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Automania/Repair and Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I have a 1996 Honda Accord, four cylinder engine, 16 valves, an automatic transmission, with about 10,000 miles on the odometer. I've never had any problems, but it has a very loud engine. I called Honda Motors in Southern California and they sent me to a dealership. The service manager brought around four other Honda cars like mine. They all had loud engines and he said that they all sound the same. I found one at another dealership and it wasn't nearly as loud. Have you ever heard of such a thing? Also the transmission downshifts almost to a stall when I slow down and go around a corner. I had a '91 Honda that had none of these problems. The Honda people say it's normal.
J.M. Fontana, CA

A. The valves on Hondas can be very noisy if they run a little loose and that sounds like the problem you're having. As I recall, the valve clearances are supposed to be checked as part of the pre-delivery inspection but sometimes this step is bypassed. At the first scheduled service, the Honda shop that performs the task should be alerted that you're unhappy with the noise. The problem with the automatic transmission sounds more serious. It's possible that the lockup system is hanging up and trying to stall the engine. Go back to the same dealer and see if you can try other Accords like your own under the same conditions. If you haven't complained to the factory representatives about the transmission, better call them immediately. Some cars are plagued with "tight" noises and problems when they're new - but Honda doesn't have that reputation.

Q. I have a 1969 Ford Mustang with a 351 cubic-inch Cleveland engine. I bought the car second-hand about a year ago. The problem that I'm having is that the engine keeps blowing out one particular freeze plug. It is the one on the passenger side just ahead of the right motor mount. I have consulted several mechanics and about all that they can say is that the engine has some kind of pressure buildup, though they don't have a clue about the cause. I have tried installing both rubber plugs as well as the metal ones but the engine keeps blowing them out.
G.D. Blue River, OR

A. If your engine is building up enough cooling system pressure to blow out a properly installed freeze plug, I'd be willing to bet that the radiator hoses and the radiator itself would give way lots earlier. Since you bought the car a short time ago, it's possible that a former owner had rusty freeze plugs replaced and that whoever installed that particular plug made the hole slightly oversized and unable to exert enough "pinch" or press fit on the replacement. Start by replacing or removing the thermostat. Having the cooling system power-flushed in reverse is an efficient way to clean any debris still in the system, but if any of the other plugs are marginal, a power-flush may finish them off. To be installed right, cup-type plugs require considerable persuasion with a hammer and an installing punch and if they go in easy or crooked, something's wrong with the hole. Freeze plugs on high performance conversions are usually strapped in but it's done during an initial conversion. Unfortunately, you may have to pull the engine.

Q. I have been trying to obtain a copy of The Vintage Auto Almanac I have seen you refer to in your columns of the past. The two book shops I inquired at said that it is apparently out of print and not available. Is there a used auto book store where I can get a used copy?
B.J. Toledo, OH

A. The books stores where you shopped were right: the 11th edition of the Vintage Auto Almanac is out of print but it's an evolutionary thing and I'm told that the 12th edition is just now coming off the presses. Be patient with your book store or order one in advance. The publisher is at 1-800-227-4373 toll-free and it costs a little under ten bucks.

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