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Automania/Repair & Maintenance

Auto Questions And Answers For Week 36 Year 2001

by Bob Hagin

Q. I enjoy reading your column. As a refugee car nut from Detroit, what a pleasure it is to make a pseudo bond with another car enthusiast. My issue is with a 1988 Mercedes Benz 190 2.3 overheating when the air conditioner is running. Even when driving at highway speeds it tends to overheat. I have added super coolant additives to no avail. It just runs at a temp a few degrees below the red zone.
B.H. Rancho Cordova, CA

A. Save your additive money, hire a mechanic and start with the basics. Check the accuracy of your temperature gauge by using a master gauge, preferably a hydrothermal unit. They're not dependent on the car's electrical system and will give you a number, not simply an zone on the gauge. Check for a combustion leak into the cooling system through a leaking head gasket or a crack in the head, using an infrared analyzer or a chemical tester. Check the flow through the cooling system, it might have a problem in the action of the water pump. Make sure that the cooling fan is working at speed. If these items all check out, you might consider a chemical reverse power flush. As engines get older, they product a lot of debris in the cooling system, especially if the coolant hasn't been changed regularly. But when you do a power flush in an aging engine, there's a possibility that some of the debris may have been sealing some flaws and the problem may be exacerbated. If it isn't really overheating too badly, it may be wise to just let it be.

Q. I recently bought a 1998 Ford Contour that has 51,000 miles on it. I was told that the car had been leased to someone who didn't take care of it and bought it rather than turn it back in and lose a lot of money. When I got it, it has a new set of tires on it and they weren't the same brand as the Contour had when it was new so I assume that they had been abused by the person who had leased it. After I bought it, I found a few places that had some minor body damage and had been repaired but they had been done OK. When I got it, the oil level was low and very dirty so I had the oil and filter changed. The thing that bothers me is that when I first start it up after it has been sitting outside overnight, it blows smoke out of the tail pipe but it goes away when it warms up. Does the engine need to be taken apart? I got a very good deal on the car.
J.R. Portland, OR

A. Don't do anything rash just yet. Sometimes vehicles that have had their oil change frequency neglected and only driven around town suffer from piston rings that get gummed up and stuck. I've seen it many times lately and I'm sure that these problems wouldn't have occurred if the driver had changed the oil and filter every 3000 miles. There are several engine flush chemicals on the market that do a pretty good job of cleaning out a gummed up engine. Follow the instructions carefully and you problem may go away. You may have to do it more than once.

Q. Recently you printed a letter from a person who had a collection of old car magazines that he had inherited and wanted to sell. I have a collection of car literature that I got from my grandfather but I don't want to sell it. Since I got them, I've become very interested in the history part of car business and I want to get into it more deeply. Where do I start?
K.T. Tucson, AZ

A. You already have. Your next step is to scour used book stores weekly for auto literature. I often find copies of Automotive Quarterly that I don't have and add to my own collection. Auto swap meets always have literature sellers but these guys know what their stuff is worth so don't expect to steal rare items. Hemmings Motor News has listings of monthly swap meets and you can buy an issue at a book store if you don't want to subscribe. Go to and see if you're interested enough to join the Society of Automotive Historians.


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