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Automania/Repair and Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I bought a 1990 Mitsubishi Eclipse GS Turbo second-hand a couple of years ago. It's really a great car and very fast but it has a strange steering problem that has been there since I bought it. I got it from a private party who had also bought it second-hand and she couldn't tell me anything about its history. When I accelerate the car very gently, it has a tendency to pull to the right and it takes a quarter of a turn of the steering wheel to keep it straight. The car sits almost an inch lower on the left front corner and the front tires wear out faster than the rears. The front end has been aligned several times but it hasn't helped. The car now has almost 100,000 miles on it.
K.L. Los Angeles, CA

A. It's possible that your Eclipse has been wrecked and not repaired right. Many wrecks are sold off and hashed back together rather than being scrapped out. "Cobble shops" buy them, get them rolling and as long as the shop has a "clean" ownership certificate, the next buyer doesn't know it's been wrecked. All cars have original factory height specs and they're usually measured from the ground to four specific points, two on the front and two on the rear. If the measurements don't match the specs, something is wrong. A spring may be collapsed or broken (simple to repair) or there may be something bent or broken (not so simple). Both side of the wheel base should be measured and they should match within a quarter of an inch. The substructure should be measured from the left rear corner to the right front and then the same measurement made from right to left. They should be the same within a quarter of an inch to verify that the unit construction isn't bent. If something is wrong, it will may take a frame straightener to fix it.

Q. I have a 1973 Ambassador four-door sedan that my husband bought new in 1974. Is this car considered a classic and would collectors be interested? It's in excellent condition and even has the original upholstery. One of these days I'll be needing to sell it but it is still in daily use at the present time and runs good.
M.C. Cottage Grove, OR

A. Collectibility, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. An enthusiast in my area collects British double-decker busses and there's no doubt about the fact that they're rare and unusual but they're not the kind of vehicles that show up as high-ticket items at the auctions. The used car value guides show a good four-door '73 Ambassador to be worth a maximum of around $1700 although I found an Ambassador Brougham station wagon listed in Hemming's Motor news for $3500. As a comparison, a comparable '73 Chevrolet Caprice Classic four-door sedan lists for around $700 more than your car. Keep your car in good condition for another 25 years and it may go up in value but don't plan to retire on what you can sell it for right now.

Q. We have a 1993 Chevrolet Astrovan with the V6 engine, an automatic transmission and 53,000 miles on the odometer. We use it to pull a small vacation trailer and have always followed the owner's handbook as far as the type of oil to use. It says that the recommended oil to use is 5W30 weight. We do a lot of camping during the summer months when the weather gets hot and the 5W30 oil seems to be pretty thin. Can I switch over to a 5W50 synthetic oil without damaging the engine? It doesn't use much oil between changes.
J.J. New Orleans, LA

A. Changing to a heavier synthetic oil won't damage your engine but I've heard of the switch causing an increase in oil consumption. The auto makers went to recommending the use of low-viscosity oils to stretch fuel mileage and get a better mileage rating from the federal Environmental Protection Agency. It had nothing to do with reliability.

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