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by Bob Hagin

Q. My wife and I bought a new Thunderbird in 1994. We keep the car on a regular maintenance schedule program, drive it only locally and put it in our garage when it is not in use. We have put about 35,000 miles on it but it has a problem with the paint. It is a champagne-type color that is quite common and the problem is that the primer is showing through on the center of the hood near the base of the windshield, on the trunk near the rear window and on the top. There, the primer shows through in the form of two distinct lines. When this started about a year ago I tried a variety of polishes rubbing compounds etc., but to no avail. The areas just seem to be expanding. Should I go back to the Ford dealership where we bought car even though it is now long since out of warranty? Should I contact the Ford factory? We paid cash at the time and didn't buy any warranty package. Perhaps it's just poor quality work and my best bet is to pay for a full repaint.
L.A. Highland, CA

A. I don't think that buying any kind of extended warranty would have done you any good since the auto makers and the insurance companies have always excluded problems with body paint. Periodically car manufacturers experiment with odd colors or paint application techniques and they manifest themselves later as paint that fades away or simply flakes off. Ford had some paint problems in the past and has on occasion authorized a partial repaint but these authorizations are few and far between. It couldn't hurt to contact the selling dealer and ask for the name and phone number of a Ford representative to ask if the company has a touch-up program in operation. I don't think that you'll have much luck at this late date but it couldn't hurt to ask. At worst, they'll say no.

Q. My 1988 Ford Mustang has the little 2.3 liter four cylinder engine and around 90,000 miles. It hesitates a lot and stumbles when I'm accelerating and going up fairly steep grades. It occurs mainly when it is fully warmed up but it is particularly bad when the weather gets really cold. I took it into a dealer's shop as well as to an independent mechanic and the diagnostic tests didn't indicate any problem.
B.J. Buffalo, NY

A. An easy first check is to see if the engine is truly warmed up when the temperature gauge reads normal. It's possible that the thermostat is stuck open and lets the coolant circulate too fast. This could send a false signal to the computer which could cause a hesitation. A lean mixture caused by dirty fuel injectors could cause a hesitation too but usually a lean mixture causes engine pinging or detonation. You might also check for worn out spark plugs or faulty plug wires that are breaking down under a load. This might not show up on a diagnostic test since most of these kinds of checks are done with the engine at idle or under a no-load condition. Take the mechanic on a road test with you to demonstrate what happens. There's no substitute for doing an evaluation on the road unless the shop has a dynometer.

Q. I was told by my mechanic that the sluggishness of my 1986 Chevy Caprice V8 is caused by a timing chain that is worn out. I've owned many cars over the years and never had to have the timing chain replaced. He says that if it breaks, it will cause considerable damage to the engine.
J.P Flagstaff, AZ

A. Timing chains and the sprockets that drive them do wear out but its rare for one to break. More often the teeth strip off the camshaft sprocket which allows the pistons to bang against the valve heads. Then the cylinder heads have to come off and it's possible that there could be extensive damage to the pistons themselves. A mechanic can easily test for a worn chain and sprockets by rotating the crankshaft and if it has more than an inch of "slop," the set should be changed. Usually a chain and sprocket set is good for 125,000 to 150,000 miles.

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