October 27, 2012
Q: My wife and I owned a 2001 Mercury Marquis and a 2001 Lincoln Town Car. At 70,000 miles, the driver's side ball joint broke on the Mercury as my wife was parking the car. It had been making noise for some time, but the garage said it was OK. At a little over 40,000 miles, the same thing happened with the Town Car again, when she was parking the car. On both occasions the wheel collapsed and the left front end lay flat on the ground. Have you heard from anyone else regarding this problem? Has Ford acknowledged any ball joint deficiencies? These experiences have converted me into a Nissan fan.
— F.M., Emmaus, Pa.
A: Premature ball joint wear is common on Ford products. The rubber boot protecting the joint fails and lets water and dirt to get inside the ball joint. The joints do not have grease fittings so they just wear out. We like to replace them with aftermarket joint having grease fittings. We are surprised that the bad joints were not spotted during the Pennsylvania periodic safety inspection.
Q: Something came up in a conversation the other day and I had a flash of insight. You're old enough to remember when the Feds decided that because of the oil shortages and the need to conserve, the national speed limit shall be 55 mph. It dawned on me that shortly after that the engineers started designing engines to operate most efficiently so wouldn't 75 would be a much better peak performance point, or even 80 mph?
— J.H., Villa Park, Ill.
A: Engines have become way more efficient than during the Jimmy Carter administration when the national speed limit was imposed. But engine efficiency is not the deciding factor when it comes to fuel efficiency at high speeds. Aerodynamic drag is. Drag goes up geometrically, not linearly, as speed increases. We could give you the formula from our SAE Automotive Handbook, but….
Q: If you have one of the new cars that shuts off the engine at a stop light, aren't you better off coming to a stop as soon as possible instead of creeping up on the light? Wouldn't you save more gas that way? I'm not talking about coming up to a light at 60 mph and slamming on the breaks either. — T.K., Elgin, Ill.
A: Your logic is somewhat flawed. When you take your foot off the gas pedal, very little gas goes into the engine. Besides, those stop-start engines do not shut down with every stop. You want air conditioning? The engine keeps running. Now be still and go back to sleep.
Q: I drive a 2009 Ford Mustang GT with 50,000 miles. The Ford shop said I need a throttle body cleaning. The car is running fine, starts fine and idles fine. There is no mention of a throttle body cleaning in the car's maintenance manual. Is this cleaning necessary or just a money maker?
— T.S., Bethlehem, Pa.
A: It is a money maker, but a dirty throttle body can eventually lead to drivability issues and lower fuel economy. If you are an above average do-it-yourself guy, you can get a cleaning kit at the local parts store. We clean the throttle bodies on our vehicles about every 50,000 miles. Expect lots of smoke from the tailpipe when you do it.
Q: I own a 2002 Honda Civic with standard shift and 39,000 miles. I recently had oil/lube work done at the dealer and they told me that the serpentine belt should be changed either at 100,000 miles or 7 years. Did you ever hear of belts that needed to be changed based on age rather than miles? They quoted me a price of $950 for the job.
— R.J. Naperville, Ill.
A: We are going out on a limb here, but from the price quoted, we think you are asking about the timing belt, not the serpentine accessory drive belt. Our sources indicate that the timing belt should be changed at 110,000 under normal conditions, but it does not specify a time interval. Just keep in mind that your Honda has an interference engine and if the belt breaks, expensive internal engine damage will occur.
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