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Automania/Repair and Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1971 Chevrolet Impala two-door sedan with a 350 cubic-inch engine and an automatic transmission. It now has 128,000 miles. I bought it new 26 years ago and have gotten really good service from it and have become quite attached to it. Unfortunately, it has gotten pretty tacky in that the paint has faded, the upholstery has ripped through in a few places and the engine uses a quart of oil every 1500 miles. I like the car enough to put some money into it to get it back into as good condition as possible. I'd like to give it to a single shop and have them do everything, upholstery, body work, paint, engine, transmission, etc. I'd like to spend around $6000 but I wouldn't want to go any higher. I rather spend more and get a newer car. Do you think it's possible to find a shop to do a job like this on an older car?
J.S. Walnut Creek, CA

A. There are several restoration shops around the country that specialize in doing those kinds of jobs but they usually work with much more exotic machinery like investment quality Muscle Cars or classics of the pre-war era. It's a pretty expensive and exacting business. As an example, I was in a restoration shop in my home town a couple of years ago where a garden-variety '36 Plymouth coupe was being restored for a customer who had a sentimental attachment to that make, year and model. The price tag on that much-less complex car was approaching $30,000 with the painting still to come. Your best bet is to price the different aspects of the job (paint-body, engine-transmission, upholstery, etc.) separately and if you decide to proceed, do the coordinating and leg work yourself.

Q. This past summer I purchased a 1976 Dodge D350 Class "C" 22-foot motorhome. It has a 390 horsepower V8 engine, power steering and the odometer shows 68,350 miles. My only problem is that the unit has a tendency to wander. I've been told that "it's the nature of the beast." I have put on six new tires, new shocks front and rear, new brakes front and rear, and had the front end aligned at one of the better outfits in our area. It is much better than when I first purchased it but still not nearly perfect. The company that replaced my tires suggested sway bars but with no guarantee to the tune of $425. Would you have any suggestions as to what I might do to alleviate this problem?
T.D. Harrisburg, OR

Q. Installing a set of aftermarket sway bars is expensive but it makes a great deal of difference in the way those big motorhomes handle, especially in a crosswind. I had the same experience with a similar rig that I own and found that when I doubled the caster angle of the front wheels, it helped a lot and it was a cheap fix - I did it myself. Caster angle is what makes it possible to ride a bicycle with your hands off the handle bars. Without a lot of caster angle, the rider would have to continually hold the bike in a straight line.

Q. I have an '84 Ford Bronco II V6 with 173,000 miles. It runs fine and never uses any oil. When I start it, I hear the lifters knocking softly when it's idling. Occasionally they are quite loud when I come to a stop. Sometime when I drive a short distance, shut it down and then restart it, the lifters are very noisy. then quiet down after I drive it for a while. Basically, I only drive it to work in the winter a distance of 15 miles. Do the lifters just need adjusting or is it a big problem? Does this noise hurt anything?
T.E. LaGrange, IN

A. The engine is losing its oil pressure "prime." The oil pump pressure relief valve may be at fault but try changing the oil filter brand first. At 173.000 miles, changing the valve lifters alone would lead to other problems. Any engine noise hurts. Yours is subjecting the cam, valve faces and seats as well as the lifters to excessive wear.

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