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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1991 Lincoln Town Car with 16,000 miles on it. It runs good, is in great shape and I just don't want to get rid of it. However, it is beginning to use oil and blow smoke (not heavy black smoke) out of the tail pipe. I took it to our local Lincoln dealership and asked the service advisor about it. Her response was a shrug of her shoulders and then she said "You need an engine overhaul." My question is: Is she right? Aren't there other options? It seems to me that there ought to be more scientific tests to determine the problem?
D.N. Virginia Beach, VA

A. Many new car dealerships don't want to get into in-depth-analysis and the repair of possibly major problems on older cars since they aren't as profitable as routine services. You don't mention how many miles you get to a quart of oil, what brand and viscosity oil you're using or how long it's been using oil. There are many possible causes for the loss of oil. The crankcase ventilation system may have a valve partially stuck open or even closed. Both can cause oil loss. The valve stem seals might be leaking or the valve guides may be worn. It might even be an intake manifold that has a leak into the tappet chamber. A cheap test would be to use a higher viscosity oil (maybe even a non-detergent) and try it for 1000 miles. An effect shop test is a dry-and-wet cylinder compression test. Find a mechanic that is willing to diagnose you problem rather than to simply guess.

Q. I recently purchased a 1989 Ford Windstar, 3.0 engine, auto transmission with 170,000 miles. I bought it from a reputable dealer. When I took it for a test drive, I found the steering had a problem. They replaced the rack-and-pinion and I gave them $200 more for this. I checked the oil and transmission fluid and both had appeared to have been changed very recently. After I got the vehicle home, I had to replace a headlight and a turn signal bulb. The vehicle was running fine, no noises or other indications of problems. About three weeks later I took the vehicle to a local chain service center to have the brakes and front wheel bearings checked. For some unknown reason the mechanic decided to test drive it prior to working on it. Next thing I knew, it was being pulled back to the service center by their vehicle. They said the transmission had suddenly gone out. The mechanic pulled out the transmission dip stick dip stick. He said that the fluid was discolored and smelled burned. I could not see or smell a problem. I ran the selector through the positions and there was no movement of the vehicle. The selector felt very loose and easy to move as if it was not connected to the transmission. They recommended they would check it out and they would probably have to send it out to a transmission shop. The mechanic got very upset when I told him I was going to have it towed to a national transmission shop of my own selection. This shop is charging me $1200 for repairs. How do I know that the first shop didn't do something to the transmission to get the business? How do I know that the second shop couldn't have fixed the problem for a lot less?
D.H. San Bernardino, CA

A. On both scores, you can't and it's too late now. Once you sign a repair order, you have to put your trust in the shop. Advice after the fact: Find a shop that been recommended by friend and not by TV ads.

Q. Why don't the auto makers test their car before they send them out? Our Ford is involved in a recall campaign that could have been life threatening to me and my family before we found out and got it fixed.
L.C. San Antonio, TX

A. Very often stockholder value is more important than anything, even your safety. If the stock stays up, the executives get bonuses. Very often their lower echelon execs are afraid to pass on bad information.


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