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Good Car Care Advice from Tom T - #6

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Tom Torbjornsen, host of "America's Car Show" radio program answers questions from his listeners. (Listen to Tom's radio shows every Saturday and Sunday right here on The Auto Channel)

Dear Tom, I own a 2002 Toyota Highlander with 33,000 miles. A Toyota dealer told me that “it is recommended” that I have the serpentine belt changed and the thuttle box serviced. These are dealer recommended services. My mechanic friend looked at the car and told me not to worry about changing the belt or servicing the thuttle box. In your opinion, when is a good time (number of miles) to change the belt and service the thuttle box? Thanks. Peanut from San Dimas, CA

Peanut, Many people hear the words "it is recommended" when they bring their vehicles in for service. This is a buzzword used by the auto service industry. Whenever you hear these words a bright red flag and alarms should go off in your head. You always hear those words used in conjunction with phrases like "engine flush", “transmission flush," and other automotive flushing or cleaning services. A simple review of Toyota’s service specs indicates that Toyota has no replacement interval for the serpentine drive belt. It should be inspected for wear every 15,000 miles starting at 60,000 miles, and replaced as necessary. As for servicing the thuttle box, does your Toyota Dealer service surfboards as well as Toyotas? A "Thuttle Box" is part of a special kind of surfboard, not a Toyota Highlander. If your thuttle box needs servicing, take it to a Ron Jon surfboard store for service. Tom

Dear Tom, I own a ‘98 Mercury Mountaineer. The vehicle starts but it won't move. I changed the transmission fluid because it was very dark brown, thick, and smelled burnt. I've changed the transmission fluid and added other transmission repair stuff to the fluid. However, that only worked for a short time. Do I need a new transmission? Help! Mary C. from Albany, OR

Mary, I’ve been preaching this for years! There is no “Transmission Repair Stuff” or “Mechanic-In-A-Can” that will repair a burnt up transmission. From your description of the color and smell of the trans fluid, the transmission is probably toast. The repair stuff" you added swells up the seals in the transmission, which renews internal hydraulic pressure for a short period of time. It stops working after the seals shrink again, hence the reason why it only worked for a short time. Have the vehicle towed to a garage and have them check out the transmission. You are most likely looking at a transmission replacement or rebuild. Sorry for the bad news. Tom

Dear Tom, The heater core on my ‘77 Chevy Suburban C20 is leaking into the truck on the passenger’s side. Can I add stop leak to the radiator to stop the coolant leak? Or, if the core has to be replaced, can I do it myself? I’m pretty handy with tools. Rene from Grass Valley, CA

Rene, A leaking heater core has to be replaced. ‘Stop Leak’ just clogs the rest of the system up and causes the engine to overheat. Heater core replacement on this truck requires disassembly of the dash to remove the HVAC box where the heater core is housed. In short, it’s a very labor-intensive job that requires experience and special tools. The book calls for five hours to do this job by an experienced technician. You may be “handy” but this job is probably over your head. Bite the bullet and pay to have it done. You’ll be better off in the long run. Good luck. Tom

Dear Tom, I own a 2000 Grand Prix that lurches when I shift. No codes were detected in the system. Any idea what could cause this lurching? Bruce from Appleton, NY

Bruce, Your Grand Prix should have a 4T65E transaxle. You car’s computer controls the line pressure in this transmission, which affects shift firmness/softness. If the transmission is worn out and slipping, the computer compensates by raising the trans line pressure, causing a harsher shift. Test-drive the vehicle with a scan tool attached to the in-vehicle data link connector to monitor transmission data. This will give you more info on what could be causing the problem. It may store a P1811 code in the future. Other causes of harsh shifts are stuck valve in the valve body, plugged trans oil filter, bad TPS (Throttle Position Sensor), high engine idle, large vacuum leak, and a host of other stuff that needs to be checked out. Success to you. Tom

Dear Tom. I own an ‘03 Olds Alero. The A/C stopped cooling, and the compressor is not turning when the switch is on. It turns free by hand when the engine is off. I checked the fuses and they are good. Could it be a relay? If so, where are they located? Thanks for your help. Gerald from Mountain City, TN

Gerald, If the refrigerant charge is low in the system, then the computer will not allow the compressor to engage because it detects low refrigerant pressure. This is a built-in fail-safe to protect the compressor from running with no refrigerant oil. A garage will need to check the refrigerant level. If the level is low, they will locate the leak, repair it, and recharge the system with refrigerant and oil. If the refrigerant level is okay, then system pressure switches and powers and grounds from the computer will need to be checked for faults. Best to you. Tom

Dear Tom, I own a ‘98 Buick Le Sabre. When I have to move quickly into traffic and I press down on the accelerator, one of the drive wheels locks up. It is only for a second and I can feel the one tire being dragged across the pavement. I'm usually turning when this occurs. I'm unsure if it is the same tire, but it happens when I am turning in either direction. Any ideas? Ron from Buffalo, NY

Ron, If the vehicle has traction control, it could be detecting a wheel slip to either the wheel actually spinning or (more likely) an antilock wheel speed sensor cutting out. The ABS/Traction Control system could be scanned for trouble codes. If the vehicle doesn't have traction control, it could be a brake caliper hanging up or a stuck parking brake cable. Either way, you need to give this problem immediate attention. Success to you. Tom

‘Til next time…Keep Rollin’

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For more articles by Tom Torbjornsen, visit AMERICA’S CAR SHOW web site:

Tom Torbjornsen is an automotive expert of 37 years. An automotive journalist in good standing with the IMPA (International Motor Press Association), Tom is the Repair and Maintenance Editor for several websites.