by Dave Stall

Dave: How hard would it be to convert my 1989 Ford pickup to an all electric vehicle?  Where would I go to get good advise and maybe some help installing the system?  Chad, Escondido.

Chad: The first thing I would do is contact the Electric Vehicle Association here in San Diego.  They are a great bunch of folks all trying to make a difference.  There are classes to teach you how to convert you car, truck or motorcycle.  They meet the last Tuesday of each month at 7 pm at the Regional Transportation Center at I-15 and El Cajon Blvd.  There you will meet all the key players in San Diego County.

Dave: I have been looking for a new car and noticed that there are not many cars painted yellow.  Is that because yellow fades?  My Dad always told me to stay away from red and yellow cars because the paint is bad and will fade quickly.  Unfortunately I like yellow, but as I look around there are not that many to choose from.  Would it hurt the value if I bought a new car, say a white one and paint it yellow.  I think I know your answer because everyone I mentioned it to said I was crazy.  Look forward to your response, Dezzi, Vista.

Dezzi:  I would not say your crazy just enthusiastic about yellow!  If you bought a new car and had it painted yellow, yes you would lose a certain amount of trade in value down the road but what you need to think about is how much are you willing to pay to change the color of whatever you buy.  You can go the cheap route with those quickie paint shops, around $500 or a professional job that could cost you anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 depending on the vehicle and how much you want yellow.  Yellow under the hood, trunk and door jams will send the price sky high.  I would recommend finding the car you like and can afford, call the dealer and ask a sales man to see if it comes in the yellow you like, you may luck out.  Last but not least you could buy an old Yellow Taxi Cab and save a bundle of money!

Due to the high prices of fuel these days I have decided to share a few tips on how to save fuel with out spending any more money than we have to:
1: Bring your tire pressure up to five pounds less than what is stated on the sidewall of the tire, for example, if the maximum tire pressure is 40 pounds fill the tires to 35 pounds and do this when
    the  tires are cold.
2: Try and drive within the speed limit.
3: Use the proper fuel for your vehicle, 87 or 91 octane.  Using the wrong octane will cause problems in the long run.
4: Use your cruise control if so equipped as much as possible.
5: Wash and wax your vehicle.  A clean vehicle travels through the air with less friction.
6: Remove anything from the roof rack that doesn't need to be up there.
7: Empty the trunk and car of any items not needed, weight kills fuel mileage.
8: If you drive a pickup truck leave your tailgate up, dropping the tailgate ruins the airflow and will actually cost you in fuel mileage.
9: If you haven't had a fuel injection service in a few years or ever have one done.
10: Stay away from gas stations that sell cheap fuel, you may save today but you will pay later.
11: Replace your fuel filter according to the manufacturer.
12: Replace your air filter if has been over 30,000 miles
13: Do an oil and filter service according to the owner's manual in the Severe Section, and remember San Diego is considered "Severe Driving" according to the NHTSA.
14: Avoid excessive acceleration from a dead stop or on the freeway.
15: Keep track of your fuel mileage at each fill up to avoid engine management problems which could cause loss of fuel mileage.
16: Do not top off your gas tank at fill ups, excessive clicking sends fuel back to the fuel tank and during the heat of the day fuel expands and any excess fuel runs up to the fuel canister   
      and you lose that fuel.
17: Keeping your windows rolled up will allow the vehicle to travel through the air with less friction, no air conditioning, roll down the windows.
18: Avoid excess lane changing.
19: Avoid tailgating.
20: last but not least drive like you have an egg under your accelerations foot!

Dave: I've caught your show quite a few times over the years.  Just this past weekend I heard you advertising for the Tornado so called "gas saving" devices.  Really, this product is clearly bunk, a scam.  First, if it worked it would be engineered into the intake system by the auto companies, Second, think about it, it obstructs airflow - anything that would do so will reduce performance.  Third, how in the world would making air more turbulent way upstream from the fuel injection point improve economy (obviously).  The current issue of Consumer Reports (Jul p48) reminded me to bring this to your attention.  See also: www.epa.gov/otaq/consumer/reports.htm.  Think about it, if you have no problem getting paid to sponsor this product, why would I consider doing business with any of your other sponsors?  Richard.

Thank you for your concern, but if you listen to my commercial closely I have stated that it doesn't work on all vehicles and if it doesn't you will get all your money back. On my 1986 Toyota MR2 I got 3 more miles per gallon, but my co-host on ESPN found the product didn't work on his Ford Explorer, but when he gave it to his son and he put it in his T-Bird he got 2 to 3 miles per gallon increase in fuel mileage.  I'm testing two other products that claim great fuel economy and so far no results...both these products cost in excess of $350 and they want you to run 6 tanks of fuel through the system and they only have a 30 day warranty.  Tornado cost $70 bucks. If you look close under the hood of today's new cars you will see the air inlet is ribbed where in the past they weren't so there may be something to Tornado's concept, plus if you look into Tornado they have CARB approval.
Trust me I have been receiving more "snake oil products" in my history on radio than I can admit, all I'm saying is we need to do something or at least try different ideas.  What I charge for commercials on my radio show is a mere pittance compared to the big stations I only bring sponsors on to help educate the public and help pay for air time.  But, I am very careful who I bring on.  My suggestion is to try a Tornado and let me know what your results are and I will put them in print and give you air time as well.

Dave: I bought a used 2002 Mini Cooper with 80,034 miles on it, I love the car, but I have one problem with it, the mileage, I was only getting 24 to 25 miles per gallon on it yet everything I have read stated I would get 28 to maybe 40 miles per gallon.  But after driving it for about a month now the mileage is up to 28 mpg.  What gives?  I haven't done anything different; I use good gas and drive it like a little old lady.  Please understand I'm not complaining just confused.  Lois, Vista.

