Question: I have a 1978 Ford Fairmont Sedan with a six-cylinder engine and an automatic transmission. I bought it new, and today it has only 27,000 miles. The trouble is the reverse gear on my transmission. Even on mild mornings, I have to wait a few minutes for it to warm up before it will grab. In winter, it gets worse. Forward engages immediately. What do you think the problem is?--F.S. Sr.
Answer: Your transmission probably needs what is called a soft parts overhaul, which costs $350 to $400.
An automatic transmission is controlled by hydraulic lines that operate under high pressures. The system contains numerous rubber and nylon parts that harden with age and lose their effectiveness.
In your case, the servo band is made partly of rubber, which has hardened or has developed a glaze. A servo band is a band that maintains the tension on rotating gears inside the transmission. When it hardens or glazes over, it loses its ability to maintain tension and permits the slippage that you are experiencing.
Although you have relatively few miles, your car is seven years old, and the rubber parts deteriorate over time. If you are going to use your car relatively infrequently, it would probably pay to routinely change your transmission oil to keep it fresh.
Q: In December, 1984, I purchased a new Fleetwood sedan for my wife. I took possession of my car on a Friday. The first day, the safety lights on the rear doors fell out. The electronic locking system failed on Sunday, and I had to hire a locksmith to open the car. The air conditioner hummed, which discouraged any use of the radio. During May and June, the car overheated and upon arriving home would empty coolant all over the garage floor. The windshield sprayer has never worked. I have been to the dealer 20 times and had four or five mechanics look at the car. I can appreciate there might be problems with a new car, but the total disregard for this at the factory and dealer is unbelieveable.--I.M.J.B.
A: Some of the problems you describe have been reported by other Cadillac owners, but it seems your car has had a particular run of bad luck.
The tendency of the cooling system to boil over is the result of the car not having a large enough expansion tank on the radiator. The expansion tank is the plastic tank next to the radiator that permits coolant to expand and contract according to temperature conditions.
So far, Cadillac has not offered a modified larger tank. You may want to find an innovative mechanic who would be capable of fashioning a larger tank that would prevent the spill-over.
As far as the other defects, you should insist Cadillac correct every one of them. It's bad enough getting stuck with a lemon, but you really have to be outraged when the lemon is supposed to be one of the best luxury cars in the country.
Q: I feel very uncomfortable when I bring my car to an auto mechanic, especially dealers. I have a problem with the spark plugs fouling, causing a cylinder not to fire. I own a 1978 Ford Pinto with a four-cylinder, 2.3 liter engine. The mechanic told me the valve seals were leaking oil and needed to be replaced. My question is what are valve seals, and at $30 per hour labor, is $75 too much to replace them?--M.T.
A: Valve seals are usually rubber rings that seal the shaft of both the intake and exhaust valves from the camshaft area. The camshaft, which is the part that causes the valves to open and close, is lubricated with lots of oil, which you don't want seeping into your cylinders.
The job of replacing the seals is about a two-hour job, and the $75 charge you were quoted sounds more than reasonable.
Q: My children and I purchased a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro with 16,000 miles on it for $2,000. Somebody told us that it is a "classic." Is that true?--K.
A: Depending on the condition of the car, you made a very good choice for the price. The Camaro was introduced in 1967, and the initial body style was maintained until a midyear change in 1969.
Your Camaro is an early model that certainly will be prized as it ages. If you want to maintain its value, don't "jazz" up the car, but attempt to keep it as close to original condition as possible.
Q: When driving in the city, I have a habit of shifting my automatic transmission into neutral while waiting at stoplights. My wife says this is bad and will ultimately result in damage to the engine. Is it really bad for the car?--P.P.
A: Well, it won't hurt the engine, but it can result in unnecessary wear on the transmission. Shifting into neutral and then back into drive several times a day probably more than doubles the amount of times your transmission will shift gears over its normal lifetime. While the transmission probably won't wear out as a result of this extra shifting, it might.