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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I am a senior and have a 1991 Olds Cutlass, six cylinder with 95,000 miles. It's in excellent condition but it developed an oil leak. I was told by my son that the leak was from the valve covers. I had it repaired and I don't remember what they did. The bill was $90, but that included an oil and filter change. I took the car back and told them that I thought the leak was from the valve cover gasket but instead they replaced the "O" ring on the distributor for $159. I asked them about the valve cover gasket but they said that wasn't it. Now the engine still leaks oil the same as before to the tune of about one quart every 100 miles. Can you advise me how to find an oil leak without taking the engine apart? The engine is now ruined.
D.B Jasper. OR

A. Instead of telling a mechanic what should be done to fix a car, tell him or her what's wrong and depend on the shop to cure the problem. Make sure that you get your problem specified on a repair order and get a copy before the job is started. If your mechanic guessed wrong, that's something else and perhaps you shouldn't have to pay for a job that didn't work. The only way to find an oil leak is to start with a clean, sanitary engine which may require a thorough steam-cleaning of the engine top to bottom. Besides a visual check, there are chemicals that can be put in the oil that glow under an ultraviolet light. It's a tough job, but a good mechanic will hang in there. If your engine is now ruined, this is all academic, but it may help with future problems.

Q. In '97, I bought a Chevy Lumina LTZ with all the goodies including four-wheel disc brakes as well as the anti-lock braking system. At 10,000 miles I began to hear a brake noise from the left front. The dealership shop said I had worn through the pads and the rotors needed turning. They replaced all front brakes pads under warranty with zero charge. All was well until I hit 9000 miles and there was more brake noise. Again the left front was worn thin but this time they replaced the front rotors and the front pads. Again no charge. I'm now at 77,000 miles and have just left the Chevy shop with new front brakes and again the left was badly worn. Again no charge. I had the rear brakes replaced at 66,000 miles at my expense. I have a letter from GM that states that my warranty is extended for this "fault." Is it time to dump this Lumina LTZ for a new Impala, hopefully without brake problems? What's the problem here? I don't ride the brakes and have been driving for 55 years. By the way, 1-800-Chevrolt is useless. They don't know what the problem is and keep sending me back to the dealer each time I call.
G.S. Victorville, CA

A. Get out the For Sale sign because without a doubt, GM knows what the problem is but doesn't want to start something that could lead to a major recall at a multimillion dollar expense. For them, it's cheaper to keep fixing cars at no charge than to recall thousands of others. I've noted other brands have had troubles with fronts discs that have rear drum brakes, but not many that have four-wheel discs like yours.

Q. I recently read in a retired person's magazine that it's a myth that engine oil and the filter should be changed every 3000 miles on cars built after the mid-'60s. The auto makers suggest much longer durations between changes. What do you think?
C.H. Norfolk, VA

A. The myth is that new cars don't have problems or wear out. I've recently overhauled many engines that ran out of oil or had other problems that should have been caught earlier. Axle boots tear, engines leak oil and parts simply break. Unless a technician looks under the car more often than 100,000 miles, small problems can get big and expensive.


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