Lois: On today's vehicles they are computer controlled and it sounds like your Mini has re-learned your driving habits from the past driver and you may even seem more of an increase.  "Keep Motoring"

Dave: I read your article every weekend in the NC Times with much interest and thought I would reach out to you for some help. I am looking for a weekend toy that I can throw my dogs, surfboard and the wife in to before heading to the beach or trails. I was originally looking for a Jeep CJ 7, not a CJ 5, until someone turned me on to the Landcruiser FJ 40. I like them both although the Landcruiser is bigger and is a Toyota. My challenge is that I know very little about engines, models etc. Every ad I see on Craig's list or eBay is different and I am not sure what I should be looking out for. Can you help identify a few key facts and figures that would suggest any pitfalls?
For example - 1-What years Jeep CJ 7's are considered most reliable from an engine and body perspective?
2-Should they be smog tested and if they aren't, what am I in for to get them passed?
3-Is any rust ok or should I ignore them if they do have rust?
4-What engines are considered decent and how much mileage is ok - I am seeing some Landcrusier's with Ford engines in them?
5-I have been advised on the FJ 40 to only look for pre-1975 models because of the smog criteria
6-From your personal perspective, do you have an opinion either vehicle? Dino, Oceanside.
Dino:  Well you have picked the king's of off road, but are you really into off road?  Sounds to me your more of a "go to the beach, run the dog and catch a wave" sort of guy.  If you're not mechanically inclined stay away from Pre-75 Land Cruisers and Jeep's.  Buy a 2 to three year old Jeep soft top with hard doors. A/C automatic trans, and enjoy the hell out of it.
Now to answer your questions:
1-All Jeep's are reliable, but of course anything can break, and the more off-roading the vehicle did, the worst condition it will be in.  Before purchase, have it inspected by the dealer or a Jeep specified repair shop.
2-For some reason the older Jeep's are harder to Smog than the old FJ's. It can be very costly.
3-Rust is up to the owner, some people hate it some people that plan to work the vehicle to death don't care.  Are you planning on re-selling it in the near
future, if so try and go rust free.  But Jeep's and old FJ's did spend a lot of time in creek beds and small streams, even a little Mexican ocean salt water!
4-The old FJ's used the old Chevy straight six cylinder, a work horse but no power and fuel mileage in the low teens.  Jeep's run four cylinders and work
hard but again little power and fuel mileage just as bad as the FJ.
5-That is true.
6-I have been the service manager at dealerships that sold the old and new FJ's and I have worked with Jeep and had a Demo Jeep Wrangler soft top, A/C. five speed and loved it!  I think for your situation I would go for a 2 to 3 year old Jeep Wrangler!

Dave:  in 1971 I owned a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner; I traded it in for my first Toyota. I have been driving Toyota's ever since. As most of us know from that era, the government wanted car manufactures to raise there E.P.A.
Standard and said the same thing they are now about alternative fuels. In 37 years really nothing has changed. In fact we went back to building bigger SUV's, and nothing has been done about alternative fuels. Even more so we are more dependant on foreign fuel. We haven't built any refineries in California since the 70's which would of lowered the price of gas. We built the Alaska pipeline, which everyone thought would lower the price of fuel, and we wouldn't be dependant on foreign fuel. What has happened?
In reference to my Subject in 1980 Toyota started selling the Toyota Starlet which had an E.P.A. of 50 + miles per gallon. I believe in 1983 was the last time they stopped importing them in to the U.S.A. Can you find out, and tell us why?
The technology we have made since the 70's there is no reason why we don't have cars with that rating. Thank You.
Phil, San Diego.

Phil: Let me start with the first part of your question, in the 70's when we had fuel shortages the oil barons noted that when we were sitting in fuel lines fighting amongst ourselves we were not fighting over price (I think fuel was around $1.50) but what they noticed was we were fighting over the fact there was no fuel!  So they decided to keep the tanks full and they figured we would pay any price as long as the tanks were full and we the driving public wasn't inconvienced!  Wala!  $4.00 per gallon and climbing!  We have done little to complain or change our driving habits so the price will continue to climb and why build oil refineries?  The oil barons are perfectly happy with today's oil situation, their not spending any money on technology and we keep paying.  In their minds with the money their making, if it is not broken why fix it!  As far as the Toyota Starlet, yes all the manufacturers have the technology to bring back a 50 mile per gallon vehicle but as long as the EPA only requires small increases in fuel mileage why bother plus the Starlet didn't get the clean air numbers out of its tail pipe.  It was a little under powered for our driving styles (I had a carbureted version of the Starlet) so the Starlet went away.  It is a sad commentary when we are at the mercy of the oil barons but what would you do if you were a part of the oil baron club making Billions?  Drop your prices, give money back to the driving community?  What would you do?

Dave: With the gas prices being up to $4.00 a gallon, there is a lot of gas saving ideas going around.  I saw one today that for less then $200 you can convert your car to a hydrogen hybrid.  You buy there plans, and about $60 of easy to find parts, follow their easy 90 page instruction manual, and you can do it yourself.   They claim a 40% increase in mileage.  Can it be as easy as that?  Paul, Vista.
Paul:  90 page instruction manual, easy to install?  There are so many fuel saving ideas out there right now I would be very careful not to spend my hard earn money on them unless they get tons of positive publicity stating they do what they said they could do.  I'm testing one right now that would have cost me $375 if I were to buy it and after four tanks of fuel I have only seen a gallon and a half increase.  I would not throw my money at any of these ideas until I had rock solid proof.  Do like I do, tell the company to let you try it for a month and if it works you will buy it!  See how many takers you get?

Dave:  Really like reading your comments in my local paper with a cup of coffee on Saturday. Have you ever reviewed or given a poor mark to any vehicle? Or are all vehicles Good to Excellent the last several years? Thanks, Unk. John
Unk John: You're not the first person to ask a journalist that question.  When a journalist gets a new car or truck to review it has no miles on it.  So when you drive it for the review there is usually no problems, the problems occur after a lot of miles have been put on it.  I like testing Certified Used cars and trucks, you get a better picture of the vehicle and usually a better deal when buying.
Anyone could write a car review, it is an opinion of the writer so if your tall, short heavy, slim that particular vehicle may not fit you so your review could be not as complimentary as the next person.  I have written negatively if feel the test vehicle should get better mileage or my pet peeve is lack of basic bumper to bumper warranty like you see on a lot of domestic vehicles, 3-year 36,000 miles, that is ridiculous! 

Dave I have a Toyota Tundra with 140,000 miles on it and I was concerned about the timing belt.  Should I change it now or wait.  Please let me know so I won't get into any engine trouble.  Frank, Fallbrook
Frank: It depends on which engine you have under the hood, if it is a four cylinder it has a chain and there is no recommendation to change it out, if you have the V6 it has a belt and needs to be replaced at 120,000 miles.  Good luck!

Dave: I went to buy a used car and when I got to the financing I found out the car didn't have a warranty in fact they were selling it "As Is".  Now they did say they would sell me an extended warranty for $2,000 dollars.  They said they would give me a 30 day warranty, but if anything goes wrong I would be responsible for 50% of the repair bill.  Does this seem right to you?  I didn't buy the car because I just didn't feel good about the transaction.  I do want the car it is exactly what I want.  I checked and it is still on the lot (It has been there for about a month and a half).  Any suggestions would be deeply appreciated, keep up the great work!  Jan, San Marcos.
Jan: It sounds to me like this used car dealer is running a very tight operation which means he is not making a lot of money on each vehicle he sells.  For example, he buys a car from the auction for $8,000 smog and safety maybe $100 sells it for $9500 there is not much room for profit or unexpected repairs that he would have to incur himself.  It is a tough time in the car business today, so buyer beware, have it checked out at your own technician and buy a used car with a good warranty.  One more thing, $2,000 for an extended warranty seems normal today, but the question to you, can you afford repairs that could cost $2,000 or more with out the warranty?  Don't forget the deductible, usually $100.  Last but not least, if your head tells you to walk on the deal…walk!

