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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We have a 1986 Ford Taurus with 118,000 miles on it. It has been a good car and it still runs well except that it has started to ride like a truck. It almost feels as if the rear suspension is welded to the chassis. A local independent garage checked it by jumping on the rear bumper and said that it acted normal to them. The shock absorbers in this car are the originals and it seems possible that the valving characteristics have changed. Do old shocks do this?
J.T. Post Falls, ID

A. If you got 118,000 miles out of the original-equipment shocks, you've gotten your money's worth. The auto makers buy them with the major consideration being unit cost rather then longevity or quality. Unless they're gas-filled, it's easy enough to pull one off and check it for resistance. If you plan to keep the car, I suggest that you invest in a pair of rear shock absorbers but buy the best quality that you can afford. Check the literature that the company supplies with its products and buy to suit your needs. Don't buy super-tight shocks built for high-speed handling if what you want is a smooth boulevard ride.

Q. I bought a 1991 full-sized Ford Bronco with an automatic and a trailer towing package. I keep it at my cottage in Wisconsin for summer use. It's in good shape and runs good except that when I shift into reverse, it clunks badly in the rear end. I took it to the garage and they replaced the spider gears, axle, universal joints, etc. It still clunks but not so much. It's worse in Reverse but does it very little in Drive. The repairs cost me almost $1000 and now they tell me that they don't know what else to do. It has 125,000 miles on the odometer.
T.B. Aurora, IL

A. If your mechanic didn't adjust the contact area on the ring-and-pinion gears in your differential, he may have missed the cause of the noise. It's fairly easy to get a ballpark figure on the fit of these gears by putting the vehicle on a lift, setting the parking brake and rotating the companion flange that couples to the rear of the drive shaft. The "play" should be minimal. Readjusting already run-in differential gears is a crap-shoot since they often "sing," or make noise if the incorrect match-up is altered. Most mechanics would prefer to install a new set rather than use the old ones and then have to replace them because of noise. Your mechanic may be looking in the wrong place and the problem may be in the tail shaft or gears in the transmission. Take it to another shop if only to get a second opinion.

Q. I am a 78-year old widow with a 1992 Lexus SC300 with only 34,000 miles. I has been a great car with no problems whatsoever. A few weeks ago I had it in to the Lexus dealer for an oil change and when I received the bill, they had written "Service Notes - Both control arm bushings are cracked. Recommend replacing the control arms and having an alignment after repairs - $1490." I don't have any idea what this is and neither does my son. I was told that this would help my tires wear better and that it was a very small crack and I could have it done next time I came in. I could buy a lot of tires for $1490 but if this is something that could be dangerous, that is another story.
L.S. Sacramento, CA

A. I find it hard to believe that a car with the known reliability and quality of the Lexus requires new control arm bushings at 34,000 miles. If they eventually do go bad and wear out after a half-million miles (not just develop a small crack), the driver would notice it while driving over bumps and the tires would wear "funny." Go to another shop (maybe Toyota) for a second opinion. You wouldn't agree to surgery without another doctor checking it out, so don't do it with your Lexus.


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