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Bronco Ride Is Real Hard on the Wallet

September 13, 2000|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Question: In June 1999, I bought a used 1991 Ford Bronco 4x4. The salesman assured me the truck had been through a 128-point inspection plan.

But almost from the start, the truck was a money pit. From the headlights suddenly going out ($415), to the starter ($800), and now the transmission ($1,835). There is something else wrong. In neutral, it shivers as if the engine is about to cut off. Please advise. --G.V., Long Beach

Answer: Now you know how worthless an inspection plan can be. These inspections are touted by used-car lots as a way of giving buyers confidence. But there is no way for even the most competent and honest mechanic to predict that a vehicle will be trouble-free for even two months.

At best, these inspections ensure that the major systems are not leaking fluids and have no obvious malfunctions. They are not intended to catch early signs of failure. Many transmission failures, for example, cannot be predicted even one day before they occur.

But Ford has issued numerous technical service bulletins on the Bronco transmission and has redesigned a number of parts, according to the database compiled by Alldata Corp. Ford has modified the transmission pumps, case bushings, accumulator regulator assembly and the reverse clutch, among other items.

If you don't know much about cars, you should have your own independent mechanic look over a used vehicle before you buy.

I'm sorry to say I can't solve your engine's shivering problem with the information you provided. It could be a problem with the fuel system, the ignition or even the head gasket.

Ford issued a service bulletin in 1993 advising frequent replacement (every 15,000 miles) of the vehicle's frame-mounted fuel filter, which can cause poor performance and lack of power, according to Alldata.

While you're at it, you also need to find a lower-cost mechanic, since the repair bills you cited are outrageously high.

Q: I can't figure out what the Department of Motor Vehicles requires when you buy a used car, as I recently did.

When I called to find out how to get the title transferred, I was told I have 30 days to show up at a DMV office. But the rules posted on the agency's Web site say I have only 10 days. What gives? --J.M., Whittier

A: Just when you think you understand the DMV, the agency comes up with something that gives you bureaucratic whiplash. Of course, requiring anybody to register a vehicle in 10 days--showing up with all the necessary paperwork--is ridiculous.

So even though the DMV says it wants this done in 10 days, it's just kidding. The agency has an unwritten policy of allowing motorists 20 days of goodwill to register their vehicle after that first 10 days.

Goodwill? That's how DMV spokesman Evan Nossoff described the agency's policy. Even he had to check, because the written guidelines for motorists are quite draconian in their threats. Wait 11 days, and the DMV sends out goons who slash your tires. Not really, but the agency does say it will slap a penalty on your title transfer.

Can you put your trust in an unwritten DMV policy? That gives me weak knees. Can you imagine trying to explain such an unwritten goodwill policy to an uninformed DMV clerk while 50 people behind you are waiting their turn in line? But a number of the agency's employees do know about it, because I double-checked on its phone line and was correctly told that I had 30 days to transfer a title.

Q: Thank you for a most interesting article, "Tree Sap and Paint Jobs Are Natural Enemies" (Aug. 2). I was wondering if you could tell readers about a question I have long pondered: What is the best way to wash a car?

In India, where I come from, most people clean their own cars--there are hardly any carwashes (but plenty of "servants" or helpers to do the work).

Unlike in the U.S., the rule of thumb there is to never use soap, which is believed to be bad for the paint. Many people instead put a few drops of kerosene into a pail of water and clean the exterior with the solution. --A.J., Beverly Hills

A: Kerosene was long a staple in firehouses, used to keep trucks shiny red. It will put a keen shine on a car by laying on a thin film and is not known to be hazardous to clear-coat finishes. But it offers little paint protection and attracts dust and grit.

And with so many tremendous cleaning and polishing products on the U.S. market, there is little reason to use kerosene.

It is correct, however, that you should never use laundry detergent or dish soap on car paint. Those cleaners are intended to attack grease, body oils and tough stains, and a car's clear coat is no match for porcelain dinnerware or polyester fabric. But detergents for cars, sold in auto parts stores and elsewhere, will not harm your paint job.

Speaking of tree sap, many readers have sent their home remedies for removing it: creamy peanut butter, mayonnaise, adhesive solvent and WD-40 aerosol lubricant, among others.

I haven't tried any of these, and doubt I ever will. I'll stick with my advice to buy a clay bar kit from the parts store.

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Ralph Vartabedian cannot answer mail personally but responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Please do not telephone. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com.

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