Dave: I just got an email on a new product that will allow you to burn water in your vehicle and gain 40% better fuel mileage.  Have you heard of it and does it work?  Mechelle, Del Mar.
Mechelle: I have seen a lot of products come across my desk and this one is no different.  In fact I know of a guy who has it installed on his 1999 Ford F150 pickup truck.  The truck seems to run smother, but there is no significant fuel mileage increase.  Water injection is not new technology, in fact it has been around for a long time, but if not applied properly it could do damage to your engine and so far no one has perfected the system.

Dave: I wanted to test drive the new Smart Car but when I went to my local Mercedes Benz dealer in Escondido they said that they don't sell them.  Where do they sell them?  Have you test driven one yet?  If so, what do you think?  I look forward to your response.  Bill, Escondido.

Bill: You can only test drive a Smart Car at a Roger Penske Mercedes Benz dealership which is in San Diego at the Kearny Mesa location.  No, I have not driven one yet, but I'm in the process of getting one for an extended road test.  So far the folks I have spoken to seem happy with the car, but all wish the mileage was a little higher even though it is rated at 33 city and 41 freeway.  After I test it you can go to www.you-auto-know.com for an in depth road test.

Dave: I am getting conflicting information on oil change intervals and need you to break a tie.  I have a 2007 Sentra and a 2007 Frontier. The Sentra gets about 500 miles a month and the Frontier about 200 miles a month. The owner's manuals say 3 months or 3750 miles. I called the dealer and he said I could go 6 months as long as I didn't exceed the miles. Nissan National said 3 months and my local mechanic says 6 months.  What do you say?  Patrick, Temecula.

Patrick: The problem is you don't put a lot of miles on your cars, so the manufacturer gives you an option as to what comes first time or miles.  The reason for this is your warranty,  so which ever comes first is my recommendation.  I wouldn't go longer than 6 months or 5,000 miles just as a guide.

Dave: I want to change the color of my 2005 Mustang GT.  It was given to me by my grandmother and the car is fire engine red.  To date I have received 3 speeding tickets.  I figure if I re-paint the car grey, dark blue or even black my chance of getting any more tickets would be drastically reduced.  Now my question, where should I take it for a re-paint and what cost would I expect for a complete re-paint.  One more question, would you recommend those cheapy paint shops to do the job?  Lee, Encinitas.
Lee: Have you ever thought of slowing down?  Trust me it will be a lot cheaper slowing down than it will take to re-paint your Mustang.  The down side to re-paint a fairly new car is it will diminish the value of the vehicle for resale or trade in, unless you remove the engine the under hood will still be red not to mention door jams trunk area etc. etc.  You will pay upwards of $3,000 to $5,000 dollars!  That is a lot of speeding tickets to justify the re-paint, just slow down or trade the Mustang in for the color you want!

Dave: I just inherited a 1940 Ford 2-door sedan which is in need of a refresh of its 10 year old restoration.  Do you know of a shop in Escondido that I could take it to fore an honest estimate?  Carly, Escondido.
Carly:  There a quiet a few quality shops in Escondido that do a fine job restoring cars and trucks.  I would take a look at the Jalopy Shoppe 1836 Commercial St. 760-740-2421, tell Greg the owner I sent you.  His wife is the proud owner of a 1940 Ford and they love working on them.

Dave: We have a 1993 Ford Econoline 250 pickup truck, converted into a motor home, with 56,351 miles on it.  It had very good stability on the roads.  If one wanted to do so, one could go 70 miles an hour on the freeway with no problems.  In the last few years it has developed a lot of play in the steering wheel where you cannot go over 45 miles an hour on the freeway and feel anything close to safe--because of that play in the steering wheel.  This has put a real damper on our travels.  We have taken the motor home into the Ford dealer twice to see if they could fix it.  They insist there is nothing wrong with it or the gear box.  We have tried rotating the tires and even new tires--nope didn't work.
Do you have any suggestions? A reply back would be much appreciated.  Oh one more thing, we don't live in Escondido were just visiting the kids, we live in Orange County Thanks
Alice, Escondido.
Alice: It sounds like you have some worn out front end parts and the dealership has not dug deep enough to figure out your problem.  When you get play side to side in the steering wheel then it usually turns out to be a steering gear box.  I would recommend when you get back home going to a specialty shop that specializes in front ends and motor homes.  Since the Econoline was converted it doesn't have the front suspension and steering to handle the added weight coming from the motor home on the back.  You may need a steering stabilizer along with a few new front end parts and for sure a steering box adjustment.

Dave: I have read you say distilled water in the radiator is what you should put in your car's radiator.  I talked to my mechanic and he said it was a waste of money, if city water is good enough to drink it is good enough to cool your radiator.  Now I'm confused, who should I believe?  Chad, Vista.

Chad: Sure you can use tap water,  but you better change it yearly if your not maintenance inclined then use distilled water!

Dave: I just moved to San Diego from Houston Texas and in doing so I have realized my 2007 Ford F-150 has dropped its fuel mileage dramatically.  I haven't done anything different and I went so far as to see if the move had an altitude difference between where I lived in Texas and where I live in San Diego.  My truck seems to run the same, plenty of power starts fine.  A co-worker told me about your radio show and what you do in the local paper.  I must admit I haven't read your column or listened to your show but I'm desperate the gas mileage is killing me!  Ted, Oceanside.

Ted: Welcome to San Diego and a lot more alcohol in your gas tank.  You see California mandates a larger amount of alcohol in our fuel for emission purposes.  The good news is our polluted air is getting cleaner and our pocket books are getting smaller.  You didn't mention price?  I know we are 20 to 30 cents higher than Texas but that is one of the costs of living in California, sorry!

Dave: I was driving through the Auto Park the other day and on my way out I noticed a sign on an empty building that read Bumper Doc.  Is that the same company in Kearny Mesa?  Are they opening soon?  I have used them in Kearny Mesa and if this is true this will be the best thing to happen to North County in years, tell me it's true!  Lisa, Escondido.
Lisa: Yes it is true, that will be the first new franchise to open under the Bumper Doc family.  The new owner Ron is in training in Kearny Mesa and will open soon.  Glad you had such a good experience with Bumper Doc I will send your kind words on to them.  I agree it will be a bonus for North County drivers. Check out their website for Ron's grand opening, www.bumperdoc.com.

