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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I own a 1996 Toyota Camry which we bought new in December of 1995. Several weeks ago we took it into the dealer for a 15,000-mile check and learned that our rear brake capacity is now only 25 percent. My husband and I are both astonished and dismayed at the prospect of a brake job at 20,000 miles. In May of this year at 3815 miles we complained of noise from the brakes that worsened as we went downhill. The dealer could find nothing wrong. Then at the 7500-mile check in August the dealer estimated our brake capacity at 80 percent both front and rear. We live in a hilly area, but in the same house and driveway for nearly 22 years and have had the following cars during that time: two VW Rabbits, one VW Jetta, one Ford LTD, one Dodge Caravan, and one Volvo 240. Although brakes wear out faster here than in Kansas, the brakes on our other cars never had such a limited lifespan. Is this a shortcoming of the Camry or do you think we have a legitimate complaint? If the latter, how do you think we should approach the dealer? His shop has been the only one to perform any maintenance on the car and we have followed all Toyota's recommendations except that we increased the frequency of oil changes.
S.A. Orinda, CA

A. It doesn't seem logical that the rear brakes on your Toyota would wear out so much faster than the fronts but it's possible. The four cylinder Camry has drum brakes in the rear, while the V6 version uses disc brakes all around. The evaluation of brake wear is a visual check by the technician doing the job and there may have been an error in his or her judgment. Ask to have the rear brake wear factor reevaluated using an accurate measuring instrument and compare it to the thickness of a new set of rear brakes.

Q. I'm thinking about adding one of those super oil lubricants to my car's engine. They all claim to do the same thing - protect the engine from heat and friction and make the engine last longer. Do you recommend these products or should I use regular motor oil and change it at the recommended intervals? My owner's manual says to not add anything to the oil. I own a '94 Plymouth Duster with the 2.5 liter four-cylinder engine that has completed about 26,000 miles.
H.S. Gloversville, NY

A. A couple of months ago the Federal Trade Commission sent out a four-page bulletin stating that the claims made by the country's best- selling additive maker are false and misleading. Another well-known brand paid a fine of $888,000 in '95 for the same reason. In an era when premature engine failure is extremely rare (especially when the owner has changed the engine oil and filter on a regular schedule) using an additive that costs $15 to $20 a quart seems to me to be a waste of money. Additives don't prevent head gaskets from blowing out, oil seals and gaskets from leaking, electronics from malfunctioning or timing belts from breaking, and these are the types of things that go wrong on modern engines. If you want to do your engine a favor, change its oil and filter twice as often as the manufacturer recommends. Both are relatively cheap.

Q. A friend of mine told me that the original Lincoln Continental had a V12 engine that was really just a Ford V8 engine with four more cylinders tacked-on. I saw an old Lincoln at an auto show and the engine looked much larger than the one in a '40 Ford that was displayed at the same show.
R.B. Seattle. WA

A. According to Bob Rushing, curator of the Rushing Automotive Archives, there were two different Lincoln V12 engines in the days just before World War II. The luxurious K-models carried a 414 cubic-inch monster, while the medium-priced Zephyr was, indeed, a much smaller Ford-based engine with four extra cylinders added in the middle.

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