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Late-Model Cars Lack Drain Plugs

February 16, 1989|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | Times Staff Writer

Question: I have a 1985 Buick Century equipped with a 3.8 liter V-6 engine. I wanted to put two gallons of new antifreeze into the radiator, but the engine block does not have a drain plug. I bought a coolant flushing kit, which requires that I cut into my heater hoses. They are very short and hard to get at. All I want to do is put some antifreeze into my car. How do I do it?--J.H.S.

Answer: Here's another case of an automobile manufacturer handing over a maintenance nightmare to the average motorist. For decades, people have been draining their cooling systems and adding antifreeze to their engines. Now even this menial task is beyond the reach of the typical car owner.

Buick eliminated the drain plug on the engine block to save money in manufacturing the car. With the cost of cars going up every year, it's hard to understand what happens to all these cost-saving measures.

The way a dealer changes the antifreeze is to use a power-flushing device, which is a big machine that costs a bundle. You had the right idea in buying a flushing kit, but the garden hose that your flushing kit uses generates only about one-fourth the pressure of a professional power flusher.

The problem you cite with hooking up the flushing kit is very real. Engine compartments are full of equipment these days, requiring removal of parts to get at other parts. You probably don't want to cut into your heater hoses unless you have clear access to them so you can get a tight clamp onto the fitting that reconnects the hoses.

Your only alternative to going back to the dealer is to drain the radiator and fill it with antifreeze. Then, run the car for a day until it all mixes and repeat the procedure. It's wasteful of good antifreeze and you're going to have some old coolant left behind, but it should work.

Q: My mechanic wants to change the boots on the constant-velocity joints of my Toyota. What are constant-velocity joints and why do they wear boots? Should I follow his advice? I am reluctant to spend the money if nothing is wrong.--S.A.

A: The boots are flexible rubber sleeves that enclose the joints that allow the drive shaft to flex on front-wheel-drive cars. The boots seal the joints, which are also called universal joints, from road grime and water.

If the boot has a cut or hole in it, it is going to allow grime and dirt in, and that will eventually cause the joint to fail.

The problem with replacing the boots is that while the part is cheap, the labor is often quite expensive. In order to replace some boots, the drive shaft must be disconnected from either the wheel or the transmission, so the boot can be slipped onto the shaft.

You should ask your mechanic how much the boot replacement will cost and how much it would cost to replace the joint. It could be that replacing the joint will not be significantly more expensive than replacing the boot. In that event, you may want to wait and monitor the condition of the joint. They don't typically fail without any warning. They get loose and clunk or squeal before they fall apart.

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