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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I drive a 1998 Ford Ranger two-wheel drive and live in the mountains at 6300 feet elevation. I was planning to convert my truck to four-wheel drive but my insurance agent said that conversions like this are not as safe as factory-installed units and I should buy a new truck. but I can't afford one. My choices are to convert my Ranger or continue on with what I have which means staying home when it snows and for a couple of days after the snow until the roads are again clear and dry. The engine is a 3.0-liter V6, the transmission is a four-speed automatic and the mileage is 33,000. Is a conversation like this safe? Should I get part-time, full-time, all-wheel or permanent four-wheel drive? I think all-wheel drive might be best for me.
C.H. Forest Falls, CA

A. Since you live in California, you'd better see if a conversion like that is legal. California is strict about its pollution control laws and your truck was originally approved by the federal government as it is now. By changing it over, you'll be altering its output of pollution per mile, albeit by a small amount. Your state's department of motor vehicles can get you the information you'd need. The second factor is what kind of conversion systems are applicable or even available and who would do the job. The easiest out would be to lift the items needed from a salvaged 4X4 Ranger of the same vintage but it may be hard to find one. I think a conversion performed by professional technicians would be safe but they may not want to get involved legally. Your best bet is to price it all out beforehand and see if it's economical feasible.

Q. I have a Honda Civic with a three-barrel carburetor, a four-speed transmission and 123,000 miles. The car is in great shape except that on cooler morning of 40-degrees or less, it smokes really bad when we first start it. It has to sit at least eight to 10 hours and only on cooler mornings. It did not happen all summer. I've had the valve stem seals replaced (the auxiliary seals too), plus the timing belt replaced and the valves adjusted. The compression was tested and all the cylinders were 160 psi. The car gets 30 mpg at 70 to 75 mph on the highway. Oil usage is a half-quart in 1000 miles. I've used several oil treatments, an engine restorer and special spark plugs to help burn off the smoke faster but the plugs don't look oil fouled after driving. The heavy oil cloud travels through my neighborhood with impunity and no doubt will cause problems with my neighbors and the environment. I'd appreciate any "low-buck" suggestions.
S.E. Springfield, OR

A. The cheapest suggestion I can make is to try a single-viscosity motor oil without all the stuff that you've put into your oil pan. I'd be suspicious of the auxiliary valve system on your engine since I've found it to be fragile. If the rings are sealing and you're only using a quart of oil in 2000 miles, you might have a crack in that system that opens when the weather is cold and seals up when the head warms up. I don't think there's such a thing as "low-buck" auto repairs anymore.

Q. About six months ago, the alternator belt broke on my '83 Olds Omega. It was replaced and broke again after another 20 miles. This has happened seven times after the same amount of driving each time and no one has found a reason. The car sits unusable and unsellable.
M.W. Virginia Beach, VA

A. Not many things can cause your alternator belt to break. Try a shorter belt that only works the alternator. If it breaks, the problem is in the crankshaft vibration damper or whatever works as its idler. Then hook up whatever else it drives one at a time. It's expensive and time-consuming but better than dumping the car to someone who will take the time to trouble-shoot the problem.


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