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Automania/Repair and Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. I own a '91 Jaguar Vanden Plas with approximately 56,000 miles. I bought it last year with about 41,000 miles. Recently I had some minor repairs done at a Jaguar dealership and the manager asked me if I was aware that the auto-leveling system on the car was malfunctioning. I had noticed that when I drive in bumpy areas, the car sometimes seems to start bouncing and won't stop. The mechanic said that there had been problems with this model and year and that there was a kit available for $800. The alternative was to have the present system fixed for even more money but there was a great probability that it would happen again. I called the Jaguar regional office in New Jersey and told them that I though that it was a safety problem and asked if there had been a recall. I received a written response stating that they couldn't fix it for me since the car was no longer under warranty. Can you tell me what is their liability in this case since this problem is a safety concern?
S.B. Elizabeth City, NC

A. I can't give you a legal opinion since I'm not a lawyer, but I can point out that you have to go further to put pressure on Jaguar regarding a possible safety problem. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a toll-free hot-line in Washington DC at 800-424-9393 and is the final authority on vehicle safety. If there's a recall on your problem, NHTSA will have it on file. The procedure on a government safety recall is that all owners of the affected vehicles are sent registered notifications to get the problem rectified, even if the owner bought it used. Chances are the feds aren't involved or the former owner would have had it fixed.

Q. Last December, I traded my '91 Buick for a '90 Pontiac TranSport that had only 51,000 miles. Upon delivery, I noticed that the dash was separated and sticking up but it was only obvious when standing in front of the windshield. After checking with his body shop, the salesman told me that it couldn't be fixed and would have to be replaced with a new one. He made a notation on the contract. I waited several months and was told that the new one that had been ordered was defective and would have to be reordered. Now when I call my salesman, he tells me that he will pay for it out of his own pocket as soon as business picks up because he doesn't want to go through a lot of unnecessary paper work. So far all I've gotten from him is a birthday card. What should I do?
L.E. Mechanicsville, MD

A. A birthday card instead of a dash cover? Bad deal. Check with the parts departments of various Pontiac dealerships yourself on the availability and turn-around time of a new dash cover. It's possible that they aren't even in production anymore. If it's still available from Pontiac, ask to see the boss of the place in person. Show him or her the notation on the contract and state that you want your Pontiac fixed as per agreement.

Q. I own a '90 four-cylinder Toyota Camry with 104,000 miles. About two-and-a-half years ago, around 65,000 miles, my Camry began to billow white smoke in the morning or after it had been sitting for more than an hour. Recently a neighbor told me that the problem of smoke coming from Camrys was addressed in a Toyota service bulletin on engine types 3S-FE. Is there a way to get a copy of this service bulletin? Can I contact Toyota about getting it fixed? Why weren't Camry owners notified?
A.W. Sacramento, CA

A. Never procrastinate over an auto problem since they only get worse. The time to be concerned about your Camry was when you first noticed it and that was back in '95. It may not be too late, however, since Toyota is pretty good about fixing things like that. Contact the main office in Torrance, Calif. You can get the address out of your owner's handbook. Service bulletins are almost top secret and I can't get them either.

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