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Automania/Maintenance and Repair


by Bob Hagin

Q. When I complained to my trusted mechanic about the lack of diversity in auto designs, he told me that Studebaker once produced a station wagon with a slide-back roof so that tall items could be hauled in it. Is that true and where can I get one?
M.M. Sacramento, CA

A. Either your mechanic is an old timer with a good memory or an avid student of contemporary American automotive history. Studebaker made such a wagon in 1963 and 1964 and called it the Lark Daytona Wagonaire. It was a novel and practical design put together for the ailing Studebaker company by Brooks Stevens, an independent design consultant. The rear half of the top could be slid forward like a large sun roof to give space for tall things like refrigerators to be carried upright. It was available with six and eight cylinder engines but could also be had with the hot-rod R-Series V8 and it stayed in production when the company and the factory moved to Canada in '64. Studebaker did a lot of innovative stuff in its day but went the way of all independent American auto makers in '67. I found a couple of these slide-top wagons listed for sale in a late issue of Hemming's Motor News so check it out at the magazine rack at one of the major book stores. I'm told by my local Studebaker historian that they all leaked in the rain, so carry a tarp.

Q. When I go to start my '77 Mercedes 280 SE after it has been sitting for three days, she won't kick over. I have it jumped and then have my mechanic charge the battery. He has checked for a draw on the battery with his computer and finds none. The battery is fine, the voltage regulator is fine and I've already put in three new batteries. No one can find what is drawing down the battery. I've checked all of the switches on the car to make certain that they are off and yet the car won't start after three or four days of non-operation. I should be able to just get into it and have it start. How can I find what's wrong with it?
B.L. Athens, GA

A. These kinds of electrical problems on a 20 year-old car can be a nightmare for a mechanic. It's hard to second-guess what your technician has tried but I assume that he's checked the charging output to make sure the battery is being recharged as you drive. I also assume that he has checked the present battery with a starter-draw tester after it's been fully charged to make sure it doesn't go below 10 volts after a full load has been applied for 30 seconds. If he hasn't checked for an excessive draw when the car is shut down, have him do that too. Another quick-and-dirty test is to check across the top of the battery for a draw from acid mist that's accumulated between the terminals. This is a common problem with older cars that have been left in an airport parking lot for a few days. If your problem can't be pinpointed with these easy tests, you'll have to do it the hard way - one wire at a time with a volt-ohm meter or a continuity tester.

Q. We had the mechanic at our local gas station install new brake linings on the front wheels of our 1988 Ford Crown Victoria. The car has very little mileage on it for being nine years old (54,000) but it is only used around town so I guess they wore out early. After he put on the new shoes, the front brakes squeal very loudly. The mechanic says that he put them in right and that he can see nothing wrong.
B.K. Cleveland, OH

A. An inexperienced mechanic can sometimes get into trouble when replacing front brake pads. Higher quality replacement pads are usually produced with a material that won't squeak but the are also supplied with an glue-like antisqueal compound that is applied to the back side of the brake pads to dampen out the excessive vibration the pads are experiencing. If this doesn't work, you may need better quality pads.

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