Car Maintenance and Repair Questions - Part # 2

Q. I need new tires for wife's '84 BMW 733i rear-wheel drive. We can only afford two this month, so the question is, front or rear for better handling?

A. Since your front does the steering and 75 percent of the braking, always put new tires on the front. Move the two good tires on the car to the rear.

Q. I have a 92 Dodge Shadow, which appears to have a short. The signal lights will not work when the headlights are turned on. The radio and the interior light also don't work.

A. Try pulling the brake light bulbs out one at a time, and then try the turn signals with the lights on and see if it helps any. If so, replace the bulb in question. Check the fuses for the items still not working if you haven't done so already. The fuse box for these fuses is most likely located on the left side of the car under the instrument panel, and probably has a diagram of which fuses go to what components on the inside or outside of the fuse box cover. The owner's manual, if you have it, will also be of help with the fuses, or see if a dummy short is on the dull side.

Q. I am curious to know why my transmission "drops" significantly when I shift my 1989 Buick Park Ave. 3.8L V6 from park into reverse. Originally, I thought pressure build up due to being on an incline was causing this problem, however, it happens on a level surface as well. I have changed the trans filter but that doesn't seem to cure my problem. What can I do?

A. It must be a mount. Open the hood and have someone, with his or her foot on the brake, shift into reverse. You will see the engine or tranny move.

6 Q. I am looking at buying a Ford Ranger. I drove it and heard the fan belt making noise. It's a year 2000 with 49,000 miles, not too bad. I know this car has been on the dealer lot for a while. Is it normal to have a noisy fan belt for such a low mileage? Is it hiding something? Could there be a serious engine problem later, or is it just a dry belt because the car is not running a lot?

A. Depending on the type of noise, it could be the belt, fan or any one of the pulleys or bearings it rides on. Fan belts are rubber, so if it is original, five years is plenty of time for the rubber to harden and crack. To quickly determine if it is as simple as a belt, open the hood with the engine running and spray a little bit of water or WD-40 on the belt. If the noise goes away, it is probably the belt, although it could also be one of the pulleys, but not likely. In either case, it is not a major deal. If the noise doesn't go away, then it could be a water pump, alternator, compressor, clutch, etc. Safety Note: When you spray the belt, stand back - you don't want to get sprayed in return.

Q. How would I go about changing the fuel filter on a 1999 Sunfire? I can only get the one side off but the other side has some kind of locking device.

A. If you squeeze the lock together and pull the line, it will come off. Usually the new filter comes with a new lock. Be careful if the system is still under pressure.

Q. My car was hit on the right front by a pickup, bending the strut and lower suspension arm to the rear of the inner fender wall. When I moved the car at the accident, the brake pedal went to the floor as I stopped the car. The brake pedal was OK with the next application. The brakes are "good" every 15-20 applications, then fail for one application. No "idiot" lights or ABS lights come on. I went to pickup the car yesterday and the body shop mechanic said the master cylinder was bad. During the discussion, he said there was "air in the system" during the bleeding process. I suggested a " possible leak" in the impact area, but no wet spot was found during the first inspection. The wheel is going to be pulled tomorrow to check the caliper, hoses, etc. Any suggestions on "what or where" the problem could be?

A. Assuming that the entire strut housing was replaced, the caliper saddle mounts to the lower strut housing. If it is good, look at the bent rotor or hub flange. The caliper saddle itself could have been bent as well. Although, it's possible the master cylinder went south. The description you've given is consistent with something being bent. All of this should have been and probably was checked by the body shop. They need to keep looking. Try to see if they are actually getting air out of that wheel after the failures. If so, ask them to gravity bleed it - just take the cap off the master cylinder open the bleeder and let it drip until there is no air. Then pinch off the hose to that wheel and start applying the brakes and see what happens.

If during the accident air somehow entered into the ABS unit, a special bleeding procedure may be required. Going through the proper bleeding procedures and there is still air, have them look at the master. If it is a bad master, you may find that you cannot get air out of the system because every time the seal fails, air is introduced.

Q. The parking brake is stuck in my '95 Cavalier. The car was parked for about two weeks, and when I went to release the brake, the handle moves, but the rear wheels are still locked. How can I fix this?

A. You might try crawling under the back and giving the backing plates a few good whacks with a hammer, which will sometimes knock things loose. Just be careful not to hit anything important like bleeder screws.

