Question: I want a car with copper electric wiring. Substitutes, such as aluminum, have failed even in mild environments. When your wiring system fails, you might as well get rid of the car. Is there any listing that shows which cars have copper wiring?--R.L.C.
Answer: I have been unable to find any major foreign or domestic auto makers that use large amounts of aluminum wiring, such as in the basic wire harness of the car. Aluminum, however, apparently has found its way into limited areas, such as radios and other electrical devices in cars.
But you raise an interesting question, because if there is an economic incentive to pass off shoddy and inferior products of short life expectancy on unsuspecting consumers, a few wise guys who make cars would undoubtedly take the opportunity. The environment in the auto market, with all the additional competition, seems more conducive for such shortcutting today than ever before.
Nobody really thinks of the metal content on the wiring in a car as an issue, but it certainly could be. Electronic systems are becoming more and more important in modern cars, and a sound electrical-wiring system is now critical to a car's operation. Corrosion in connecting devices or at terminals, which is common with aluminum wiring in harsh operating environments, could spell disaster.
Aluminum wire is not permitted by many municipalities for use in residential homes, but that's only because local governments can lay down strict standards for quality. Nobody can tell an auto maker that he can't use inferior materials that will fail in a few years.
So, the consumer has to rely on his own ability to discern quality. Unfortunately, the shiny paint and catchy gadgets we see in automobile showrooms sometimes distract our attention from the more important things that will determine whether the car turns out to be a sound investment or a costly burden.
Q: I have driven my 1984 Toyota Tercel liftback a little more than 30,000 miles with no mechanical problems. But now there seems to be something wrong with my clutch linkage. Often, when I depress the clutch pedal, I hear a loud metallic crack and then a ratcheting sound. A neighborhood gas-station mechanic tells me the trouble is not with the cable but the transmission. What's your opinion?--J.D.
A: The problem you describe is one that most Tercel owners experience at just about 30,000 miles. It is indeed caused by the clutch cable, and it can be easily eliminated with a little lubrication.
The clutch pedal in your Tercel operates a series of levers and gears that are attached to the clutch cable. The cable travels through the engine compartment to the transmission case and is attached to a lever on the outside of the clutch.
The levers and gears on the clutch-pedal mechanism are made of nylon. They should be lubricated with a material that will not attack these components, such as WD-40.
Your mechanic can lubricate the cable by unhooking the cable from the pedal and pulling the free pedal end into the engine compartment. There is no oil hole to get oil inside the housing of the cable, but by slowly oiling the cable itself the oil will work its way down into the cable housing. Your mechanic can help by moving the loose housing up and down the cable to help work the oil into the housing.
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.