Talking Cars: Steering problems and drifting

Junior Damato

Question: I own a 2003 Toyota Camry, and recently had the 60,000-mile service done. The mechanic did not replace the sparkplugs and said they are good for 120,000 miles, though it is recommended in my manual to replace them. The engine seems to run fine. Would it be best to replace the plugs, and would it improve gas mileage? What would you have done if you did the 60,000-mile service?

Answer: I most certainly would have replaced the sparkplugs with the factory correct sparkplugs, which can cost up to $14 each. Some spark plugs can last 100,000 miles. The problem is that, at this high mileage, sometimes the sparkplug will rust or seize up in the cylinder head and break off when trying to remove them. Make sure the correct factory tip sparkplugs are replaced and some anti-seize compound is put on the threads.

Question: I own a 1992 Oldsmobile Toronado with only 58,000 miles. Living in Scottsdale, Ariz., the air conditioning in the car is very important. The A/C stopped working, so to the shop I went they first had to convert the old Freon to the replacement R134a. The system is fully charged and has no leaks. The A/C system still did not operate. The shop said the auto climate control system failed and a number of electronic sensors need to be replaced. They could not figure out the problem so to another shop I went. The second shop charged $400 to tell me that it can be a number of sensors, and that I would be throwing money away. This is the only problem with the car. Can you help?

Answer: The first step is to find a shop that has knowledge of the car and electronic A/C system. The next step is to ask them if they use Identifix for help on vehicles. Once you find the right shop, the source of the problem can be found. The next problem is the lack of part availability. Most will not be available any more. The technician will be able to hook up a few simple manual switches or convert the system to manual to get the A/C working if he cannot find replacement parts. The technician can also check local salvage yards for parts.

Question: I own a 1999 Volvo S80 that has a squeaking rubbing sound when I turn the steering wheel. There is also a clunking sound when I accelerate or brake. I can actually feel some thing in the steering wheel. Any ideas?

Answer: You have to take the car to a shop or dealer of your choice and have them road test the car, inspect the suspension and give you an estimate. I service a lot of Volvos and install a lot of front-end control arm links, struts and strut mounts. You can also go to the Volvo dealer for an estimate of repair.

Question: I own a 1996 motor home with a 460 cid Ford engine and a 1997 Chevrolet Silverado 5.7V/8 with 96,000 miles. I would like to switch both over to full-synthetic oil for better gas mileage. Is there anything else that I can do to improve the mileage?

Answer: There is no question that full-synthetic oil reduces drag and increases mileage. Another area is synthetic oil in the differential. This not only helps mileage, it also keeps the differential cooler. Full-synthetic fluid may not be applicable with some differentials with positive traction or locking units without additional additives. As for the transmission, check with the transmission fluid brand to make sure it is compatible with the transmission. Any type of free-flowing air intake system and low-restriction exhaust systems will also help. I recently tried an after market fresh air filter system, free-flowing exhaust and reprogrammed the computer in a 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT. Mileage increased by 1.5 and the power increase was impressive. Keeping the correct air pressure also makes a difference.

Question: I recently purchased a 2009 Nissan Versa. If I take my hands off the steering wheel, the car veers to into the left lane in less than 100 yards. I went back to the dealership, and they said it was because of the electric steering rack unit. They suggested I contact the Nissan office, and I did. Now I find that other owners have also complained about the car drifting. What are your thoughts?

Answer: You are not alone with the drifting problem. Contrary to what the dealer said about electric power steering (EPS) being the fault, it is absolutely not. There are many cars with EPS and no drifting problems. A wheel alignment starts with the rear wheel alignment first. If the rear wheels are out of alignment, the rear wheels will actually push the car in either direction. I would suggest taking the car to an alignment shop for their opting and an alignment check. Then you can go back to the dealer with the report and the shop’s recommendation. The EPS unit has angle sensors and an electric motor to assist in steering. The conventional power-steering unit uses hydraulic fluid and pressure to assist steering effort.

Question: I own a 1994 Chevrolet Silverado 5.7 liter V/8 with A/C. When I start the engine there is a banging sound that bangs about 30 times and then stops; then the sound happens again when I shut the key off. The sound seemed like it emits from the heater system, so I removed the A/C heater fuse and still have the noise. Any ideas would be appreciated.

Answer: The A/C heater system in your truck, like a lot of older vehicles, has blend doors in the heater box that work off vacuum from the engine. They have no electrical connections. You can disconnect the small vacuum line for testing purposes that lead into the heater box to verify this is the problem. In most cases, the heater box assembly has to be removed for repair. In some cases, the problem can be something like a pin or small object that fell into the heater box. Good luck. 

Junior Damato writes weekly about cars. You can send questions to him care of the Old Colony Memorial, 182 Standish Ave., Plymouth, MA 02360. He can be heard live on WXBR radio 1460, 7-10 a.m. Saturday mornings.