A Rough Engagement Can Be Trouble for the Whole Affair

Times Staff Writer

Question: My 1984 Chevrolet Chevette has 9,400 miles on it. I have a problem with the transmission. Shifting into drive causes a very rough gear engagement. The dealer told me that it’s normal. I don’t agree because I think the hard hitting will break something eventually. What do you say?--L.L.D.

Answer: The problem of rough engagement is not a typical problem on Chevette transmissions, but you’re right to be concerned about it. A rough engagement usually spells trouble somewhere in the drive train.

At worst, the clunk or hammer you are experiencing can be caused by loose motor mounts. When you shift or accelerate, the engine shifts slightly in the frame and can cause a rather alarming banging of metal against metal.

Faulty universal joints frequently cause a rough engagement or a clunking noise. The universal joints allow power to be delivered from the engine to the wheels while the wheels are bouncing up and down along the road. When they wear out, they allow a certain amount of free play, and the drive shaft clunks when it takes up the free play.


Finally, the transmission itself may be at fault. The shifting and engagement of gears in an automatic transmission is hydraulically controlled. Excessive pressure in your valve body, which controls the transmission, can cause rough engagement. Of course, you should first have your mechanic check to see if the engine idle speed is correct.

Q: Someone or something gouged the paint down to the metal on my 1983 Volvo. It is a small area, perhaps 1 1/2 inches by one-sixteenth of an inch. However, I feel I should do something to prevent rust. But what?--E.B.S.

A: Sometimes small scratches that are barely noticeable turn into ugly scars if they aren’t cared for. It’s relatively simple to fix them.

Scratches often do not go down to the metal or even the primer coat. If that’s the case, a polishing compound can often remove the scratch and restore the finish to a passable state.


Because your scratch went all the way down to the metal, you’ll have to mend it. I would not recommend trying to do anything other than simply sealing the metal. If you attempt to feather out the scratch and spray paint the bare metal, you’re almost certain to create an ugly blotch.

I would take some very fine sandpaper, such as Numbers 400 or 600, and very carefully sand out the crevice of the scratch to clean it. Then, purchase some touch-up paint in a small bottle with a brush. Don’t use spray paint. Carefully brush the paint into the scratch with only a very small overlap outside the scratch. The whole idea is to minimize the amount of painted area but still entirely cover the scratch.

Q: I drive a 1981 Honda Accord LX. Every time I step on the brake, the car starts to pull to the right. I have had it checked with wheel-alignment and brake mechanics. They can’t find a problem. What do you think the problem is?--M.K.

A: The most typical cause of pull while braking is that the front brake on one side is exerting more stopping force than the other. If you have had recent brake work, possibly grease was left on one brake. Or one caliper might not be operating normally.


Gross mis-alignment can cause pulling, usually because the caster angle is not set properly. But Hondas don’t have a caster adjustment, so, unless the car has been hit, that’s probably not the problem.