Question: We have a 1984 Pontiac 6000 STE, which has lived up to its reviews. It's a great car to drive. However, at about 12,000 miles, the rear brake calipers slipped out of adjustment. It requires a lot of brake-pedal pressure, and even then I don't get the sense of 100% efficiency. I paid for the first readjustment. The dealer has taken care of the next three. What's happening?--H.C.A.
A: The rear brake mechanism on your Pontiac 6000 STE is getting dirty and not adjusting properly. Pontiac designed the rear brake to depend on regular use of the parking brake to keep the mechanism clean.
Unfortunately, the owner's manual doesn't say anything about the matter, so you'd never know it until you got fed up with having the brakes adjusted. What compounds the problem is that most disc-brake systems don't require adjustment at all.
The parking or emergency brake on the car operates with a small gear-and-lever system, which forces the brake pads against the disc when the parking brake lever is set. This keeps the entire mechanism clean and keeps the rear brake in adjustment.
When the parking brake is not used regularly and the brake does not adjust itself, you will have longer brake-pedal travel as the pads wear. As this happens, the brake draws more and more hydraulic fluid from the brake fluid reservoir.
The only other possibility is that you are leaving your parking brake on by mistake while you drive, causing accelerated brake-pad wear.
Q: I have a 1977 Ford LTD with a V-8 motor and an automatic transmission. I have always been able to start the car with the transmission in the park position. Recently, my car will start only in the neutral position. Is there a reason for this?--T.J.I.
A: A device on your transmission called a neutral safety switch has fallen out of alignment and must be adjusted. It's a relatively easy and low-cost repair.
A neutral safety switch is designed to prevent you from attempting to start the car when it is in gear, which would cause the car to lunge unexpectedly forward and possibly damage the transmission.
The switch, which is usually mounted on the transmission, allows the starter motor to receive power only when the transmission is in park or neutral. In your case, the switch is incorrectly getting a signal that the car is in drive when you are in park.
Q: I have a 1985 Honda Accord SE-i with an automatic transmission. While braking and then accelerating, the transmission seems to slip and then catch. I've been to the Honda dealer and they can't fix it. Could the problem be a bad governor?--P.H.
A: There is probably nothing wrong with the transmission. At certain times, it's possible to fool an automatic transmission, which is what you are doing.
If the car is accelerating and the transmission is ready to shift up, and then you suddenly pull your foot off the gas, the transmission doesn't know what to do. It's getting mixed signals.
So, it has to stop from shifting up to the next highest gear. Meanwhile, you have again stepped on the gas. Sometimes this sequence causes a loud clunk. In your case, the transmission seems to pause before it goes back into gear.