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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1991 Jeep Comanche pickup truck. It has a four cylinder and is two-wheel drive. We use it as a sort of farm vehicle that we keep on some property we own in the country. We bought it second-hand and it now has around 180,000 miles. The dirt roads that we drive it on are pretty rough and even the paved roads around here aren't great and it has to carry some heavy loads. It's rarely driven into town but recently I saw that the front tires were wearing unevenly so I took it in for new ones. The mechanic who installed the tires said that judging by the wear on the old ones, the front suspension on the truck is out of alignment and said it can't be adjusted. I'm afraid that the front tires will wear out again but much faster this time.
J.R. Portland, OR

A. In the early '90s, Chrysler (owner of the Jeep line) eliminated the hardware to adjust the front suspension on Jeeps. The only aspect that can be adjusted is the toe-in. But don't despair. The American aftermarket parts business can fix you up with upper ball joints (one of the swivels that the steering turns on) that allow more exacting adjustments to be made. It's pretty much a professional job and they're usually put on by an alignment shop that's equipped to do the adjustments afterward. Eliminating adjustment hardware makes vehicles cheaper to make but more expensive to fix. But Chrysler isn't alone in this respect. I'm told that the E-Class Mercedes has to have aftermarket parts put on to make their front ends adjustable.

Q. My son will soon be out of high school and as a graduation present to himself, he bought a 1988 Honda coupe. We looked it over together and it looked to be in very good shape. But now he says that he wants to get a lot of equipment for this nice car to make it look more sporty and "cool." Several of his friends have cars like this and it seems to be a fad among kids. He says that he can put on equipment to make it lower and sound better himself so that he won't have to spend a lot of money on a professional mechanic. He can also buy engine equipment to make it faster. Is this something a boy can do on his own? He has taken auto shop classes during his senior year.
W.M. Los Angeles, CA

A. I admire your son for taking an auto shop program in high school but you don't have a first-year medical student do brain surgery. That student may be willing but lacks experience. The same is often true of young amateur mechanics. Changing the front and rear strut springs to lower a car can be harrowing for a first-timer who doesn't have the correct tools. Doing engine work on modern "pocket-rockets" can be even worse. If the Civic is his only car, try to encourage him to put on "cool" wheels and tires only and leave the more technical tasks to a pro. I hope he has a pretty good job so he can pay for it. If he tries it himself, you may wind up having to drive him to work every day.

Q. I'm going to help a friend put new brakes on an old (1978) Ford Fairmont station wagon. It's a car she just uses to haul her dogs around (she has a better car for everyday use) and the prices she has been quoted are very high. She's a very capable person but when we were in high school, girls couldn't take shop classes. She has some tools but I don't know if they're the right kind. How should we start?
Y.D. Tucson, AZ

A. Buy a good shop manual on the car (Haynes #560 is good) and study the brake section carefully. Determine what tools you'll need by looking at the illustrations. You can probably rent heavy stuff like a floor jack and stands but you'll need good-quality hand tool as well and you won't know which ones until a problem comes up. Buy several cans of penetration oil and soak down all the nuts and bolts before you start.


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