Dave: What ever happen to the Honda Insight Hybrid?  I was thinking of getting one but I noticed there not on the Honda lot.  Why did they go away, if they did?  I commute 124 miles per day and I thought it would have been a perfect car for me.  Doris, Temecula.

Doris: Like a lot of models it was not renewed for production.  I would guess the 2-seat configuration had a lot to do with it.  Honda builds other Hybrid's but they are four and five passenger models and the Insight didn't sell as well as the others did.

Dave: I was reading your article on April 5, 2008 from Freddy in Oceanside.  Tire monitoring systems are great for one main thing that we all neglect, the spare tire. My RAV 4 had the same problem as Freddy; low and behold the spare tire also has a sensor and that was low, a little air and the light went out.
Just some info if it comes up again. 
Charlie Oceanside.
Charlie: Thanks, I did forget about the spare myself.  I like tire monitors myself the only problem I have with them is they won't tell you which tire has low air pressure, other than that they do make you look at your tires when they get low on air.

Dave: In your column on 3/29 you mentioned that you could put a cover over your license plate; well it is illegal to cover your license plate with anything.  The reason is that it may interfere with the Red Light Camera's reading your license plate.  Ken Harrison, "The California Comedy Traffic School", 760-754-1170.

Ken: I looked into it deeper and you are correct.  Did you hear about the spray that is out there that blocks the lights?  How stupid is that.  By the way folks if you ever have to go to traffic school Ken and his staff do a fabulous job!  Yes I attended his school!

Dave: Why do dealerships add hundreds of dollars to cars and trucks that are very popular?  For example I know the new Camaro and Dodge Challenger are going to be priced in the 30 to 40 thousand dollar, range but how much will the dealer tack on at the dealership?  I think there should be a law against gouging the consumer.  Pat, Del Mar.

Pat: I don't know if there should be a law enacted, like we don't have enough laws already.  The problem is not the dealerships it is the consumer.  I know for a fact customers of both cars are willing to pay the hiked up price just so they can say they got the "First One" I find it rather childish.  Look at the PT Cruiser, they were getting $5,000 more for the car and today they can't give them away.  Put yourself in the shoes of a New Car Dealer, if someone offered you $10,000 more for the car than you were asking, what would you do?
One dealership in town could have done just that but they didn't and their car was and still is "Hot".  Brecht Mini in Escondido, check them out, a lot of LA Mini buyers make the pilgrimage daily.

Dave: I have been driving my company car, a 2005 Nissan Pathfinder, and it has a tire monitoring system on it which I'm sure is a safety device.  The problem is a little tire has appeared on my dash which I'm assuming it means I have a low tire.  I checked all the tires and they are all around 35 PSI.  My question is this something I should be concerned with?  I do drive a lot and really don't want to have a flat tire.  What would you do?  A co-worker said to just unplug the system but I have no idea how to do that.  Love your column! 

Freddy: Most likely one of the sensors is defective and should be checked out by a technician.  Most likely you will have to take it to the dealership.  Tire monitoring systems are a good thing since we don't check our tire pressure enough, in fact the number one cause of highway accidents is due to low tire pressure.  Since this is a company car I would assume the repairs will not cost you anything and trying to disconnect the system is just silly!

Dave: I drive a car where the radio antenna is embedded in the windshield and the reception of the radio is bad!  I have driven my buddies' car and he gets better reception and can bring in all the sports station with no problem.  I want to listen to your motorsports show on Sunday morning but my radio just can't pull it in.  How hard would it be to put a real radio antenna on the fender?  Do you think that will fix my problem?  What time is your show on Sunday?  Greg, San Marcos.

Greg: My show is on ESPN 800 from 9 to 11 am.  The antenna may fix your problem but you might want to have your radio checked out first, in fact you might want to have the windshield antenna looked at first.  It may have come lose and the only reason we have antenna's is for AM not FM.  Just incase your not aware you can listen to all my radio shows at www.totallymotorsports.com.

Dave: My parents just bought a new Toyota Prius Hybrid because my mom commutes 50 miles per day.  I told her because it was a hybrid she could go into the commuter lane, but she was told by the dealer that because she doesn't have state stickers on her bumpers she can't drive in those lanes.  What is up with that?  Some can and most can't, what can she do to rectify this stupid problem?  Jeff, Temecula.
Jeff: I agree with you if you allow some hybrids in the lane then they should all be in the lane and why put a sticker on the car, motorcycles are allowed in but they have no stickers.  Write a letter to your congressman I'm sure that will fix the problem, (Did I just tell a joke?)

I have heard you talk on your radio show on KCEO AM 1000 about putting a transmission oil cooler on a vehicle that will be used for excessive towing.  I didn't hear where you should put the cooler.  I tow a Bob Cat and the truck I use is a 2007 Ford F-350.  I have checked my transmission fluid a couple of times and the fluid is pretty dark.  The truck only has 23,443 miles on it.  I'm going to do a transmission service (Not a flush, I listen) and install a transmission cooler.  Bob, keep up the great work!  Len, Escondido.

Len:  Thanks for the kind words.  You will want to install the cooler at the transmission lines that go up to the radiator which is the stock cooler, don't eliminate the radiator from the system, cool water from the radiator helps keep your transmission cooler and helps eliminate wear and tear.  I would also put in a transmission temperature gauge, cut into the hot side of the cooler line so you will get an accurate reading on how hot the transmission gets during towing and climbing hills.

Dave: I was driving behind a pickup truck and a rock flew up and chipped my windshield.  By the time I got home a line appeared about six inches long.  My question is can that be fixed?  I know chips can but what about the crack?  This is a lease car and I don't want to put a lot of money in it, oh it is a 2008 BMW 3 series.  Thanks, Linda, Del Mar.

Linda:  Boy do I have bad news for you!  You didn't read your lease agreement did you.  If you damage your BMW when you return it, it must have nothing but BMW parts and pieces and that includes the windshield.  But to answer your question, most shops will not attempt to fix a crack due to the cost factor.  In a lot of cases it is cheaper to replace the windshield.  The other down side to trying to repair a crack is they need to drill a bunch of holes along the crack and fill them with resin and it is quit noticeable.  I'm afraid in your case you will need to replace the windshield and try to find the truck that caused the damage and report it to your insurance company.

Dave: Is it legal to put a clear plastic cover over your license plates?  My Dad say's it is against the law.  I want to dress up my car and I think they will look cool and keep someone from stealing my plates.  I have lost them once already.  Kim, Vista.

Kim: As far as I know there is no law that says you can't protect your plates.  But to be sure check with your local Highway Patrol office in your area.

