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Automania/Repair and Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1984 Nissan 300 ZX that I bought second-hand in 1995. Last October I was on my way home from my second job when my car caught fire. The cause was faulty fuel injectors. Later that day I found that there was a factory recall on them so I had my car towed to my home and the next day to our local Nissan dealership. The repair estimate was $4000 and I was told to contact the Nissan factory representative. They said that they couldn't fix my car until they received a document that they had requested but they won't rent me a car. Since the accident and because of the incident, I lost my full-time job, became homeless because my home was part of my full-time job, lost wages from my part-time job and split up my family while I was homeless. I'm still car-less and have contacted lawyers, the Better Business Bureau, and various media contacts. What else can I do to get transportation because it could be another two or three months before they get my car fixed?
J.B. Sacramento, CA

A. I'm not a lawyer so I can't give you legal advice and since you're so deep into problems, it may be too late to offer any usable advice at all. If a person's job depends on having a vehicle, the first thing to do is to buy another car even if it is a $500 "beater" and there are plenty of them around. I'm surprised that the dealership didn't offer you one at no money down since the payment for the repair by Nissan seems to be locked in. The only "official" agency you haven't mentioned calling is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Call them at 800-424-9393 and follow their instructions.

Q. We bought our 1986 Acura Integra second-hand with over 100,000 miles on it but the former owner cared for it very well and it gets very good mileage. After several months we began to get an engine ping or knock when we were driving it on the highway so we had the engine tuned up. The mechanic found nothing major wrong according to his analyzer and gave it back to us at very little cost. Unfortunately the ping remains and he has suggested that we buy higher octane gas. I don't think this is the answer since the car ran fine on regular gas when we got it.
T.H. Ft. Stockton, TX

A. I agree with you. There are a couple of reasons why an engine suddenly begins to ping and knock, especially in cool weather. If the combustion chambers become carboned up, the rough edges of the carbon deposits can begin to glow and fire the fresh fuel charge at random times to cause the noise. For this you can try a couple of cans of combustion chamber gas treatment through the fuel tank. A more likely cause is that the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve is malfunctioning which makes the mixture run lean and hot. Ask your mechanic to check it out since it may need cleaning or replacing.

Q. I have a 1973 Chevrolet pickup truck that I use for hauling household stuff like gardening supplies and such but I also use it as an everyday driver since like vintage trucks. I keep it up as well as I know how but I can't afford to spend a lot of money on what my wife considers a "play" car. Recently I've noticed that when I begin to accelerate at highway speeds, there is a slight vibration somewhere in the truck. If I back off on the accelerator, the vibration goes away. I've checked under the truck but I can't find anything loose.
B.C. St. Petersburg, FL

A. The vibration you feel sounds like a worn universal joint on the driveshaft. Unfortunately, most front-engine, rear drive vehicles made in those days had universal joints that had to be dismantled in order to be greased - a very big job for a thimbleful of grease. You should be able to feel a slight bit of "play" in a worn universal and if that's the problem, pull out the shaft and have a machine shop replace it with a greasable joint. Put a pan under the gearbox since it may leak a bit.

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