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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. My teen-age son wants to put wide chrome wheels on my 1992 Honda Civic. He says kids in Los Angeles do it and that it looks cool. He has shown me pictures of them in car magazines but it makes the tires stick out beyond the fenders. Will it hurt my car? I'm a single parent so I don't like to disappoint my son.
D.M. San Antonio, TX

A. Disappoint him. When you install "offset" wheels on a car, it puts heavy stress on the wheels bearings because the load of the car isn't where the engineers intended it to be. When your son gets old enough to have his own car, he can install all that "trick" stuff but he should leave mom's car alone.

Q. My wife and I have a 1979 Datsun (Nissan) 280 ZX in Germany where we spend part of our time. We purchased the car in Saudi Arabia while working there and later had it shipped to Germany. The car was meant to use regular leaded gasoline. Regular leaded has not been available in Germany for some time now so we are forced to use premium leaded fuel. Now I understand that soon we will not be able to obtain leaded fuel in any grade. As we are returning to Germany soon for an extended stay, I would like to know if we can use unleaded in the car without doing damage or suffering any loss of performance. The Nissan people in Germany have told us that this car cannot be equipped with a catalytic converter. We are concerned that we may now have a car that we cannot drive or even sell because of the fuel problem.
P.M. Walnut Creek, CA

A. Tetraethyl lead in motor fuel "poisons" certain pollution control devices like a catalytic converter which it why it isn't put in gasoline anymore. The lack of leaded fuel allowed some valve damage to occur in cars built before the mid-'70s because the lead acted as a "cushion" between the valves and their seats. The valves and valve seats in your Datsun are made of materials that don't need the cushioning action of lead in the fuel so I doubt if your car will suffer mechanically from a lack of lead. Unless the laws in Germany are very different from those here, you won't have to retrofit any pollution control devices to your Nissan to make it pollute less so you don't have to worry about any add-on hardware. I'm fairly sure that the octane rating of German unleaded fuel will be high enough for your 280 ZX to comfortably digest.

Q. We use our 1991 Ford Crown Victoria LX station wagon to pull a fairly small camper trailer on weekend outings to the mountains. It has a 351 cubic inch V8 engine and a factory-installed towing package. We had been going on these outings for several years so when we bought the Ford (our first new car), we made sure that it had all the equipment we might need. It now has 76,000 miles and has performed beautifully until recently. After a recent trip, I found that the brake pedal didn't return as quickly as it did at the beginning of the trip. It isn't really bad so much as it's "different." We took it in to our regular mechanic and was told that it needed a new brake power booster. We don't know what we did to make the booster fail or even what happened.
P.H. Seattle, WA
A. It's not something you did wrong but it's possible that towing your trailer out of the mountains created the problem. If you coasted down a long steep grade while pulling it at a fairly good clip and you didn't have to hit the brakes at all, it could have damaged the brake booster. The car would have used only engine compression to maintain speed which would have built up engine vacuum so high that it overloaded the system. This scenario has often resulted in a "lazy" (slow return) brake pedal in certain model Fords built between 1990 and 1992. The replacement brake booster is an update and the problem isn't likely to happen again.

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