Dave: I just bought a new 2008 Ford F250 for my wife (She tows a horse trailer) and the finance manager asked me if I wanted to buy Gap Insurance.  I said no but I got to wondering when did dealerships start selling auto insurance?  What is Gap Insurance?  Once I said no she didn't bother to try and explain what it was.  I read your column all the time and we did purchase the extended warranty.  We plan to make this our last truck!  Fred, Murrieta.

Fred: Congratulations on your new truck and happy to see you bought the service contract.  Gap Insurance is just like an extended warranty, it is additional insurance in the event the truck was involved in an accident shortly after purchase.  The way it works is like this.  Lets say the truck cost you $35,000 and a week or two later it was broadsided and the insurance company totaled the truck, but when they looked up the value it may be only worth $33,000 or less then when the insurance company pays off the truck to the lending agency you would be responsible for the difference.  Gap Insurance, if purchased will pick up the difference between what the pay off is and what the truck is worth.  Gap Insurance is based on your credit history and your driving record.

Dave: You're not going to believe this story, but I'm going to commute to Mesa Arizona once a month.  The company will pay for my gas and car, but I'm responsible for any damage done to the car.  I have not made my first trip yet in fact I won't get my car for another month.  I was taking to my Dad about my new job and he said I should get a vinyl or leather bra for the nose of my new car because of the sand storms and if I hit one it will surly damage the paint.  The problem is I can't find one anywhere.  Do you have any suggestions?  My new vehicle will be a Chevy HHR panel truck.  Thanks for your help.  Cindy, Escondido.

Cindy:  Wow, I thought I drove a lot, hope you activated the XM Radio.  The reason you can't find vinyl or leather nose covers is because of the damage they do to the paint job, if not secured properly (Which they never are) they will rub the paint at freeway speeds and in the sun your paint will naturally fade except for the paint under the nose cover so when you trade the vehicle back in and remove the cover you now have a two-tone nose.  What is available today is a product called Clear Bra, it is transparent so you won't get the fading problem, it sticks to the paint so you won't get rubbing and if it gets damaged you can remove it and have a new piece applied.  Plus not only do they do the front end of your vehicle but they can protect the back sides of your outside mirrors plus they have kits for the roof, wheel well openings rear bumper, A pillars and a lot more.  Email Bumper Doc at www.bumperdoc.com for a free quote.

Dave: There is an email floating around talking about buying American gas only.  The problem is there are only two companies in are area that do not import foreign oil, what should we do?  How are we going to get the price of fuel to drop?  I doubt you have the answer but I like reading your answers.  Bob, Escondido.

Bob: Was that a compliment to my answering ability?  I don't know.  As far as American oil versus foreign oil, does it really make a difference?  Were still burning to much fuel and driving like maniacs on the open road, were buying vehicles that are bigger than we need and if we do buy a Hybrid we are driving them 80 to 90 miles per hour then complaining were not getting the fuel mileage we deserve!  By the way I ran that email through Snopes.com and it was false, yes we buy fuel from the Middle East but the percentages are in the teens and that is not the problem, if all the oil produced was in the United States the price would still be where it is today!  The oil producers figured out back in the 70's when we had gas rationing that we were not upset at price it was availability and they made sure as long as they kept the tanks fuel price wouldn't be an issue.  What is the answer?  We need to cut back on our consumption, ride share, drive slower, find alternatives to travel even if it means walking or riding a bicycle.  I now ride my motorcycle three days a week, it gets 48 miles per gallon and I can park it anywhere and I can't use my cell phone!  Each of us need to contribute to the problem and find are own ways to cut back on the demand and hopefully elect officials that want to make a difference.  How is that for an answer Bob?

Dave: I just bought a new Toyota pickup and the dealer and the owner's manual say I don't need to change the engine oil until 7500 miles.  What about the break-in oil?  Shouldn't that oil be removed?  I want to keep this truck a long time and plan to change the oil; every 3500 miles.  Do you see a problem with that?  Greg, Vista.
Greg:  I'm like you, oil and filter changes are good insurance that your engine will last a long time.  I know the manufacturer does extensive testing for engine durability and today's engines lubrication system is better than days gone by but I'm with you it is cheap insurance to change your engine oil every 3500 miles, engine coolant every 1500 miles or once a year and if it is an automatic transmission every 1 to 2 years depending on the mileage.  The only exception is if the coolant or transmission are sealed units then you have no recourse except to leave them along and drive sensibly.  Did you buy the extended warranty?

Dave: I own a 1962 Chevy two door hardtop.  I have had the engine and automatic transmission rebuilt about 6 years ago and everything is fine except the other day when I was planning to take it to a hot rod swap meet it wouldn't start.  The key turned but no sound not even a click.  I went with a buddy and when we got back I tried it again and she started.  A few days later it wouldn't start again.  I noticed the ignition key was pretty sloppy when you stuck it in so I replaced the ignition switch, still wouldn't start so I replaced the starter, still nothing.  I'm at wits end, do you have any ideas?  Craig, Temecula.

Craig:  Now that you have stopped throwing parts at your car I think a little diagnosis is in order.  It sounds like the neutral safety switch is out of adjustment or defective.  Try starting it in neutral and when you try to start it in park push the shifter a little father to the left or if it is an SS push the handle forward to see if that allows it to start.  You can also crawl under the car with a test light and follow the 12 volt current and see where it stops or does it go into the switch but not out.  Could also be the ignition wiring harness, remember she is 46 years old and last but not least make sure all the ground straps are clean and tight.

Dave: I drive a 1989 Chevy ¾ van and I have been hearing a thud, thud sound coming from what I thought were my tires.  Upon inspection I found the left rear tire had a split right at the sidewall and tread and a section of the tread was worn smooth, but the rest of the tire looked brand new, in fact all the other tires looked brand new as well.  I use this van to show dogs and it doesn't get driven much and the tires are 6 years old but only have around 2,000 miles on them.  Here is where my question comes in, I took the van back to Discount Tire where I bought the tires originally and they prorated the bad tire and insisted on replacing the three other tires stating they were weather cracked and unsafe for the open road.  Is this statement true or did I get ripped off by Discount Tire!  I paid for the other three tires at a discounted rate.  Mechelle, Oceanside.

Mechelle:  Well since I can't see the tires you had on your dog van I made a few calls and found out that tires will break down due to weather cracking when not used and the life expectancy of a tire is 6 to 8 years so I feel they probably did you a favor since you haul dogs around in that van and having a tire failure at freeway speeds could be ugly.

Dave: I'm trying to decide what kind of car I should get for my daughter at graduation this June.  She is a straight A student and I feel she deserves a great car.  My problem is my budget is around $15,000 but she has hinted she wants a new Mustang convertible with a stick shift and a V8 engine.  I'm not sure where she got the idea of a stick shift and V8 but it really doesn't matter I can't afford a car like that not to mention the insurance.  She will be going off to College next year and will be out of state.  Any advice you can give me would be deeply appreciated.  Chris, Oceanside.

