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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We bought an '88 Mercury Sable GS new and have not put very many miles on it. We drive it every day, six to 10 miles to and from work, plus other miles shopping and recreational driving. At 16,000 miles I was told it had split or broken CV boots which the dealer repair people said was due to dry rot. They replaced the outer CV boots and made no mention of any other problems. At 18,000 miles, I heard a crunching noise only when making right turns. The dealer repair people told me that outer CV joints, outer tie-rods and power steering lines had to be replaced at a cost of $1350. They also recommended a transmission oil change and an engine oil and filter change which I had them do.
M.H. Kenilworth, NJ

A. I can understand the possibility of having a broken constant velocity (CV) joint boot at 16,000 miles but I find the choice of the words "dry rot" somewhat unusual. But they do deteriorate, crack open and allow dirt and grit to get into the joints where they make short work of the precision parts. I don't understand why the power steering lines and the outer tie-rods were replaced unless you live in an area where lots of salt is used on the roads in the winter or the car is subjected to salt water spray. It's too late to worry about it now since according to the repair order copy you sent me, the job was done three months ago. In the future, get a couple of estimates for a major job and have one come from a reputable independent garage. Also ask to be shown exactly what the problem is before the job is started and also ask to see the faulty parts that have been taken off before they are tossed out. You had a lot of expensive work done on a car that only had 18,000 miles on it.

Q. My 1988 Ford Thunderbird is a Turbocoupe and it now has 77,000 miles on it. I bought it second hand recently for a really good price because the transmission is noisy in fifth gear when it is driven over 55 MPH and the former owner didn't want to have to pay for an expensive transmission overhaul. I immediately had the transmission drained and had the oil checked for chips and grindings but we couldn't find anything. The noise is worse when I hold my hand on the gearshift lever. Is there a cheap fix on this? I don't want to have it pulled down before I know what's wrong.
R.P. Dallas, TX

A. Good planning. Its best to research problems like yours from a file of factory bulletins before you have things dismantled. There was a factory-fix on the problem a couple of years ago and it involved a snap ring in the transmission making contact with the oil slots of the third-gear bearing bore. The cure involves the replacement of the second-gear snap ring with one especially redesigned by Ford and while the part is fairly inexpensive, the labor is a complete tear-down.

Q. We bought a 1991 Toyota Tercel for my daughter to use now that she is away at college. She came home for the holidays and I borrowed her car to go on a short shopping trip. I'm in the habit of watching the gauges very closely (a major part of my own training when my father taught me to drive many years ago) and I noticed that when I made a sharp tern, the emergency brake light came on. I questioned my daughter about it and she said that she never noticed, but that the brakes have always worked fine. I asked her to have it checked out but she went back to school without having it done. What should I do?
W.P. San Francisco, CA

Call her and have her get the brake fluid level checked right away. If the level is low, hard cornering may activate the sensor switch inside the reservoir. If that's the case, there may be a leak somewhere or the front brake pads may be worn out. It's also possible that the wiring around the emergency brake switch is loose.

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