Q. My son has a 1991 Olds Delta 88 Royale Brougham. Yesterday, as he was driving it, it died for no apparent reason. After they checked the vehicle over, they found a black substance in the gas. He just bought this car a few months ago and was told that the car was left sitting for close to two years with a full tank of gas. His friend's father told him to add something like STP Gas Treatment and that would take care of the stale gas. This car has had less than 100 miles on the road since he bought it. What should be done to rectify this problem?

A. Well let's see, sugar turns black in gas! No matter what the substance is, it will probably require a tank cleaning, new fuel pump and a filter.

Q. OK, so we just drained and cleaned the gas tank because of the black substance in it. We changed the gas filter and had little problem starting it up. Now, there is a pinging sound in the engine. Where do we start with this problem? What should I check that could possibly be making the pinging noise?

A. Get it checked for any codes that might be stored for starters. You might also pull all the spark plugs and see what they look like on the business end. Pinging is generally caused by incorrect timing, gas that has too low of an octane rating, or sometimes carbon build-up in the cylinders. With what you found in the tank, I would be a little afraid that a foreign substance made its way into the cylinders and you have some kind of deposits in there. If there is enough stuff gunked up in a cylinder, it can raise the compression ratio and lead to pinging. A compression check wouldn't hurt to see if it is in the proper range.

You can also check the fuel pressure first; it should be about 40 psi. The injectors could have caught some junk and be partially plugged. Fuel pumps have no tolerance for stuff other than fuel going through them, so check that first. A lean mixture that can also be in the pump or in plugged injectors can cause pinging.

Q. I had a leak in the tube going to the radiator, so I was adding more water from time to time, but it seemed that the water wasn't going to the radiator. The engine got very hot and started to lose power until I started hearing some noise, so I stopped the car and I towed it to the mechanic. The tube having the leak was replaced but now the engine doesn't start easily, I have to wait a long time and push the accelerator for about one minute to start the engine. Please help!

A. There's a good chance you've warped the heads from overheating, which, if it hasn't already, will eventually lead to blown head gaskets. The aluminum heads on today's engines simply will not tolerate being overheated whatsoever. I suspect the head gaskets are already blown. I'm surprised whatever mechanic did the work didn't get into that with you. You're going to have to take it to a good shop to have it checked. Don't be surprised if the repair is more than the vehicle is worth.

Q. My wife's 01 Suburban just died going down the interstate. It took me several hours to find that the fuse to the pcm was blown. It was a 20 and all I had was a 25 so I used it. I thought it was done, but yesterday the same thing happened with the 25-amp fuse in it. I replaced it with the 20 amps it calls for, but I need to know what is causing it. It has the 5.3l vortex with 72,000 mi. What do you guys think?

A. Most likely, it is not just the pcm. If the fuel pump were, I would start there. I have seen them short out and pop fuses randomly. But, it could be anything that gets power on that circuit.

Q. The power locks on my car stop working when the car is turned off. When it's running the locks work fine, but when it's off they stop working. Any info on what to do?

A. It sounds like part of the electrical system is disabled/malfunctioning while the car is off. If the locks work while it's on, the locks aren't malfunctioning, but rather the problem is part of the electrical system.

Q. I have a handheld tachometer with a scale, which can read rpm for either a 6 or an 8-cylinder engine. How do I calculate the rpm from the reading I get when I hook up to a 4-cylinder engine?

A. Read the 8-cylinder scale and double it. If it says 400 rpm on the 8-cylinder, scale you have 800 rpm on a 4-cylinder car. The tachometer will usually say this on the case.

Q. The interior headliner cloth on the ceiling is falling in my daughter's 1994 Toyota. I have no idea how to fix this.

A. Some auto part stores carry replacement headliner material and the spray adhesive glue. You have to remove the headliner out of the car, peel off the old material and re glue the new on. Usually what happens is the foam between the material and the backing dry rots, causing the material to sag. Most automotive shops will replace them.

Q. My fuel gauge has stopped working on my 1995 Chevy K1500 truck. A dealer told me I needed to replace the gas tank due to a problem with the float. Is this correct, or is there another way to fix the problem?

A. You don't need to replace the gas tank, what you need to replace is in the gas tank attached to the pump housing.

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