Chris: Kids, what do they think were made of, money!  I was brought up with the mind set that if you want it bad enough you can go out and earn it!  I would buy here a new small compact car with a lot of warranty coverage and one that gets great gas mileage.  Take a look at the Ford Focus, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa, Volkswagen Rabbit, and Chevrolet Aveo just to mane a few.  They will fit your budget, get good mileage and some have better warranties then others, but you can always put a factory extended warranty on any of them.  She may not like your suggestion, but at least she will have a selection to choose from.  The only one who is really going to be bummed is her boyfriend!

Dave: Where is the best place to buy a new car, the Credit Union Sale or directly from the dealer?  I have also heard that if you go to the Fleet Department of a dealership they will give you even a better deal and what about the internet?  I hear dealership have a separate department for internet customers only.  I am totally confused, I want a new car, would like a good deal but where should I go?  Melissa, Del Mar.

Melissa: Welcome to the new world of buying a new vehicle.  Traditionally the Credit Union is your best bet but today with dealerships scrambling to sell new vehicles you can shop around for the best deal within the dealership and for what you're going to pay, shopping is the best idea.  Just remember you're in charge of the purchase so don't let anyone push you around.  There is one other way to get a great deal on a car especially if you're not real picky as to what you get and that is the "Ad Cars".  An ad car is usually only one or two on the lot for the low price they advertise in the paper, one price, and one color option but if your first to put your name in the hat you can get a great deal.  Usually you will have to get to the dealership before it is open and there is usually someone there taking names to be put on the list.  Good luck!

Dave: I have an after market alarm on my 2000 Chevy Tahoe and just lately it will open all the doors except the passenger side.  The problem is I bought the truck used and I don't know what kind of alarm it is so I don't know where to take it.  I all ready tried to take it to the Chevy dealer and they said they couldn't help me.  I could remove it I guess, but I like the unlocking of the doors feature.  Any help would be appreciated.  Don, Oceanside.

Don: Sounds like the locking actuator is defective on the passenger side.  You should be able to tell what kind of system it is by looking for some identification on the key fob.  If not you will need to stop by a company that does alarms and stereo's, they should be able to identify what system you have and even repair it or send you to a company that can.  If you have problems finding a shop in your area call me at 760-715-5507.

Dave: I heard you the other day on your Saturday radio show talking about a tire sealant product that will not harm alloy wheels, what was the name of the company?  I had a Corvette with alloy wheels and the tire stuff I had put in ruined all four rims, it took a couple of years but they were all pitted and would not hold air anymore.  I tried to sue the sealant company but I found out they had a disclaimer on their can I didn't read.  Very expensive mistake!  Paul, Temecula.

Paul: The company is called Slime; go to www.slime.com for more information and a list of stores you can get it in.  I have used it and have had no problems and they guarantee that it will not harm alloy wheels.  It is very easy to install and they have a handy pump and sealant package that fits perfect in your trunk take a look.  It doesn't work on motorcycles just to let you know.

Dave: Why can't I find anyone that will install a trailer hitch on my 2001 Honda Civic?  I want to buy a small 2-person camp trailer and go to the desert but I don't want a gas guzzling pickup truck since I would only be going to the desert once or twice a month.  Any help would be appreciated.  Donna, Escondido.
Dona: it is all about safety, the Honda Civic is not designed to haul a trailer and since it is a front wheel drive vehicles by putting a trailer on the back of the car would cause a problem called fish tailing where the trailer would eventually whip the car from side to side and could cause an accident.  If you're only going to the desert once or twice a year why not rent a truck to tow you new trailer or better yet rent a motorhome and really go in style, A/C, refrigerator, TV the works.  A once or twice time a year rental is cheaper than owning a truck or a motorhome for a year!

Dave: I have a 1999 Toyota Camry painted silver and the clear coat is coming off (according to 2 body shops).  What can I do about this?  I was thinking of color sanding the car and see if a body shop could re-apply the clear coat.  What are your thoughts?  The car has over 200,000 miles on it but she runs just fine and I'm not in the market for a new car.  Harold, Murieta.

Harold: Unless you're really good at color sanding I don't think this is a task you should tackle.  For as old as the Camry is and the mileage you have on it I would think it would be a great candidate for Earl Scheib. You can get a complete paint job for under $500 with a great warranty.

Dave: My son did a stupid thing to our Toyota Corolla a week or so ago.  He locked the keys in the car and tried to use a flat piece of steel to open the doors, he couldn't unlock any of the doors in fact he broke the piece of plastic that connects the door locks to the locking mechanism.  I know this because after he called us for help a tow truck came out and was able to open the passenger door with ease.  The problem is the back doors had the child locks engage and the tow truck driver said that we have a major problem on our hands of we want the rear doors to open.  He didn't have a solution so I thought I would write you and see if you have any ideas.  Carlos, Escondido.

Carlos: Funny this just happened to a student of mine and yes I got the back doors open but it wasn't pretty.  Climb in the back seat and pull the seat back out, it is locked on clips, but you need to remove the seat back so you can get to the door panel.  Once the seat back has been removed pull the plastic trim and door panel back far enough to get your hand or a tool to flip the child lock upwards then flip the lock open.  Depending on bad you pull the door panel will depend on the damage.  Good luck and get a hide-a-key for that next episode.

Dave: What is the correct way to tow a car that is a front wheel drive and has an automatic transmission?  Wade, Del Mar.
Wade: You would pick it up from the rear if you're using a cradle system but I recommend a flat bed, less damage and if you have directional tires pulling it backwards is not recommended.

Dave: I own a 2007 Toyota Prius and I heard you on the radio talking about a gentleman in North County that has a company that coverts Prius cars into a plug in which will get you up to 100 miles per gallon.  Do you have his information?  Will this void my warranty and will I need a special plug for this application?  I commute around 100 milers per day and this would be an added bonus for me and one last question, do you know how much it cost to convert my car?  Carol, Escondido.

Carol: The company is called Plug-In Conversions and the President is Kim Adelman, his phone number is 858-486-9972 and he is located in Poway.  My suggestion is call him and see what the costs would be but I think it is around $8,000 but for someone that commutes as much as you do it may be cost effective.  No it will not void your factory warranty in fact Toyota is looking at coming out with their own plug in Prius.  As far as I know you won't need a special plug and his list of cars to convert is getting larger everyday.  He also has a website, www.plugincoversions.com.

Dave: I have been thinking about getting a new diesel car when they come to California but my fears are who can work on them?  The last thing I want is to have my car stuck in the shop with no one working on it.  Another question, are these diesels cars coming to California been tested elsewhere or are they prototypes.  If you were going to buy a diesel which company would you buy yours from?  Carl, Temecula.

