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Automania/Repair & Maintenance


by Bob Hagin

Q. We recently bought an '89 Acura Legend for our son who is just getting his driver's license. The car has a V6 engine, a manual five-speed transmission and less than 90,000 miles on the odometer. Unfortunately, we only did a quick ride around the block before we made the deal and didn't take it to a mechanic to get it checked out first. A couple of days after we bought the car, my son complained that its brake pedal action was "different" from the pedal on the '94 Honda Accord that he learned to drive on. If the Acura is at a stop sign or a red light and I leave my foot on the brake pedal with just a light pressure, the pedal will slowly drop down and touch the floor. If I let it up and step on it hard, the pedal will be up to its normal position but when I relax the pressure, it will slowly drop away again. We bought the car from a private party so we can't take it back as we got no guarantee. The Acura dealership shop wants to check the car but says it's probably a faulty master cylinder that should be replaced for over $300. Is it normal for a master cylinder to go bad with such low mileage? The brake fluid hasn't gone down at all.
R.C. San Antonio, TX

A. An Honda mechanic that I know recently told me that his shop (a large one) has been replacing Honda/Acura brake master cylinders at the rate of two or three a week. The problem is that the cylinders develop an internal leak that pushes fluid from one of the two compression chambers back into the fluid reservoir. None of the fluid is lost, but the brakes don't work. I don't know of any mechanic who would be willing to risk the liability factor of doing a rebuild on one, so your Acura dealer's suggestion of replacing it is a sound but expensive idea. The Honda/Acura service schedule calls for totally replacing the brake fluid with a system flush every 30,000 miles, so maybe this is needed to preclude premature master cylinder failure.

Q. I've been toying with the idea of getting into the auto collecting hobby as a business. I've dabbled in the stock market for several years just for fun and have done fairly well. I'm a car enthusiast and own a couple that have investment value (a '52 Jag XK 120 and a '37 Buick Roadmaster convertible) but I didn't originally buy them with that in mind. I've recently subscribed to the DuPont Register, but I'm apprehensive about getting into a business where I might have to learn the ins and outs the hard and expensive way. I've attended a couple of the vintage car auctions at the Pebble Beach concours but I've always been afraid to get into the bidding.
D.G. Palm Springs, CA

A. So have I, since it could be a very expensive education even if you're bidding on the few cheap cars that come across the line. The bidding gets to a frenzied pace and it's easy to get carried away and do something stupid. The Jackson-Barrett auction guys in Phoenix recently sent me a press release on toe-wetting first steps to take to get into the action. You can get a copy by calling them at 602-273-0791 or you can look them up on their web site at

Q. I recently purchased a '93 Ford Ranger with a 3.0 liter V6. It has only 72,000 miles on it. The engine idles rough, so I replaced the idle sensor, cleaned the fuel injectors, replaced the plugs and changed all the filters. A mechanic tells me that all these trucks idle rough but I've checked three others and they run fine.
T.B. Elizabeth City, NC

A. When all else fails, you have to go back to the basics. A physical compression check or an oscilloscope can spot cylinders that are weak and misfiring, a simple vacuum gauge can indicate vacuum leaks and an ohmmeter can detect bad plug wires. I've always contended that auto repair is 60 percent observation and only 30 percent perspiration.

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