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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a '94 Pontiac Grand Am with about 33,000 miles. When it rains, the voltage drops to nine, the interior and headlights become dim and the heater fan slows down. The car has been into the Pontiac shop three times in four months. The first time, the shop returned it with "no problem found." The second and third times they kept the car for two weeks. During that time, they sent the cluster to AC Delco. When I got my car back, the problem hadn't been corrected and it had suffered $300 damage in their back lot. I asked the service manager for a copy of the AC Delco report but was told that he hadn't seen it. The dealer provided me with an extended warranty to cover any electrical problems for the next 24,000 miles or two years. But if a problem arises, how will I know if it's electrical? I am concerned that I may become stranded. Can you provide me with information regarding the "Lemon Law?"
K.G. Minooka, IL

A. Wet weather driving using the wipers, heater, headlights and radio may have overloaded the system. The alternator in your Grand Am is an AC-Delco model CS130 and it's been a problem since it was introduced. My local Pontiac dealer had to replace as many as three a day for a while and at any given time may have 20 or 30 cores (defective units) to be sent back. Some are faulty right out of the box. Simply put, it's a bad design. Many GM vehicles use the CS130 and the company is working on a replacement that will do the job. One Pontiac mechanic told me that there's been some cases of water intrusion into the firewall electrical connectors which can be resealed with an appropriate sealer but he doesn't think that this is causing your problem. Lemon Laws vary so you'll have to check with the Illinois Department of Consumer Affairs.

Q. I would like to find a parts dealer who supplies replacement parts for the Ford Ranchero. I especially need rubber parts for the doors. My Ranchero is a 1969 version with a 351 cubic-inch Windsor V8 engine. I would also like to know if there are any Ford Ranchero clubs and how I might contact them.
M.G. Reno, NV

A. There's too many auto specialty operations that concentrate on aftermarket and NOS (new old stock) parts for vintage Fords to list here, so I'll suggest that you get a copy of Hemming's Vintage Auto Almanac from your local book vendor. It's only $10 and comes out every couple of years so you won't get hounded for an ongoing subscription. It lists parts and shops for all makes from Abarth to the Zephyr and Zodiac model Fords, plus some brands you may not have even heard of. Under the heading of "generalists," it lists shops that sell, service and/or make every imaginable vintage auto part and that includes rubber trim parts. It also list all kinds of clubs and two are specifically for Rancheros.

Q. I have a question about buying a new vehicle. I'm thinking about buying one that is equipped with an anti-skid brake system. I've talked to several people about ABS and I have been told that there have been a lot of failures of these systems.
W.L. Springfield, OR

A. The question of ABS is such a hot one that the companies that produce its hardware have formed an association to "educate" the public. I've had several letters from readers that complain about ABS failures and they don't seem to be limited to any particular make of car or truck. And fixing an ABS can be expensive - up to $2000. But millions of ABS-equipped cars and trucks are on the road, and I know from experience that they avoid brake lock-up in a panic stop. But an experienced driver can also eliminate brake lock-up in an emergency situation by utilizing a technique called "ninety percent braking" in which the driver locks the brakes, then backs off about 10 percent to keep the tires rolling a bit. I learned it in a police driver training course I once took.

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