Welcome back to the Auto Specialist. If you haven’t been following the automotive industry, you may have missed the new advertising campaigns from Nissan and Chevy. Both are promoting electric vehicles. While electric cars have been on the market for awhile, they have mostly been considered novelties. Very few people have them. Nissan and Chevy are billing their latest entrants as “mainstream,” implying the masses will rush to buy them.
I’m unconvinced. The early adopters will surely buy the first run, but given the cars’ high prices and the current economy, I’m expecting to see a lackluster launch. Time will tell.
Let’s move on to a new batch of reader questions. In today’s installment, we’ll help Steve understand what a valve job is. We’ll also help Margaret determine why her “check engine” light has come on. And we’ll help Tomas figure out whether his mechanic is trying to get more work out of him than necessary. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started.
Question: I own a 1999 Isuzu Rodeo with about 138,000 miles. I recently took it into the repair shop for a routine checkup. I hadn’t noticed any driveability problems, but figured I should make sure everything is working fine. To my surprise, the mechanic said I needed a valve job. I didn’t have him do the work on the spot because he quoted me $800. I don’t even know what a valve job entails. Can you fill in the blanks?
Answer: Thank you for your question, Steve. A valve job is done by removing the cylinder head from the engine block. This exposes the valves and guides, so they can be repaired or replaced. The work involved with fixing a faulty valve may cost as little as $100. The high price you were quoted includes the time and effort involved with removing the head. In fact, this is usually the bulk of the job.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of engines require a valve job at 90,000 miles. This is often done to restore compression, or fix other problems. Given that you have 138,000 miles on your engine, consider yourself lucky.
Question: I have a 2002 Nissan Maxima, and it has 103,000 miles on it. I was driving to the store last week when the check engine light came on my dashboard. My car actually runs fine as far as I can tell. But I want to make sure that I don’t ignore the light. Can you tell me what it means?
Answer: Thanks for sending in your question, Margaret. The light you’re seeing on your dash can be triggered by many things. It comes on whenever the powertrain control module (the computer) in your car discovers a problem somewhere in the engine management system. When this happens, the computer will set a fault code in its memory.
Some problems are worse than others. I suggest having a mechanic pull the fault code from the computer’s memory to help troubleshoot the issue. Sorry I’m unable to be more specific, but the light may suggests dozens of things.
Question: I’m driving a 2001 Honda Accord with 116,000 miles on the engine. The engine has been idling rough lately. I didn’t know what the problem was at first, so I took it into the dealership. They ran some tests and gave me a bunch of parts they claimed I needed to replace. One of those parts was the water pump, even though it was replaced about six months ago. So, I don’t really trust what they’re telling me. They also mentioned a bad oxygen sensor. I’m wondering whether I should just replace it myself. Any suggestions?
Answer: Thanks for writing in, Tomas. Here’s what I would do: if you’re experiencing a rough idle, there is bound to be a fault code stored in your PCM’s computer. Get an OBD-II scanner, and pull that code. There are plenty of websites you can use to cross-reference the code with the problem that triggered it. If the code matches an oxygen sensor, have it replaced. Whether or not you should do the job yourself will depend on your experience working on your vehicle.
That’s it for this installment of the Auto Specialist. I’d like to thank Steve, Margaret, and Tomas for giving us a chance to help solve their automotive problems. Next time, I’ll have a new batch of questions ready to answer. Until then, drive safely.