- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

Dear Doctor: I own a 2004 Lexus RX330 with 55,000 miles. The problem I have is a low or soft brake pedal, even though the car does have good stopping capability. At 40,000, I replaced the pads with ceramic parts. I did not machine the rotors; I simply compressed the calipers, placed the existing shims on the new pads, and sprayed Brake Quiet before installing. I did not open the bleeder valves. Did I do something wrong? What controls the brake-pedal height in a four-wheel disc setup? - Mark

Dear Mark: The first mistake was using a ceramic brake pad on this vehicle. Ceramic pads do not have the stopping friction of a semi-metallic brake pad. Secondly, it takes a few hundred miles for the brake pads to wear into the non-machined brake rotors. There is no brake adjustment on vehicles with four-wheel disc brakes. There are factory specs between the brake pedal, brake booster, and master cylinder. These specs need to be checked by a trained professional. We make it a point to make sure the brake caliper slides are clean and move freely. We always bleed the hydraulic system whenever possible. Some bleeder screws are frozen in the calipers and require careful heating of the area around the bleeder screw. I installed Power Slot brake rotors and Hawk brake pads on my truck over two years ago and they are still perfect.

Dear Doctor: I have a 2003 Saturn Ion. The car won’t start in cold weather when the temperature is less than 40 degrees. I put in two new starters, a crank sensor and a heat sensor. I also reset the computer by shutting off the engine but leaving the key in the “on” position for 10 minutes and that helped only once. It’s a good car other than when really cold in the morning, where it takes half an hour to 45 minutes before it gets going. - Mom

Dear Mom: Do the starter and battery keep the engine cranking at proper speed? Is the spark at the plugs correct? I recommend you check for any engine fault codes and check the fuel pressure and vital engine sensor input information, such as coolant temperature sensor, battery voltage, etc. These things need to be checked.

Dear Doctor: My 2002 Honda Civic with manual transmission has 153,000 miles on it. In the summer of 2006 (100k miles) when I was getting new front brakes, the dealer said I have an input shaft bearing problem with my transmission. When the car is running in neutral with the clutch out, there is a metal rotary type noise. When the clutch is pressed in, the noise goes away. The dealer recommended they take the transmission apart, put in a new input shaft bearing set and also give me a new clutch for $1,700. I declined the work since I couldn’t afford it. - John

Dear John: Get a second opinion at an independent shop. You can also have the shop change the transmission fluid, using the correct fluid. A little transmission noise on a car with the 153,000 mileage doesn’t hurt as you are finding out. It’s probably not necessary for you to spend the large sum of money that you don’t have.

Dear Doctor: I am the original owner of a 2003 Dodge Durango. From Day One, it has had an overheating problem. I changed the cap three times and put in one of those no-fault thermostats. What should I do next? - Marc

Dear Marc: We need to know what the coolant temperature actually is, but do not rely on the dash temperature gauge. Connect a scan tool to see what the actual temperature is. Is the coolant fan working as designed? A scan tool can command the operation of an electric cooling fan. Is the inside of the radiator core clean? Has any one checked for coolant circulation or for hydrocarbons in the cooling system? These are all things that need to be checked before replacement of parts.

Dear Doctor: I have a 2001 Pontiac Montana with 84,000 miles. Sometimes the gas gauge reads correctly for a few minutes once the car starts from cold, but then the gauge jumps to full. It even has started falling to empty, sending on the light and bell warning for low fuel even when there is more than half a tank. Do I have any options other than removing the gas tank at great cost? -Mike

Dear Mike: The first step is to check for trouble fault codes for the fuel sender. The second step is to check the connections at the underside of the body located just forward of the gas tank. Water collects and causes corrosion. If the connections are corroded beyond cleaning, check the local salvage yards for a replacement wire harness. The use of a Tech II scan tool can read what the computer sees for a signal from the fuel sender. It is not a hard job to remove the fuel tank - just make sure it is one-quarter full or less if possible.

• Junior Damato is an ASE-certified master technician. E-mail questions to info@motormatters.biz.

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