Ignition Reveals Price of High-Tech

Times Staff Writer

Question: I own a 1983 Toyota Tercel that has about 48,000 miles on it. Recently, it completely died in traffic and would not restart. I had it towed to my repair shop and was informed that my igniter had failed. I was told it would cost $225 to repair. That sounds too high. What do you think?--E.W.

Answer: Any $225 repair on an ignition system is certainly high, but in this case it is not out of line. The repair, however, should be covered under warranty if you take the car to any Toyota dealership.

The igniter is part of the solid-state electronic ignition system in newer cars, which controls and times the electrical charge sent to the spark plugs. It has replaced the points and rotor system in older cars.

The advantage of the new system is that the solid-state ignition does not require frequent adjustment and replacement of parts. The disadvantage is that the components are horrendously expensive to replace if they fail.

History of Trouble

Toyota has had a history of trouble with its igniter because early units were sensitive to engine heat. The company extended its warranty on the igniter to five years or 50,000 miles in a service bulletin to dealerships.

Q: I have a problem with my 1980 AMC Concord for which nobody seems to have an answer. At exactly 37 miles per hour, the car vibrates. The vibration goes away at slightly higher or lower speeds. We had the car aligned and the wheels balanced, but that didn't help. Any advice?--R.M.

A: The most common cause of vibration is out-of-balance wheels, but if you are certain that your wheels were properly spin-balanced, then there are several other things you should have checked.

Sometimes, an out-of-balance drive shaft will cause a vibration at a certain speed. A drive shaft is the heavy steel tube that carries power from the engine to the rear wheels, and if it is out of balance it can shake and vibrate.

Experimentation Needed

The drive-shaft balance cannot be finely adjusted the way wheels can, so your mechanic will have to experiment a bit. The shafts are balanced using hose clamps to change the weight distribution.

You may also want to check your universal joints, which are the joints that connect the drive shaft to the transmission at the front end and to the axle at the rear end.

Q: We have a 1980 Jeep four-wheel-drive pickup. Recently there has been a loud, squealing noise whenever the wheels are turned to the left, even slightly. Touching the brake slightly will make it go away, but it is very annoying. Any suggestions?--S.S.

A: You may have a problem with glazed brake pads, which will squeal when they lightly touch the brake rotor. The reason this occurs only on curves is that you may have excess wobble on the disc due to worn-out wheel bearings or an out-of-round rotor.

Difference Among Brands

You should first check the wheel bearings for excess play. Then have the rotor checked to see if it is running true. The problem may also be solved by changing the brand of brake pads you use, because some brands have a greater tendency to glaze over.

The other possibility is that the squeal is caused by brake hardware that needs to be lubricated. Brake pads work by sliding on the brake caliper. If rusty or lose, they can cause a surprising amount of noise.

Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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