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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I want to put a stick-shift transmission into my 1989 Chevy Camaro RS. It has a 350 cubic inch V8 and an automatic transmission that is beginning to slip. Rather than pay a lot of money to have it repaired, I want to change it over to a four-speed. I've seen Z28 Camaros of the same year and a few of them had stick-shifts in them so I know it will work. I do some work on my car myself so I don't think it would be too much trouble to change it over.
D.S. San Diego, CA

A. Before you get too deeply involved in the project, you'd better talk to someone who has done it. Besides acquiring a standard transmission, these are some of the things you may have to get or do. The first thing is to check with a crankshaft grinding shop to make sure that the crank in your car will accept a pilot bushing for the new transmission. If it won't, you'll have to pull the engine and modify the crankshaft or replace it. You'll also have to acquire a flywheel, clutch assembly and bell housing, transmission mounts and cross member, drive shaft and clutch operating mechanism which may or may not require modification to fit your car. The speedometer cable assembly may not fit the transmission and the speedometer head may need recalibration. The rear axle ratio may not match the stick shift either. Your last problem is that it may not be a legal change in California because the original EPA ratings and smog equipment may not be compatible so you may not be able to get it certified at licensing time. This doesn't address the question of your capabilities or tool selection. My advice is to fix the automatic or dispose of the car and buy one with a manual gearbox.

Q. Our 1988 Ford Festive is a four-cylinder and has an automatic transmission. We bought it second-hand for our daughter to use while she is going to college. It's just across town so she doesn't have to travel on the highway to get there but I don't want her to have to use public transportation because some of her classes are at night. The car was well taken care of but it has a squeak coming from the back brakes when it comes to a slow stop. The former owner said it had always been there and our mechanic says that he can find nothing wrong and that the brakes are not worn out.
D.O. Portland, OR

A. According to the Ford mechanics I've talked to, there is a relatively simple but not inexpensive cure for the problem but it isn't done very often. The original rear brake backing plates (the part that the brake shoes and operating mechanisms are mounted to) suffer from a slight vibration that's set up when the car is coming to a slow stop and they're cold. The cure is to dismantle the rear brakes completely, install the redesigned new backing plates and reassemble everything. According to the mechanics, the problem doesn't affect the stopping power of your daughter's Festiva so you might want to consider if the cure is worth the expense.

Q. I have a '94 Dodge Ram 1500 V6 cargo van that I use to go to work in and then use in my daily business. It's a "stripper" without many amenities so I didn't expect a luxury car. I drive it around town a lot and it idles quite a bit at stop lights and such. Unfortunately, it has a kind of droning sound coming from under the chassis and a vibration in the steering wheel when it's idling. I have it serviced as required by a quicky oil change place but the boys who work there can't find a problem and probably don't really care to.
G.M. Virginia Beach, VA

A. Sometimes you have to go to a real technician to get a problem solved. A muffler shop can install a vibration damper on the brace that attaches the exhaust pipe to the transmission. It will cure the problem.


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