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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1972 Dodge Dart Swinger, white with a black vinyl top. It has a 318 cubic inch V8 engine and only has 65,870 miles on it. I am the only driver and I bought it new. It runs very good, the interior is very clean but the body has some rust. It has had many new parts put on it. Does it have any value? I may have to sell it soon so I'd like to know how much I could sell it for.
M.E. Oswego, IL

A. If your old Swinger were in perfect condition inside and out, it could be worth as much as $4000 to the right buyer according to the Kelly Blue Book. The V8 engine is a big plus and a strong selling point but the almost insurmountable drawback is the body rust. It's nearly impossible to stop once it has started and not practical on average, garden-variety old cars. Your car falls in the category of "special interest" because it's old and relatively fast but not one of the specialty versions like the 340 Dart Demon muscle car of the same year.

Q. I have a 1988 Mercury Cougar with a 3.8 liter fuel injected engine. It has 54,000 miles on it. It has had an engine miss for some time and I can't find the problem. I have poured several cans of fuel injector cleaner through engine by putting them in the gas tank. This was done over a period of time. I have replaced the fuel filter, all the spark plugs and ignition wires as well as the exhaust gas recirculation valve. I had a mechanic flush the fuel injection system and replaced the vacuum regulator. The ignition timing was checked and found to be within specifications. All of the above have failed to correct the problem of the engine missing.
V.P. Bakersfield, CA,

A. Rather than going on a fishing expedition to find a fix, you should have a pro analyze the problem first and then try to effect a cure. Replacing a lot of parts with the hope of solving the problem is haphazard and expensive. There are two types of misfires. The first is a steady miss such as one caused by a faulty valve or a spark plug wire open circuit. The second is a periodic misfire which could be caused by a vacuum leak, an intermittent short, an open circuit of the ignition system, a sporadic blockage in the fuel delivery system, etc. Doing an analysis of the problem is the first step and this is best done using an electronic analyzer. Troubleshooting is almost an art form and it sometimes takes a very skilled technician to find a problem. That's where the real problem comes up. Fixing the problem is the easiest part of doing the job but it often takes a lot of time-consuming head-scratching over a hot engine to find out what's wrong.

Q. We bought a second-hand 1995 Nissan Sentra that is still under the factory warranty. It has very low mileage on it and it is the first relatively new car that we have ever bought. We took the car to a Nissan dealer for its prescribed service and were appalled by the fact that we were quoted several hundred dollars for a lube job. We complained to the manager but were told that the prices were based on the time allotted by the factory for the job. Instead we took the car to a place that did an oil and filter change while we waited. How can the car dealers get away with charging so much for such a simple job?
B.J. Westbury, NY

A. There's no limit to how much a shop can charge for its labor per hour. It's up to the owner of the place. There's more to a service on a new car than just changing the oil and filter and lots of other items have to be checked over. If the job is done by the book, it takes a specific amount of time and you're charged for that time (called flat rate) even if the mechanic does it quicker. Having the routine services somewhere else is OK as long as the person doing the job checks for other problems as well.

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