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Minor Repairs Are a Big 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.

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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.

Q: My car is a 1981 Chevy Camaro with a V-6 engine. My problem is difficulty in starting in cold weather because the spark plugs are covered with gasoline. A mechanic rebuilt the carburetor and replaced the mixing valve, but the problem still exists. The car will start if the choke is opened with a clothespin. I was told to idle the engine 5 minutes before starting out. Your help will be greatly appreciated.--S.D.

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A: You seem to have a textbook case of a bad choke, and I can’t believe that your mechanic hasn’t been able to solve it. If he has not rebuilt the choke, then that should be the first order of business. If the choke is rebuilt and still not functioning properly, you might want to throw in the towel and have the choke converted to a manual operation with a cable that runs into the dashboard.

Q: I have a 1982 Honda Accord with a little over 32,000 miles. The problem is that every few days when I start the car in the morning, it will hit on only three cylinders. After driving a few miles, it clears up. What’s causing this?--J.P.

A: One of the spark plugs is probably misfiring. Instead of the spark jumping from the tip of the plug to the side electrode, the spark jumps out to the base of the plug. Sometimes, this condition is caused by a crack in the ceramic insulation.

Even without a crack, once a spark plug misfires, it will do it again. It is more common when a car is driven only on short trips and the engine doesn’t get a chance to fully warm up. If you have put on only 32,000 miles in 6 years, your car probably never fully warms up. A simple tuneup and new plugs should clear up the problem.

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