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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1983 Honda Civic with a 1500 engine and 168,000 miles on it. I recently changed the original water pump Friends told me that I might as well change the original timing belt and was pressing my luck for not changing it yet. It was also my first time to see what's inside the plastic cover and my first time to do a little bit more challenging maintenance other than the things I usually do. Although I have a maintenance book, I only read it sparingly and overlooked the important little pointers and specifications. In short, I messed up big time. I rotated the crankshaft pulley while trying to remove its bolt. Now the book says I can only get the timing right if I get into the flywheel because that's where I can find the TDC mark and the pointer on the crankcase. That means I have to remove the transmission away from the crankcase in order to expose the flywheel. Is there any other way?
E.C. Seattle, WA

A. A little knowledge can be dangerous and if you rotated the crankshaft very far with the camshaft belt off, you may have a really big valve problem. Your Honda manual shows the method of setting the ignition timing with a timing light. Find that section and set the marks to TDC (top dead center) statically. Make sure the small grove at the back of the cam pulley is lined up with the top edge of the cylinder head. This procedure will put the #1 and #4 pistons at TDC and the valves on number one cylinder in a spark-firing position. Hopefully the distributor will be firing on number one cylinder and you can proceed with changing the cam belt. If you've rotated the crankshaft a full revolution with the belt off or don't understand these instruction, tow the car to a pro before you get into any more trouble.

Q. My '99 Chrysler 300M has 36,000 miles. I took it to the dealer's shop to complain about steering shimmy and that the tires need to be balanced. They suggested that I take it to a Goodyear tire dealer for a check and there I was told that the tires were OK but that the wheels were not round and had a slight wobble. Another Goodyear dealer later told me the same thing. My Chrysler dealer insisted that the tires were at fault and sold me a new set. It didn't help so a factory rep was called in. He said that to cure the problem my expensive 17-inch chrome wheels and tires would have to be replaced with 16-inch rims and Michelin tires. I asked for new 17-inch wheels but was refused. Recently the factory rep said I'd have to take the 16-inch rims and tires or drive it the way it is. Later the dealer said I could have new 17-inch tires and wheels but I'd have to sign a waiver that if it didn't cure the problem, my 36-month warrenty would be void.
E.S. Ft. Washington, NY

A. Lately I've found that Chrysler is more interested in flashy design than in solid engineering. If you're asking for advice, I'd say to bite the bullet and take the 16-inch tires and wheels but have them checked for straightness and balance before they're installed on your car. Letters like yours are reasons for taking a long, varied road test before a buying a car. A ride around the block won't tell you much.

Q. I have a '90 Geo Prizm which I bought new ten years ago and have had well maintained. Recently I got into the car, put the key in the ignition, put the selector in reverse and then the car shot out so fast that I couldn't stop it. It ran into a couple of parked car and finally stopped. Needless to say, my car was totally demolished.
S.S. Redlands, CA

A. The web shows no safety recall by the (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) but that doesn't mean complaints like yours haven't been made. I assume that your insurance carrier investigated the accident and it was unsatisfactory. Contact the NHTSA at 800-424-9393.


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