Friday, July 4, 2008

Q: After pulling out of my driveway and making two 90-degree turns in my 2003 Ford Navigator, I tried to turn left, but my steering wheel was in the locked position and I ended up in the ditch. By moving the steering wheel about one-half inch each way, going back and forth, I was able to get turned back around. I tried restarting the vehicle to see if it would come unlocked, but it did not. My dealer and Ford Customer Service suggested I replace the entire steering column. The vehicle has 49,000 miles on it. What should I do?

A: For the steering wheel to lock as you experienced, something jammed. I would not just start replacing parts like the steering column. The problem could have been a stuck valve in the power steering pump from the two full, tight 90-degree turns, or some road debris could have got caught in the steering linkage. I recommend a complete front-end inspection.

Q: While at the shop for routine service on my 1994 Honda Accord, the mechanic showed me a broken off portion of the cover for the timing belt. It was recommended that both the cover and timing belt be replaced, since dirt may have gotten onto the belt and pulley, which could make the car inoperable. I opted not to have the timing belt replaced, but to replace the cover only. These are the charges: W/AC Add timing cover ($46.45), Install lower timing cover ($18.58), one Lower Timing Belt Seal ($16.47), Replace Timing Cover ($343.69), for a total of $425.19. This bill seems very steep. Is it?

A: The charges are correct. I have no idea why you did not spend the small additional amount of money to replace the timing belt. The labor to get to the timing belt was done replacing the lower timing belt seal. In fact, the timing belt has to come off in order to replace the lower crank seal.

Q: The speedometer light stopped working on my 2001 Buick Regal. The dealer said the repair would be $340. Is this a fair price for the repair?

A: The cost is correct. The bulb is part of the instrument cluster. The repair is made when the instrument cluster is removed and exchanged for a reconditioned cluster. There are only a few factory Delco repair centers in the country. The GM dealer will give the repair center the mileage and vehicle identification number and a reconditioned cluster is sent overnight to the dealer and your old cluster is sent back in the same shipping box.

Q: I own a 2002 Ford F-250 5.4-liter V-8 with 49,000 miles. Occasionally, I notice blue smoke emitting from the tailpipe when I start the engine after it’s been shut off for a few hours or more. The engine uses a quart of oil every 1,000 miles. My Ford dealer said the oil consumption is normal. Do you agree?

A: The 1,000-mile oil consumption isn’t unusual. Thin, free-flowing oil and hot-running engines are the perfect combination for oil consumption. Some engines will use more oil than others. You can try changing the oil viscosity to a slightly heavier one and also switching to either a synthetic blend or full synthetic. Do not use oil additives.

Q: I own a 2004 Monte Carlo. When I first back the car out of the garage with the radio on and then apply the brake, I hear a brief static sound through the audio speakers. I don’t hear this again, unless I start the car and repeat a similar operation. What’s causing the static?

A: The static is from the radio’s AM band. Radios have noise filters that are supposed to cancel the noise. Try putting in a CD and playing it to see if the static is still present. If it is, go to a radio shop for help on static elimination.

Q: I own a 2002 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 77,000 miles. Is it time to replace the timing belt?

A: Some manufacturers recommend timing belt replacement at 30,000 to 40,000 miles, while others go to 105,000 miles. Even low-mileage vehicles where the timing belt is five years old may need to be replaced. Contact the VW dealer and ask for the recommended timing belt replacement on your model. I suggest the use of factory original parts on these services.

Q: While changing the fuel filter on my 2005 Ford F-150 with the 5.4-liter V-8 engine I broke the small plastic clip that holds the fuel line onto the filter. Ford does not offer just a replacement clip. They want to sell a new line with clip for $180. Do you know of another way to fix the problem without replacing the line?

A: The new style retainer clips do not release the same way as the older style line clips. You are not the first person to find out the hard way.

At my shop we have successfully used the old style clips that are cheap and available in auto parts stores. Take the old style clip and file or grind it down to fit. Use a safety clamp, such as a small hose clamp, to ensure the plastic clip does not fall out.

Junior Damato is an ASE-certified Master Technician. E-mail questions to or mail questions to: Auto Doctor, 3 Court Circle., Lakeville, MA 02347.


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