Dear Tom and Ray:

My grandfather drives a 1982 Ford LTD that has about 24,000 miles on it. For the past few months, the carburetor has been acting up. The mechanic says it should be replaced, at a cost of $950-$2,000 (depending on whether a remanufactured or new part is used). He said this is a special type of carburetor that is next to impossible to rebuild, and then he sort of cackled. Who ever heard of a carburetor that has to be thrown away instead of repaired? Especially on a mid-priced car! - JulieRAY: Well, Julie, we have bad news for you. This car was built at a time when Ford was trying to make a fuel-injected engine but didn't quite know how. What they ended up with was hybrid; a cross between fuel-injection and carburetion called the Variable Venturi Carburetor.

TOM: These things had so many adjustments that there were only three guys in the whole country who knew how to rebuild them. Two of them are now living in rooms with padded walls, and the third made so much money that he retired to Hawaii at the age of 28.

RAY: So the first thing you should do is get a second opinion. If the carburetor really is failing, you'll have to replace it. A new one, including labor (from a mechanic who doesn't have a boat payment due), should cost you about $1,400. And since the car has only 24,000 miles on it, our advice would be to bite the bullet and fix it.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1988 Honda Accord LXi with about 35,000 miles on it. The problem is with the steering wheel. Every time I turn on the air conditioning, the steering wheel starts shaking. The shaking only occurs when I am stopped. What can I do about this? - Bina

RAY: Well, Bina, the symptom may be in the steering wheel, but the problem is more likely in the engine. If the engine were shaking, you'd feel it in the wheel because that's where your hands are.

TOM: There are several possible explanations for the shaking engine. It could be something as simple as a bad spark plug, a bad plug wire or too low an idle speed. Or it could just need a tuneup.

RAY: Any of these things would make the engine shaky at idle. And using the air conditioner would always make the shaking worse, since the air conditioner imposes a heavy load on the engine.

TOM: Another possibility is that the "idle speed control" isn't working properly. The car's computer is supposed to make the engine idle faster automatically whenever you use the air conditioner, headlights, power steering, etc. That compensates for the power drain imposed by these accessories and keeps the car from shaking.

RAY: If none of the things we suggest stops the shaking, Bina, you can always try cutting down on your coffee consumption. Whenever I drink my wife's famous Mississippi River Bottom Espresso, my hands shake on the steering wheel too!

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