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Automania/Repair and Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. A peculiar thing happens to my 1987 Honda Accord when I drive it in wet weather. While making a turn at very low speeds such as when I'm parking, the effort needed to turn the steering wheel changes from hard to easy and then back to hard several times. It's really more annoying than a problem and it only happens after I've driven in the rain for 10 minutes or more. I got a quote over the phone to repair the problem and was told that a new steering unit could be around $800. The job would include a wheel alignment.
T.B. Cincinnati, OH

A. It's tough to diagnose a car's problems over the phone, but here are some of the simple things I'd check first. First, check the tightness of the power steering belt first to make sure that it isn't slipping. A slipping belt would account for the off-again, on-again action of your turning effort. If the belt has been slipping, the back side of it where it rubs against the pulleys would be shiny. If the belt shows this condition, it's best to replace it or have it replaced since a slipping belt can cause wear on the pulleys themselves. It's possible that the reason for the problem showing up in wet weather is that the splash shield under the engine might have come loose or not been replaced after an engine repair. Once you've exhausted the easy solutions, take the car into a shop for a visual evaluation.

Q. My 1976 Chevrolet Malibu station wagon was our family car for many years but now has rusted out and been relegated to the role of work car. I use it only to commute each morning. A month or so ago, it started to miss slightly when I was going up a steep grade. My teen-aged son told me that he thought it was a problem with the spark plugs or the gas filter so we bough those items at our local parts store. While we were there, the salesman suggested that we also change the plug wires. We bought the plugs and the filter but not the wires because my son said they didn't look bad. Between the two of us, we were able to change the plugs (though we broke one of the new ones) and replaced the gas filter. This made the car run much better than before, but it didn't cure the problem entirely. It's getting progressively worse again and I wonder if we shouldn't have changed the spark plug wires while we were at it. The replacement wires are not cheap.
B.B. Baldwin, NY

A. It's almost impossible to spot bad spark plug wires without checking the ignition system on an oscilloscope but sometimes at night in wet weather they show themselves. With the hood raised and engine running in the dark, the wires will sometimes light up like a Christmas tree. And while it may be a pretty display, it robs the engine of power and fuel. Replace the wires and put a couple of cans of gas treatment into a full tank of fuel as well. That should cover all the bases.

Q. I have recently come across a small St. Christopher's medal that may have some value to collectors of automotive memorabilia. It is the typical medal but the badge has small wings on the sides of it. In the left hand corner is a small race car that looks to be of pre-World War I vintage. The badge is about three inches long, two inches high and is pressed from a brass sheet. I can't remember where I got it, but I think is was in a collection of things I got at a garage sale many years ago. How can I go about finding its history and what it might be worth?
L.H. Denver, CO

A. Auto memorabilia is outside of my line of expertise but someone in the Society of Automotive Historians might be able to help you. The SAH contact is Kit Foster and his address is 1102 Long Cove Rd. Gales Ferry, CT 06335. I recently attended an auction by Christie's of England at a show in Monterey, CA and several items like yours were auctioned off. Christie's address is 219 E. 67th St., New York, NY. Attn: Collectibles.

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