it's all in how we spent our formative days on the repair bench.

Q. How can I contact the government office that takes care of safety complaints? My Dodge has a condition that I think is unsafe.
O.B. Seattle, WA

A. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has a hotline at 1-800-424-9393. It's on-line 24 hours a day and they send you a complaint form. I've found that they're pretty good at responding.

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