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Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. Many years ago, before cars were air conditioned, I lived on the desert. We had a gadget that we hooked onto the front window on the passenger's side to cool the cab. As I recall, it was a hollow cylinder. The walls inside were packed with straw and there was a receptacle filled with water. It worked very well, used no Freon and we had no repair bills. My grandson just invested in a car with no air conditioning and plans to take it on a long trip. I've told him about the device we had in the good old days and he would like very much to get one but no one seems to have them anymore. Water coolers are still being made and used successfully in homes.
I.F. Martinez, CA

A. I do indeed remember those old units. My dad had one that he used on his '40 Ford on those long summer trips down through California's Imperial Valley during the early '40s. They were given the undignified title "swamp box" as I recall and truly ugly affairs but they did, indeed, take the edge off of the 100+ heat. I've searched Hemmings Motor News, the Vintage Auto Almanac, the J.C. Whitney catalog and several other old car publications and couldn't come up with a supplier of new units or even someone selling a used one. I think your best bet is to haunt old car swap meets (there's several held each year in your area) and see if you can find a used one. There may also be some kind of law against the use of an automotive swamp box so you'd best check your state vehicle code. I remember my dad saying that the swamp box in his Ford had a tendency to make the mohair upholstery on the rear seat mildew and caused some rust under the floor mats.

Q. The right front window on our 1992 Plymouth Acclaim is driving us batty. It has about 45,000 miles on it and since we got it, the power operation of that window has been intermittent. It works about half of the time but when we take it to our mechanic to be checked out, it always works fine. He checked out the system once and found nothing wrong. After that he said that he could replace the switch but he wasn't sure that it would cure the problem. I'd like to get it working right before it sticks in the down position when it starts to rain.
R.O. Ogden, UT

A. Sometimes the answer to a vexing automotive problem can only be obtained from the factory service department and that's where I got your answer. There were several Chrysler cars built from '92 to '95 that suffered from the same problem, I'm told, and the cure was described in a Chrysler factory bulletin some time ago. It also affected the operation of the top on some Chrysler LeBaron convertibles of the same time span. The fault lay in the switches themselves. The cure is simple but expensive. The parts department of your local Plymouth/Dodge/ Chrysler dealership can supply your mechanic with a replacement switch that solves the problem.

Q. I'd like to involve my 13 year old son in an automotive project with me but I'm in a quandary as to what to undertake. There is no auto shop program at the private high school he will attend but I want him get exposed to the basics of the automobile and the pleasure of being able to work with his hands. I've been considering the construction of a Cobra kit car or the restoration of a vintage American car.
C.R. San Antonio, TX

A. In medical school, they don't start first year students on brain surgery. You may be biting off more than your son is willing or able to chew. A friend did the same thing and when his son lost interest after a few weeks, he had to finish his Cobra project alone. I suggest you start with a small, cheap "beater" with a manual transmission (Ford Pinto, Toyota Tercel, VW Bug, etc.) that's simple to work on and has a ready supply of parts available. Remember that it's for your kid's education.

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