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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. Our Ford Explorer is a 1997 model. It is a four-door model with a V6 engine and an automatic transmission. It has around 85,000 miles on it. We occasionally use it to go camping in the mountains where the fishing is good. On one occasion we were unable to get it started again when it was time to go home. It seemed to be out of gas although the gas gauge did not read empty. We have always been careful not to go too far from the main highway with a low gas tank. When we had the problem, we borrowed a few gallons of gas from another camper and it started. We took it to the shop but the mechanics couldn't find anything wrong. Since then we have always made sure that our gas tank was full before we left the main highway and have carried a small can of gas with us. We don't know what caused it but we don't want it to happen again.
C.F. San Bernardino, CA

A. I'm not a believer in carrying a spare can of gasoline inside a vehicle even if it's supposedly explosion-proof and it's impossible to find a small one that has an outside mounting bracket. In the event of a roll-over or a crash, you'd have extremely volatile fumes and fluid sloshing around in the cabin. Your best bet is to have the fuel tank sender assembly replace with newer version that reaches further into the reserve portion of your tank. According to Ford, the problem only happens if '97 to '00 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers are parked on a hill nose-down with the tank less than a quarter full.

Q. My 1990 Honda Accord has a very slight whining noise coming from the rear end on the highway. My husband thinks that I am imagining things but I'm sure that it's there. The car is a four-door sedan with a four-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission. Being retired, we don't drive it a whole lot, just to go shopping locally and things like that, so it only has 75,907 miles on the speedometer. We took it in to be serviced and I insisted that the mechanic who took our order drive it around the block. He said that he couldn't hear anything. I don't want anything to fall off or go wrong because we are planning to do some traveling in it. I don't want to be stuck out on the highway.
C.W. Milton, WA

A. I've always felt that women have better "ears" for hearing slight noises in vehicles than men and your problem proves my point. A Honda bulletin says that there are certain years and models that have improperly manufactured rear wheel bearing hub caps that lets water leak into the rear wheel bearings. The noise begins at highway speeds but eventually gets noticeable at lower speeds, too. The water causes the bearing grease to degrade and then the bearings fail. The fix is to replace the failed bearing assembly and the faulty hub cap with updated versions and replace the hub cap on the other side too. But while your Honda is on the lift, check the other rear bearing too. Both of them may be gone.

Q. I bought my first pickup, a 1997 Nissan XE four months ago. When I drive it on the highway, it starts to shake at around 65 to 70 MPH. I too it back to the dealership three times The first two, they balanced the wheels. On the third time, a new service manager told me that they could find nothing wrong and that one should expect to have vibrations at that speed in a small pickup like mine. He suggested that I put down the tailgate. I tried this but the vibration remains. Is this really normal in a small pickup? If not, what recourse do I have?
M.J. Virginia Beach, VA

A. You're going to the wrong shop. Nissan pickups have had problems with vibrations and it could be bent wheels, out-of-round tires, an out of balance drive shaft (or shafts in a 4X4) or even incorrect tire pressures. My own mini-truck is lots older than yours and it's fine on normal highways. Your service manager is just shining you on.


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