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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We have a 1987 Toyota Van that has an automatic transmission and about 110,000 miles on the odometer. We bought it because it is in such beautiful condition even though the mileage is high. We bought it from an estate inheritance sale and don't know much about its maintenance history. After a few weeks I noticed that when I first get underway in the morning, the transmission takes a few seconds to shift into gear and is slow in going into the next gear. This only happens in the morning after the van has sat out overnight. The engine seems to be fine and we can't find anything else wrong with the van.
A.H. Concord, NH

A. It used to be that a vehicle with 100,000 miles on the clock was ready for the bone yard but that's changed in recent history. Lots of creampuffs get turned in with high mileage and dealers don't have any qualms about putting them on the lot for resale but it's best to have a newly purchased high-mileage vehicle checked out by pros before you put it into service. Check the level of the automatic transmission fluid (getting to the dip stick is a hassle since you have to raise the seats to get at it) and smell the fluid to see if it's burned. There were a couple of weak spots in the automatic transmission on your machine. One of the hydraulic check balls has a tendency to pound itself out of shape and some of the aluminum internal parts are a bit soft. Have a transmission shop check it out as soon as possible and you may be able to catch a minor flaw before it becomes a major problem.

Q. I drive my 1988 Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon to work each morning on the highway and cruise at around 60 MPH. It has a V8 engine, an automatic transmission and has gone 90,000 miles. Lately I've noticed that when I accelerate at anything less than full throttle, a definite vibration or slight rumble seems to come from the bottom of the car. The problem goes away when I let off on the gas pedal and cruise. The noise comes back again when I begin to pick up speed.
A.M. El Paso, TX

A. The only problem that I've come across that has those exact symptoms is worn out universal joints on the drive shaft. In earlier days, drive shaft "U joints" could be lubricated through grease fittings that were built into them but the industry has gone to non-greasable joints to save a couple of bucks per vehicle. The joints wear out on their "drive" side and chatter under acceleration. When the vehicle goes into a cruise mode, the driveline pressure goes to unworn side of the joint and things are normal. It's easy the check for bad joints since even the slightest amount of play is bad and the joint has to be replaced. Make sure that the replacement joints have grease fittings and they'll never have to be replaced again if they're serviced regularly.

Q. I need information about a vintage fiberglass sports car body I recently found in a barn. The owner of the property doesn't know how it got there or any of its history since it was there when he bought the land. The wheelbase is about 115 inches and the wheel track is around 76 inches The body is very "raw' but the right door and hood have been cut out and hinged. There is one tubular hoop built into the cowl and another located behind the cockpit. The grill is oval and something like the Ferraris of the '50s. Is there a catalog or book on the subject of early American fiberglass sports car bodies available?
M.C. Paw Paw, MI

A. Back then, almost every builder eventually made a 'glass two-seater body to fit a modified frame from some kind of American sedan. I even helped bolt a couple together myself. There's no definitive publication on the subject that I've been able to locate and magazines devoted to kit cars are only interested in contemporary stuff. Maybe some Michigan reader can solve the mystery and will write to me.

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