Throwing the Book at Used-Car Deals

Times Staff Writer

Question: Is there any way a motorist can obtain the market value of used cars?--U.I.

Answer: Before any motorist buys or sells a used car, he or she should do some basic homework to determine the value of the car in the commercial market. Too often people charge far too little for the car they sell or pay far too much for the car they buy.

The Kelly Blue Book, used by most dealers, is the most widely used, comprehensive pricing guide for auto dealers. But it is so expensive that most motorists could not afford to buy it for themselves. Some banks, libraries and credit unions have the book and are willing to allow customers to look through their copy.

An alternative to the Kelly Blue Book is a new service recently offered in some cities, in which motorists can obtain market price data on cars over the telephone.


One pioneer in this new service is National Automobile Data Service, which operates a service in the Los Angeles area known as Auto Priceline. The service was founded by Bill Kingsbury and Greg Wood.

The service costs $2 per call. It can provide an automobile’s market value in about three minutes by having the caller enter information about the car in question on a push-button telephone.

The car’s year and model are entered into the computer from the telephone. The computer then lists a high value and low value for the car. It also tells how much money to add for various options or to deduct for high mileage.

The service has pricing data on cars and trucks since 1975 and includes all of the major domestic and imported vehicles. Its price information is based on the Kelly Blue Book, local auction prices and ads in local newspapers. The service can be reached at (213) 976-7600, (818) 976-7600.


Q: I think I may have a problem with the clutch on my 1978 Toyota Corolla. Even after it was recently adjusted, I have to push the pedal all the way down to the floor to get it to disengage. When starting out, the clutch engages as soon as the pedal leaves the floor. I have heard conflicting advice on whether this means I need a new clutch.--Y.T.

A: It is unlikely that you need a new clutch. A motorist can usually detect a worn clutch when he steps on the gas and the engine speeds up, but the clutch fails to transfer power to the transmission and wheels. The clutch slips because the friction materials it uses to engage and disengage are worn out.

Another thing to remember about clutches is that as they wear out the engagement point usually rises closer to the top of pedal, rather than dropping toward the floor. When a clutch wears out, it usually fails to engage and deliver power, rather than failing to disengage.

Your problem is probably in the clutch linkage, which connects the clutch pedal to the clutch. Toyota had two different engines in 1978 for the Corolla, and each had a different linkage system.

If you have the small 1.2-liter engine, which is designated KE in the serial number, then the clutch linkage is a cable-type system. The cable can become stretched after years of use, which up to a point can be taken care of by adjusting the clutch. At some point, though, there is so much slack that it can not be adjusted out and the pedal can no longer operate the clutch.

The other engine is a 1.6 liter, designated TE in the serial number, and it uses a hydraulic linkage system. In this type of linkage, a master cylinder is hooked up to the clutch pedal and a hydraulic line runs out to a slave cylinder at the clutch. The slave cylinder creates the mechanical motion that operates the clutch. The problem you describe can be caused by the slave cylinder not operating properly.

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.