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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1987 Nissan 300ZX, manual transmission, excellent condition with low mileage. I'm thinking of shipping this car to Southeast Asia where I will be for the next five to 10 years. Cars are very expensive on that part of the globe. There is a Nissan dealership where I will be able to obtain service and order parts, but they do not sell this particular model. My main problem is that the place where I plan to go does not sell unleaded gas, but they do have regular and premium leaded. Would using leaded gas cause any major problems for my engine? If so, is there anything I can do to prevent this?
V.T. Sacramento, CA

A. To be practical, your best option would be to sell your "Americanized" Nissan before you go and buy something over there. Asian cars built to be sold here have a plethora of emission control parts that depend on unleaded gasoline to keep them running right. You'd have a problem immediately with the catalytic converter, a muffler-like device that cleans up the exhaust gasses before they hit the atmosphere. The tetraethyl lead in leaded fuel "poisons" the converter, plugs it up and the resulting back pressure blows out the exhaust system. The converter can be removed but you'd have to have it done there since it's illegal to do it in your home state. There are other parts of the system that may not be able to digest leaded gasoline, too, and these would crop up as the car got older. An overseas dealer my not be too happy about dealing with an "oddball" and its mechanics may find it tough to keep it running right. There may be a "native" version of your Nissan's engine, however, so they may be able to modify yours to match since the laws there may be much more relaxed. Better check with that dealer before you ship your 300ZX or you may wind up on foot in a foreign land.

Q. I was planning to buy a Ford Explorer for use as our family car but now we're having second thoughts. We recently saw a television show that detailed the fact that these kinds of cars are not as safe as a standard sedan. Why does the government let them be sold if they're dangerous?
K.K. Tacoma, WA

A. Ever since I learned that a TV "expose" of GM pickups bursting into flames during a collision was rigged, I've taken the rest with a grain of salt. It is true, however, that the average cost of repairing a sports/utility vehicle after a crash is higher than a sedan. Expensive to repair, yes. Dangerous, no.

Q I have a 1994 Nissan pickup truck that has about 35,000 miles on the odometer. I've had many minor problems with this vehicle, none of which have been bad enough to keep the car from running. For the most part, they have been nuisances. The latest one is also minor but being electrical, I worry that it might become major. Several years ago I had a car that also had an electrical problem under the dashboard and it finally burned up all the wiring. It cost me several hundred dollars to get it running again it was never right. I want to avoid having that kind of catastrophe again. The problem I'm having now is that the parking lights come on whenever I put the key in the ignition. It happens all the time and doesn't cause any problems now but I'm afraid of what might happen later.
T.O. New Orleans, LA

A. The problem you're having is a bit rare and I don't think that you'll experience the same disaster you had with your previous mount. You're going to have to take it into a shop to get it repaired because it's beyond the ability of most owners to fix it on their own. The factory has found that there is a diode (a sort of electrical one-way valve) in the wiring harness under the dash that fails. The diode has to be replaced in order to cure your problem. Electrical problems should never be ignored since they usually get worse.

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