ASK AL
Turbo is probably ready to go

Saturday, July 17, 1999

BY ALAN VONDERHAAR
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dear Al:

I have a 1985 Volvo 740 Turbo. It normally runs perfectly, but on two occasions it has acted up. I'd be driving along just fine and then the engine would sputter and black smoke would come out the exhaust pipe. It would still run, but there was no power.

I'd turn it off and leave it sit, and then it was fine. My mechanic could find nothing. Any ideas?

- Ralph S.
Cincinnati

Dear Ralph:

I love these cases where the mechanic could find nothing.

Just call me Sherlock - I think you're on the verge of turbo failure. For some reason - perhaps a lubrication blockage - the shaft that connects the input and output sides of the turbo vanes is seizing when it gets hot.

When that happens, not only are you not getting turbo boost (the output side), you have an obstructed exhaust system (the input side).

You didn't say how many miles are on the clock, but it's probably more than 100,000 - in turbo years, that spells end of the line.

Dear Al:

My wife and I recently had the unsettling experience of a low-speed collision. The car in front of us stopped just before entering an intersection on a green light to allow some oncoming car to turn left in front of her. We could not brake in time, since we expected that, on moving, she would keep moving, and we nosedived into and under her rear bumper.

Needless to say, our 1994 Caddy DeVille was severely damaged: radiator, grille, both headlights, hood, etc, although it did not appear that the engine was moved.

Of course the air bags went off, which took out the windshield and slightly damaged the instrument panel surfaces. The insurance company totaled out the car, since the air bag, windshield and instrument panel alone would be over $6,000 and the rest of the front end would be about $6,000, with an estimated $2,000 which was not apparent but would show up once repairs were started.

What do you think about $6,000 to replace air bags? I think GM/ Cadillac is ripping off customers. I am retired. My wife and I like to travel by car, both around town and around the country. We put about 10K on our two cars per year. What do you suggest we buy as our road car?

- Rudy S.
via the Internet

Dear Rudy:

Theoretically, air bags don't deploy unless the impact is about 25 mph or greater. If such was the case, don't count the cost, but rather, be thankful you're alive and that your insurance company didn't try to make you accept a patch job from some back-alley joint.

If you think your car was fragile, you should see what happens to human beings when they are involved in what sounds like a low-speed wreck.

Air bags per se can go about $1,000 apiece to replace - in your case there were a lot of other factors, including considerable labor.

The "submarining" issue is a hot one right now, especially as concerns sport-utility vs. car confrontations, and I bet we see government regulations aimed at uniform bumper heights - that'll drive designers crazy.

As for a replacement vehicle, since you seem to favor large cars, I'd suggest checking out a Mercury Grand Marquis. It remains one of my favorites - it stands out as an exceptional value, and with your low mileage, it could be your last car.

Alan Vonderhaar welcomes email at avonderhaar@enquirer.com and snail mail c/o The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202.