Carl: No they are proven diesel vehicles and as far as tech support training is taking place as we speak.  Now if your looking for an independent shop then that is a different story they may be a little slower getting up to speed and anyway your car will be under factory warranty and you should stick with the dealer until your warranty runs out and even then I would recommended staying with them in case a bulletin comes out you won't be aware of at an independent shop.  To answer you last question, the leaders in diesel technology in cars is Volkswagen and Audi but with my budget I would probably opt for a Volkswagen.

Dave: I just purchased a new car last month and the dealership tried to sell me paint and interior sealant for around $600 dollars.  I thought that was a little pricy.  The sales rep said that it would keep my paint warranty in effect.  My question is (after reading the owners manual cover to cover) it didn't say anything about making sure the car had paint sealant to keep the warranty valid, in fact it didn't say I had to do anything to the paint.  What is your opinion on paint and interior protection?  Lawrence, Temecula.

Lawrence: The dealers hate it when the question comes up, but here goes.  Your paint warranty is not affected if you have paint sealant put on or not.  The salesperson was just trying to sell you the package.  The factory paint has a good coat of wax on it from the factory and the clear coats today along with the paint is of such quality you can buy red and yellow painted cars without the fear of fading.  Sure you need to wash and wax your car to keep the shine but not for $600!  As far as the interior goes a good can of Scotch Guard will do just fine, and remember every time you slide into the driver or passenger seat your butt is rubbing off the protective, so applying a coat once a year is not a bad thing.

Dave: Now I'm really confused!  First multi-grade engine oils, then synthetic oils now oils for older cars and trucks, then we have half oil half synthetic what should I do?  What oil should I use for my 10 year old 200 plus mile car?  I have been using 20-40w since it was new and so far no problems.  I want it to last another 100,000 miles what should I do?  Jose, Escondido.
Jose: Keep doing what you're doing, don't change anything.  It seems what you have been doing is working just fine, any changes you do to the car could disrupt a pattern and then you could start using oil or worse break something inside.  Just keep an eye on oil level and don't let it over heat and you might be able to squeeze and 100,000 miles out of your car, good luck!

Dave: I just bought a used Pontiac Solstice and the next day got stopped because I didn't have a front license plate.  I tried to explain to the police officer the car didn't come with a front plate and if you look there is no place to attach a front plate.  He gave me a fix-it ticket anyway.  Before I go to court and fight this ticket my wife said I should email you first and get your advice.  Tom, Oceanside.
Tom: Apply for a front plate at DMV, and run down to a Pontiac dealership and purchase the licenses plate holder that mounts in the center of the grill, mount your new plate and have the ticket signed off by a police officer and pay the fine.  This is one of those cars that look stupid with a front plate but the law is the law, sorry!

Dave: Does "top of the line gasoline" really make a difference on fuel economy and the longevity of fuel injectors?  I typically get Conoco
Philips (Union 76).  Is this considered a good quality gas?  I thought the only difference in gas was the octane.
  Doug, Vista.

Doug: Quality of fuel means a lot in today's engines.  Octane ratings have recently been changed and are more real world numbers and the use of the correct octane plays a big role in the mileage you obtain considering your driving habits.  The problem is that if your vehicle requires 91 octane fuel and you put 87 octane in the tank the vehicle will run just fine thanks to the on board computers adjusting to the different fuel.  But octane isn't the real problem it is what is not in the fuel that could cause you problems, remember the cheaper the fuel the less the additives which over the life of your engine and fuel injectors somewhere down the road you will be putting the money you saved by running the cheaper fuel back into repairs unless you trade your cars out every two to three years.  You use the same fuel I use, Union 76 and I also use Chevron.  I have nothing but old vehicles with 200,000 plus miles on them and have never had a carburetor or fuel injection issue.  My wife has a 1982 Toyota Supra running nothing but the fuels I mentioned and she just turned ove4r 300,000 miles and her mileage is as good as it was when it was new!
Think of your vehicle this way, can you imagine what shape your kids would be in if you fed them fast food from the time they could eat solid foods, how low would they last?

Dave: I'm going to graduate from high school this year and my mom and dad are insisting I go to college.  I don't want to go to college I want to work on cars.  I like tearing them apart and rebuilding them so they run better than before.  I heard of a couple of community colleges that have pretty good auto shop programs and if you could recommend them my folks would consider allowing me to attend a community college instead of a full blown college.  Hope you can help me and I would like a school in North County if possible, oh and I love Toyota's!  Brad, San Marcos.
Brad: You have Palomar College just off the 78, but if you're into Toyota's then the only college that has the Toyota T-Ten Program is Miramar College in Mira Mesa.  It has a top notch automotive program and you can go to school and do an apprentice program at a local Toyota Dealership and the money you can make should make your folks happy.  Go to www.miramarcollege.org for more information.

Dave:  I have a 1997 Mazda truck with 69,000 miles, which I am the original owner that I want to sell.
One person interested in buying it (that has his own auto repair) looked at it and said the timing belt needed to be replaced and all the belts and hoses. The cost would be about $1600. Of course he wanted me to lower the price way down because of these repairs.
I would like to find a repair shop to take it to that I can trust and would tell me if it really needs the timing belt replaced. I can believe the belts and hoses may need to be changed, and I have no problem having the work done before it's sold. I purchased a new car and I'm not in a big hurry to sell the truck, but I would like to.
I'm a single woman and not knowing much about cars, I just don't want someone to take advantage.
I trust your input and if you can recommend a shop in North County (Oceanside, Carlsbad, or Vista area) that would be great. 
Mary, Oceanside.

Mary: I just went to my best source to see what the value is of your truck, The Auto Trader and it looks like it is worth anywhere from $4,985 to $5500.  So you have a lot of room to move around in to sell the truck.  If the truck needs belts, hoses and a timing belt that is up to the buyer to take care of and if someone tries to drop your price on items that are what I call "What if" then you need another buyer.
That is a great little truck and you the seller only has one obligation, make sure it will pass smog other than that it is buyer beware it is sold as is.  You don't need to take it to a repair shop unless you plan to keep it and any repairs you do to it will put the truck out of the price range you can sell it in.  Since you're not in a big hurry I would set my price and let it ride and see who shows up, you might be surprised.  If you need my additional assistance in selling your truck please do not hesitate to call me at 760-715-5507, I charge nothing for my services and would be happy to help.

