‘Clunking’ Sound Could Be Dangerous

Times Staff Writer

Question: My 1982 Eagle “clunks” when I put it in reverse. When starting out, there is a feeling that things are coming together before the car begins to move, and there is a similar feeling that things are moving apart when stopping. Any suggestions?--R.H.

Answer: You may have a fairly minor problem with a worn-out universal joint, or you may have a very serious structural problem that could be a safety hazard.

The Eagle has two separate drive shafts for its four-wheel-drive transmission, and each drive shaft contains two universal joints. These joints permit the drive shafts to deliver power to the wheels as the axle is bouncing up and down from the motion of the car.

A worn universal joint can often be identified by a “clunk” when the car is put in reverse. To be certain that is the problem, inspection of the joint from underneath the car is required.


If the problem is not here, you may have a broken transmission or engine mount. That would permit the entire drive train to shift about when you apply power. The condition could be dangerous because it could come apart while driving.

Q: I have a 1972 Pinto, which kicks over three or four times after I turn off the ignition key. Sometimes, the kickback is strong enough to unseat the wires on the distributor cap. Do you have any suggestions?--R.B.W.

A: Your car is dieseling, which means the engine is running on even though the ignition system has been switched off. It seems that you have a severe case if your distributor wires are shaking out of their sockets.

Dieseling occurs when the engine is so hot that the fuel mixture from the carburetor ignites inside the engine even without the spark plug firing. The problem is worse in modern cars, which run hotter and use a leaner fuel mixture than cars of the past.


Unfortunately, there is no single way to stop dieseling. Auto manufacturers lately have installed electrical switches that entirely shut off the fuel flow when the ignition is switched off.

The problem sometimes can be solved by running a cooler spark plug, turning down the engine idle and adjusting the fuel mixture.

Q: Having fallen victim to what I call the white-coated clipboard jockey at an auto-repair shop, it has finally dawned on me that I should write a condition on the work-authorization form saying: “If the unusual noise in the engine is not corrected, there will be no charge.” What do you think?--D.O.

A: Your approach might work if you have an attorney accompany you to the garage, but that will undoubtedly not save you any money. No contract that you write will ever guarantee you competent mechanical workmanship.


A large number of readers complain that high garage charges do not seem to remedy their problems. Some garages will always be willing to do unnecessary work. At the same time, some motorists expect garages to do diagnostic work for free.

Obtaining good mechanical service is a two-way street. First, you must find an honest and competent mechanic who is willing to carefully listen to your problem. There is no formula for finding a good repair shop. Service stations, independent garages and dealerships all can provide good service or bad service.

Even more important in saving money is to educate yourself. Many car owners waste money by virtually asking for unnecessary repairs. Even the most honest and well-intentioned mechanic must rely on the driver to explain what the car’s problem is. That’s especially the case with strange “groans” from the engine.