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Automania/Repair & Maintenance

Auto Questions And Answers For Week 39 Year 2001

by Bob Hagin

Q. I have an '88 Ford Escort which I bought five months ago. The alternator has gone out three times since then. The previous owner said he replaced the alternator just before I bought it. He stated that it took three tries as they kept selling him "bad" ones. After each new alternator everything seems OK for a couple of weeks. Then the charging light starts blinking erratically, then stops for several days only to start blinking again. It left us stranded the first time so I've learned to just park it and call the mechanic, who is baffled and just keeps replacing them. I've called an electrical specialist and he said that this car was notorious for having a poorly designed alternator but a modification could be made to compensate for it. He wants a lot of money and I'm going broke replacing alternators. Other than this problem, the car is great.
T.S. Oakley, CA

A. The electrical systems on '87 and '88 Ford Escorts were really bad. Make sure that what you hear being offered as a "new" alternator isn't actually a rebuild. A quality new unit may have modifications built into it that don't appear in a rebuild which may have simply gotten new brushes and a cleanup. If the electrical specialist can guarantee his work, it may be your only out if you plan to keep the car. In the long run, it probably will cost less in your time and money than having substandard units replaced monthly. Obviously the person that sold you the Escort knew something that you didn't.

Q. I drive an Audi A6 (a little over a year old) and periodically get Audi Magazine. The last issue had as its lead article a report about wakeboarding. What the Audi people did was to send several A6s (at $40,000 each) to a beach in Australia to show that the car can tow wakeboarders in six inches of salt water. What nincompoopery! The article didn't even carry a warning like "Don't try this at home, it might severely damage your car." I can only conclude that the firm is enticing Audi owners to try this. Don't they know what happens to metal when exposed to salt water?
H.L. Seattle, WA

A. When I was a little boy and told my mother that I wanted to do something because all the other kids were doing it, she'd say "If they were all jumping off a bridge, would you do it too?" Over the years I've learned to take advertising promotions with a grain of salt. The Audi ad was done on an ideal beach under ideal conditions with ideal personnel and I hope that Audi A6 owners are smart enough to not book passage on a freighter to Australia to try to replicate the feat. Regarding the "bridge" thing: I've heard an unconfirmed rumor that the next Audi A6 promotion will be to bungie-jump one off the highest bridge in Europe.

Q. I have a 1995 Toyota Tercel, automatic with no a/c. I purchased it new. I asked two mechanics when I should change the timing belt. One said it should be done at 50,000 miles and the other said 80,000 miles. I looked in my owner's manual and it stated "If you are operating your vehicle under conditions of extensive idling and for low-speed driving such as police, taxi, etc., replace every 60,000 miles. The owner's manual does not indicate when to change the timing belt under normal conditions as would be the case with my Tercel.
J.K. Amsterdam, NY

A. What is "normal" to one driver may be "light" to a second and "heavy" to a third. It's not a cheap job but to be on the safe side, my source of Toyota service information suggests that 60,000 miles is a good number. A belt that has broken or stripped off a couple of cogs will simply stop the engine at best or allow a couple of the engine valves to touch piston heads and bend. Then it becomes a very expensive repair.


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