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Automania/Repair & Maintainance


by Bob Hagin

Q. The backup lights on my 1992 Toyota pickup went out. I took it to a mechanic who has a good reputation and is also honest. I was informed that it wasn't a fuse or the switch on the steering column (the truck is an automatic) but in the harness where the wires are joined. After the problem was repaired I picked up the truck and was driving home when I noticed that the gas gauge was not working. I returned it to the shop and they had to replace the gas gauge (gas float) I was charged separately for this repair due to the inference that it was a completely different area and that they had not tampered with it and that it had just gone out. In the back of my mind I am thinking that something happened during the repair of the backup lights that triggered the problem in the gas tank float.
A.R. Colton, CA
A. A gas tank sending unit is a pretty simple device. All that I've seen are just float-actuated rheostats that vary the amount of current going through the system. They operate on the same principle that allows us to control the brightness on room lights by the use of a twist knob on a light switch. I can't think of a situation in which that rheostat could be damaged during a wiring repair unless the sending unit was pulled out of the tank. If you were charged for a new tank unit as well as for the straight R&R (remove-and-replace) time plus the price of the unit, I'm pretty sure it was a legitimate repair. If you're ever in doubt, you can ask to see and/or have the faulty part but you have to ask for it before the job is completed.
Q. For several years I've wanted to own a Jeep and now that I have a steady job, I decided to go ahead and buy a used one. It is a '94 Wrangler that the former owner bought with a factory installed hard top. I don't want to go off-road with it and will just use it for normal around-town driving. I want to dress it up with chrome accessories and special parts but I'm not sure where to get them. I wasn't a "car person" before I bought my Jeep so I don't know the ropes.
C.H. Portland, OR

A. There are almost as many suppliers of dress-up and performance parts for Jeeps as there are for Camaros and Mustangs. There are several four-wheel drive monthly magazines on your local magazine rack ( 4-Wheel Drive & Off-Road, Four Wheeler, etc.) and their display ad section lists dozens of suppliers. 4-Wheel Drive Hardware, Inc. (1-800-333-5535) sends me a catalog every year and it lists everything from torque converter drive plates to tee-shirts with Jeep cartoons silkscreened on them.

Q. I own a Chevrolet that is equipped with ant-skid brakes. A mechanic recently told me that a new brake master cylinder for an ABS-equipped Chevrolet car costs several thousands of dollars. Could that be possible? If so, I wonder how many ABS buyers realize that their cars could be "totaled" in a few years for want of a master cylinder?
J.R. Boise, ID

A. I just called the parts departments of several General Motors dealers and was quoted ABS brake master cylinder prices that ranged from $150 to just under $200. That's considerably short of several thousand. I also asked for prices of other ABS-related parts and then things got expensive. As an example, the brake control module on a Pontiac Trans Am that also carries traction control is in the neighborhood of $800 (something less on other Pontiacs) and other ancillary parts are likewise expensive. I quiver to think of what similar parts cost on a Mercedes. It's been my gut feeling during my 40-plus years as a mechanic and a car-guy that the problem with "trick" stuff is that when it goes down, the replacement parts are expensive. I developed this axiom years ago when I had to work on an old Cadillac that utilized air suspension.

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