Dave: How does one find a good repair shop in their community?  I have been using the dealerships for as long as I have owned my car but now due to its age and mileage the dealerships are costing me an arm and a leg.  I feel I can get the work done cheaper at an independent repair shop other than the dealer, any ideas?  Clyde, San Marcos.
Clyde: Looking for a good independent repair shop is not that difficult, check with AAA they have a good list and stiff requirements to become a AAA repair shop, BBB is another source and the best is your friends, neighbors and co-workers.  Find out where they go and get their input.

Dave: I recently found your column in the Californian and from now on I will look for it; it is very informative.  My question to you is:
I have a 2004 Toyota Tundra that I would like to sell but I cringe when I think of strangers coming to my home and wanting to drive it either by themselves or with me going along. Somehow this doesn't seem to be the smartest way to sell a truck. Do you know of any way I can screen people before I give them my address? 
Janice, Vista.
Janice: You're correct in your fears.  If you must sell the truck yourself here are a few tips:
Pre-screening is tough but you could have the prospects meet you at a shopping center parking lot that way they will not know where you live.
The next thing you do is make sure you're not alone when the persons looking at your truck shows up. 
Get a friend or neighbor to stay with you during the visits, and make solid appointments. 
If the person does not drive up in a vehicle pass on the sale, if he or she has a vehicle make sure the vehicle registration matches their drivers license and take their car keys for security. 
If they ask to take it to a repair shop or the dealer to have it checked out go with them, you drive your truck and they can drive there's and meet them their and wait for the inspection.
The most important thing is your gut instinct, if your uncomfortable don't continue with the transaction.
Another option is consignment, find a used car lot in your town that will do a consignment, tell him you want this much money for the truck and anything over that amount is his, if your price is reasonable then he will be happy to oblige.

Dave: I drive a 2000 Chevy Silverado pickup truck and I have almost 200,000 miles on it and I have noticed the fuel mileage has dropped by 10 miles per gallon.  I took it to the dealership and they said they had put a computer on the truck and all the sensors checked out fine, they suggested a fuel injection service and if that doesn't fix the problem I would have to replace all the injectors and the price quote is more than the truck is worth.  Do you have any suggestions other than swapping parts?  Peter, Murrieta.

Peter: I guess the questions I have for you should answer your question.  Have you ever done a fuel injection service on your truck? (Should be done every 30,000 miles).  Do you buy top of the line gasoline? Chevron, Union 76, Shell Texaco.  If not that is a problem.  Try adding a can of Techron to the gas tank, and do it for three fill up and see if that helps if not then a fuel injection service may help, the problem is injectors have small filters in each injector and they can clog up.  As long as the truck drives fine the injectors should be good!

Dave: I have three kids in the family one is driving and the other two will be driving this year.  I'm not very mechanically inclined and was wondering if there is a school or business that teaches new drivers how to understand maintenance requirements and how to handle themselves in a repair shop atmosphere?  I have been ripped off more than I can tell you and you would think I would have all the answers but I don't.  Any help would be appreciated.  Roger, Escondido.

Roger: Your in luck, I do that type of training in a group or one on one bases.  The cars of today have become so technical that just knowing how to drive them isn't enough.  Most drivers have no idea what to do when they go into a repair shop or even the dealership, what are their rights.
I teach my class on the vehicles your kids drive, I go under the hood and teach them what they should do on a weekly bases, where is the transmission dip stick (If it is an automatic), how to check the engine oil and coolant, what to look for under the hood that could stop a potential problem.  I actually go over the whole vehicle including where is the spare tire and how do you change a flat tire.  It is a very informative class and very reasonable priced, and if your interested call me at 760-715-5507 and I can come to you.

Dave: I drive a 1989 Toyota Camry and every morning it growls when I turn the steering wheel.  Then after I have driven a while the growl goes away.  Could this be a problem about to happen?  I really don't have the money for any major repairs and since I just bought this car I thought Toyota's were bullet proof.  This car does have 189,445 miles on it but it was owned by a little old lady in our neighborhood.  If you can't tell me what is wrong could you at least give me a shop in my area that I can take it to that will not rip me off.  Thanks for coming back to the North County Times, I love your column.  Linda, Oceanside.

Linda: Thanks for the kind words and I love the little old lady tag, where have I heard that before!  All kidding aside, it sounds like your power steering reservoir is low on fluid.  Go under the hood and check the power steering fluid and fill as needed.  The down side to this is that power steering fluid doesn't just go away, there is a leak; it could be as simple as a hose leaking or as bad as the rack and pinion leaking.  Fill the reservoir with power steering fluid and check the level daily and if it goes down quickly call me at 760-715-5507 and I will send you to an honest technician in your area.  You will want to correct this problem as soon as possible before that growl becomes a bite!  Sorry I couldn't help myself.

Dave: My girlfriend has a 1992 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme that hasn't gone anywhere in a while.  Her dad said that the transmission seems to be the only source of trouble.  It's an automatic transmission, and he says that it is slipping, and once it gets past 2nd gear it starts smoking and then the car just won't accelerate after that.  It sounds like it might be a torque converter thing, but I don't want to throw my thoughts at him and have him pursue the wrong cure.
I'm thinking it might be better just to try and get rid of the car, or keep it as a project car.  But he wants to know if there was someway to get a new, stock transmission and a place that will swap the tranny's for cheap.  I know cheap prices means cheap work usually, but he's kind of stubborn about it.  What do you think the problem might be, and where would be a good transmission place to go to and say "Dave Stall sent me"?
  Chris, Vista.

Chris: Well it does sound like you guys have a transmission problem, have you checked the fluid level?  Could be a bad leak and when the fluid level drops the car won't move.  If the car is in decent shape you may want to invest in it.  It will need to be checked out at a transmission shop and most likely remove the transmission for a through inspection if no external problems are found.  Costs are always an issue, removing and replacing just the transmission will cost you $500 to $650 a transmission could cost $1,500 and up depending on the model.  You could always go to a wrecking yard and pick up a 30 day guaranteed used transmission and install it yourselves, that is the cheapest route but somewhat painful.  Let me know which direction you plan to go.

Dave: In the next 6-10 months I'm most likely going to be getting a 1992 or 1993 Nissan 300ZX, and a new crate VG30DETT motor to rebuild for it.  I just want to know what you think about the 300 and what I should look for when buying used and what problems to expect with the car.  I already know I don't like the hydraulic rear-wheel steering but any help you can give me would be appreciated.  Jim, Escondido.

Jim: I'm not sure what you have in mind with this project, a crate motor is already built and all you need to do is install it and hope all the hoses, wires and emission components bolt up.  The 300ZX is a great car but like any car you buy you want to have it checked out, if it drives take it to the dealer or an independent shop that specializes in Nissan's have it inspected, check all the paperwork and go from there.  You can also find a 300ZX without the hydraulic rear steer if that is a concern of yours.  I guess my question to you is what do you plan to do with the car?  It sounds like it may become a drifter