Question: Would you please discuss how to care for the wood-paneling decal that is on so many station wagons? A used car has come into our family, and the material has started to peel around the handles. The car is a well-cared-for 1981 Pontiac, and we wish to keep the car's appearance in excellent condition.--F.P.
Answer: There's not much chance that you can fully restore a wood decal if it already has begun to peel, but possibly some care will slow down its deterioration.
Ultraviolet light is the main culprit in aging of paste on vinyl decals. It causes discoloration, drying and fading. The best care is to keep the car in shade as much as possible and to keep it clean.
In addition, a number of products are sold to preserve vinyl, which may be of some help. One is Armor-All and 3M makes a product called DI-NOX, which is advertised as being designed to restore such decals if they are not severely deteriorated.
Your decal can probably be replaced at an auto body shop, but it's debatable whether it will be worth the inevitable high cost. If the peeling is not too bad and only in a few areas, you might try using a clear coating to bond it back to the paint. But first make sure the coating will not dissolve the paint by testing it in an inconspicuous area. A polyurethane or varnish might work.
Q: We purchased a Honda LXi Accord four months ago. Each morning, there is a loud clank in the gear box as the car is backed out of the garage. The Honda service department told us that it is normal for the car to make this noise. What's your opinion?--L.J.
A: A lot of owners of Honda Accords with automatic transmissions complain about noise when they shift gears, especially when the transmissions are still cold. In most cases, it appears there is no mechanical problem with the transmissions.
Honda transmissions are very different from most automatic transmissions in other cars. Honda basically uses a manual transmission that is converted to automatic operation.
In most automatic transmissions, a "planetary gear" system is used, which features a large gear shaped like a ring with teeth cut on the inside of the ring. The teeth mesh with three or four planetary gears that rotate inside the ring. At the center of this system is a central "sun gear" that also meshes with the planetary gears.
The transmission shifts gears by allowing the ring gear to rotate at varying speeds. The gears inside the ring continue to rotate, but at different speeds depending on how fast the ring gear is turning.
Honda transmissions use an entirely different system. Gears are mounted on a main gear shaft and an opposing countershaft. The gears slide along the shaft and are engaged or disengaged with a shifting fork, much like a manual transmission, except that the fork is controlled automatically.
Manual transmissions usually have a more distinct clunking noise when shifted. The Honda automatic appears to generate the same noise.
Q: I have a restored 1967 Chevy Caprice. Two sets of points have burned out within a two-month period after traveling at high speeds for several hundred miles. Do you know why?--K.K.
A: The most obvious answer to the problem is that you have a bad condenser, a device that is supposed to prevent arcing. In the old days, you would have a new condenser put in with every new set of points.
I also suggest you check that the points are well grounded. Then, check that the coil connections are good. If all this fails to solve the problem, change the coil.
Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but will respond in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, You section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.