Ask the Mechanic

Udo Sille

Dear Mechanic,

My girlfriend’s 1997 Subaru Legacy has a brake problem I can’t figure out. When turning left, at more than 10 miles per hour, the front brakes feel like they’re locking up. I’ve changed the pads, rotors, and even changed the calipers. Please help before the girlfriend dumps me.

James in Nederland

 Hello James,

Seems like you’ve changed everything except what’s causing the brake lockup. Have you checked the hill holder cable adjustment? Make sure that the cable has a little free play when the return spring is fully retracted. A tight hill holder cable can cause symptoms as you describe.

 Dear Mechanic,

I have owned and been driving a 1986 Volkswagen Westfalia for the last 12 years. I love it madly, but am so tired dealing with the poorly designed waterboxer engine. I had it rebuilt for the second time about 25,000 miles ago and it has again developed a headgasket leak. Someone told me that replacing the engine with a Subaru unit could be the answer. What do you think?

Fred in Boulder

 Dear Fred,

Yes, the Subaru engine conversion will put an end to the waterboxer woes. An 2.5 liter Outback engine will give you more than twice the horsepower and torque, better gas mileage, and true reliability. This is the engine that Volkswagen should have designed for the Vanagon. The swap is straight forward for a competent mechanic. You might even consider doing it yourself. A little internet searching and you’ll find that conversion parts and information are available from several specialty parts companies. Contact me and I’ll show you a conversion in process at the shop.

 Dear Udo,
 I was shopping for new tires for my 4Runner and am now a bit confused. What’s the difference between “all season” and “snow” tires?
 Betty in Blackhawk

 Dear Betty,
 I can’t blame you for being confused about tires. There are many types and
styles and everybody has a different opinion about them. Okay, here goes. “All season” tires, in our driving environment mean summer tires. They work well on dry and wet roads, are somewhat quiet, and should last a long time. They do not work very well on snow and ice. “Snow tires” are designed for driving over mud, snow and ice. They come in two styles. The more common style have little holes in them to accept steel studs for ice and commonly have an aggressive tread designed for chewing through deep snow. A newer generation of snow tires are known as “studless” snow tires. They are made of a special rubber compound that that almost sticks to ice, work well on dry roads, but are not what I recommend if you want tires that last more than a season. That “sticky” rubber compound that works so well on ice also wears out quickly.

 Dear Mechanic,

I have a 1992 Honda Accord with 245,000 miles on it. It has a weird steering problem. When I turn the steering wheel to either right or left it keeps on turning in the same direction even if I take my hands off the wheel. This situation is most noticeable when I’m stopped or doing very slow parking maneuvers. I had my mechanic neighbor look at it, but he hasn’t a clue. Do you have a clue?
 Susan in Ward

 Dear Susan,

Let me clue you in on spool valves that stick when they get old and worn. The spool valve assembly lives inside the steering rack. You could have that valve replaced, but with a car as old as yours I recommend replacing the complete steering rack with a remanufactured unit.