Minor Repairs Are a Major Nuisance

Times Staff Writer

Question: This is the tale of my 1985 Thunderbird. The lights went out on my computerized speedometer in early 1987. It cost $97 to replace two tiny bulbs. Early in 1988, the lights went out again. Another $97. Then on a trip to Las Vegas, the speedometer stopped working, and I got a ticket for speeding. After five trips to the dealer, I finally replaced the speedometer for $201. I am 62 years old and this is the first time I have ever had to buy a speedometer. It will be the last time I buy a Ford product.--F.K.J.

Answer: It sounds like you went through more grief on a small problem than you should have, but it is typical of the kinds of problems motorists are having with the new electronic gear on cars. Nobody can fix it reliably in many cases.

The halogen bulbs cost only $12.50 each, but to install them requires that most of the dashboard be removed. The halogen bulbs are visually nifty but they are prone to burning out.

You could have saved yourself some of the hassle, though, if you had used Ford’s lifetime service guaranty. Under that program, you have to pay only once for a certain repair, and if the same item fails again, it will be replaced free for the life of the car. Some dealers don’t like the program, so in many cases you have to ask for it. And not all parts are covered under that program, but the halogen bulbs are.


Q: Every year I change the coolant in my vehicles. Because temperatures don’t drop below freezing where I live, why couldn’t a guy just use water with a rust inhibitor?--B.S.

A: Owners’ manuals are quite specific about coolant for good reasons. Antifreeze is an inexpensive maintenance item that can save you hundreds of dollars by preventing the failure of a coolant system or damage to an engine. It is chemically composed of ethylene glycol, a very stable compound that can inhibit rust and combat acid buildup far more effectively than a small can of rust inhibitor.

In addition, antifreeze transfers heat better than water, so it helps prevent overheating. It’s not worth the $5 or $10 that you’d save using water only, not to mention the cost of the rust inhibitor.