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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. In August of last year, I was driving my 1991 Honda Accord through a remote part of the California on a Sunday when the car stopped running. There was no Honda dealership shop available so I had the car towed to a local service station that had a mechanic on duty. There it was determined that the distributor had failed and I had to wait until the next day to get it a new one. The mechanic replaced it at a cost of $650. The car had 118,435 miles on it at the time. Recently my father-in-law had the same problem with his own 1991 Accord and had it repaired at a Honda dealership. This car also has over 100,000 miles on it but the Honda dealership fixed it at no charge. I plan to buy another Honda since I'm please with my old one but I'd like to get reimbursed for the repair job that I had done on my '91. Where would I start to get the ball rolling?
J.H. Danville, CA

A. I'm pretty sure that the Honda factory paid to have your father-in-law's distributor replacement and that it didn't come out of the dealer's pocket. If an expensive job like that is done gratis on a car with high mileage, the company must have had many other failures just like it. Make sure that you have everything documented and then call the company's customer satisfaction department. The number is given in your owner's handbook. Also ask you local dealer for an appointment with his local factory representative. They make the rounds periodically. At the same time, send a detailed letter to the customer satisfaction department at company headquarters and include a copy of the invoice you got when the job was done. Honda is usually pretty good at keeping customers happy but nine months after the fact is a long time.

Q. I bought a 1988 Nissan 300ZX for my wife to drive. It has a V6 engine and an automatic transmission. It had very low mileage on it and the former owner had kept it up very well. The only problem I have is with slight overheating. When the weather get really hot, the temperature begins to rise and with the air conditioning on, the needle goes very close to the end of the gauge. The car doesn't use any water and there aren't any drips visible under the car. I'm afraid to have her drive it in a heat spell for fear it will break down.
Z.A. Tucson, AZ

A. First have the radiator pressure tested to make sure that there isn't a slight combustion leak into the cooling system. Since your Nissan doesn't use up any coolant, I doubt that the problem is in the system itself. A more likely cause of your overheating is that the radiator fan isn't doing its job. It has a temperature-sensitive viscous clutch in its hub that causes it to begin to work only when the underhood temperature raises above a predetermined level. Fan operation is noisy and robs the engine of power so the auto makers designs them work only when they're needed. Unfortunately they're subject to failure and I'd bet that's what happened in your case. Any mechanic can check it for you and it's not a big-ticket repair. Removing and replacing the fan hub is not a big deal.

Q. Is there some sort of advanced driving school where I can enroll my son it to make him a better driver? He has just gotten his driver's license and thinks he is really good. He has his own car and I'm afraid that his overconfidence may get him into trouble.
P.G. Puyallup, WA

A. Almost every large road racing track has an in-residence driving school and while the main curriculum is devoted to make race drivers out of wanabees, they also have shorter courses devoted to street driving. The back pages of Car and Driver, Road & Track and AutoWeek all list these schools. They're not cheap but then quality education never is.

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