Question: Last fall, we bought a new Ford Taurus station wagon with an automatic overdrive transmission. It's a fine car, but we found that the customary second gear for downhill braking was eliminated. It has only "(D), D and 1" positions on the shift column. We live in the mountains and now we either have to use lots of braking or use low gear at 20 miles per hour. Why didn't Ford leave a second gear?--A.J.C.
Answer: I have received a number of letters complaining about the elimination of a second-gear position, not only on Ford automatic transmissions but on a number of other domestic and imported transmissions.
Although the Taurus transmission does not have a specific second-gear position that locks in that gear, you can get into second gear by simply using the 1 position at any speed above 20 to 25 miles per hour.
If you are coasting downhill at about 50 miles per hour and you slip the transmission into low or 1, the transmission will drop into second gear. It will remain in second gear down to about 25 miles per hour and then drop into first gear.
Once it is in first, it will stay locked in first until you shift back into drive. So, if you increase your speed, you should shift back into the D position. Incidentally, the (D) position gives you automatic shifting but without overdrive, effectively making the transmission a three-speed system.
This is all somewhat less convenient than it could be, but it should get the job done.
Q: I have a 1976 Honda CVCC station wagon with about 160,000 miles on it. The engine was rebuilt at about 100,000 miles. Over time, heavy blue smoke began pouring out of the exhaust during a cold start. The engine was burning oil at a rapid rate. I did a compression test and found good compression. I had a valve job with new guides and seals, but the smoke gradually began to reappear. Is it possible for the rings to be shot but to maintain good compression? What else could be wrong?--E.S.E.
A: It is quite possible to have good compression and bad rings. Each piston in your engine has three rings; these are metal bands that form a seal between the piston and cylinder wall. Two rings are designed to seal compression inside the cylinder. The bottom ring is designed to control the amount of oil on the cylinder wall. In some instances, this lower oil-control ring can wear or become clogged, resulting in excessive oil consumption even with good compression rings.
The problems you describe could be attributable to many things. Because the problem was eliminated for a time with the rebuilt head, it's possible that the valve seals have failed again. Or possibly, the cylinder walls were improperly honed when the engine was rebuilt at 100,000 miles, scratches have developed on the cylinder walls or an oil-control ring has become clogged.
Q: Recently, several of my friends and I have experienced battery failure on new cars within a few weeks after the 12-month warranty expired. It appears that some manufacturers are delivering batteries of very poor quality. Are experiences with short-lived, poor-quality new-car batteries unusual?--J.F.
A: Most automobile manufacturers can be jawboned into free replacements and repairs when a failure occurs just after a warranty expires. You should have tried to speak with the factory representative.
It's also possible that the battery could have been saved by an overnight trickle charge. Many mechanics are only too willing to make a quick buck by replacing a battery without trying to save it.