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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a '92 Dodge Caravan SE with a 3.3 L V6 engine and a four-speed overdrive transmission. It is All-Wheel-Drive and has close to 90,000 miles on it. The factory replaced the transmission at 70,000 miles with a new unit because of a known problem with the old type. Everything else is original except for the replacement of tires, brakes and belts. I went to my dealership and asked about a new one but learned that there are no All-Wheel-Drive Caravans being made for '96. But the salesperson indicated that I'd better get rid of my old car before it turns 100,000 miles since nobody will buy a used car with that high of mileage. He said that at 100,000 miles a car is worn out and not cost effective to keep. However, the service manager says that this model Caravan with the 3.3 V6 is an excellent unit. He advised me to keep on driving the van and at worst, I should plan on spending about $3500 for a replacement engine at around 150,000 to 175,000 miles.
G.M. Carmichael, CA

A. If you don't need to have a new vehicle to keep up with the neighbors and your van is still in reasonably good shape, it would make sense to keep it. Paying off a new van takes a long time unless you lease it, in which case it's like renting an apartment or office space. I assume that you've taken good care of your van (change the oil regularly, etc.) so it will probably last a lot longer than 100,000 miles. Having the transmission replaced free at 70,000 miles eliminated the major cause for future concern and expense. My own minivan had 140,000 miles on it when I put in a replacement engine and I expect it to go 100,000 more - unless it gets creamed at an intersection.

Q. My daughter is a second-year college student and drives a 1979 Toyota CelIca that we gave her when she was a senior in high school. It now has 106,000 miles on it. We shopped carefully and made sure that it was in good condition before we bought it but we had new brakes and tires installed before we gave it to her. I try to do all the maintenance on it myself but it's hard to get her to bring it over (she lives near the campus) so that I can keep it up. She says that her friends tease her about driving such an old car and she drops hints that she wants a late model Volkswagen convertible. Now she tells me that the engine misses sometimes, runs rough especially in the rain and stumbles going up hills. Her boyfriend is not the mechanical type but he tells her that the car is getting ready to "blow up" and that she should get rid of it. I did a tune up on it and replaced the spark plugs but she says that the problem didn't go away. What else can I try?
E.P. Boise, ID

A. The 20R four cylinder engine in your daughter's Celica is pretty close to bullet-proof and will take a lot of abuse. Replace the plug wires if you haven't already since moisture can get into small cracks and short them out. Sometime the 20R intake manifold hold-down nuts shake loose and the manifold gasket develops a vacuum leak. Check their tightness and if they are loose, be prepared to replace the gasket. Buying a late model VW convertible sounds like a good idea for a college grad who has landed a good job and is responsible for her own debts.

Q. We own a 1986 Ford Crown Victoria with low mileage and we plan to keep it forever, being senior citizens. We are very safety conscious and would like to have an air bag installed on the passenger's side. The service manager at our Ford dealership tells us that it's impossible and that we must get a new car to get that protection.
O.L. St. Petersburg, FL

A. He's right. Even resetting the air bag sensors after a fender- bender is tricky, much less wiring up a vehicle that wasn't designed for one. I once talked to an inventor who tried to market an aftermarket bag but he said the product liability problem was a nightmare.

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