I own a -speed Toyota Tercel with miles I took...

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 1994

Dear Tom and Ray:

I own a 5-speed 1982 Toyota Tercel with 95,000 miles. I took it in for inspection last fall and it failed. The mechanic said the two "A frames" to the rear wheels had rusted out. He also told me Toyota had a recall on this, and to check with my dealer. The dealer replaced not only the A frames for free, but also the rear shocks, which he said had been damaged. So what's the problem, you may ask? Well, driving this winter has been hellish. Under any kind of mildly slippery conditions, the car is difficult to control. I've put over a hundred pounds of kitty litter in the trunk and this helps a little. But it's much worse than in previous years. My mechanic son said "it feels like the front goes in the direction you want but the rear end has a direction of its own." What could explain this?

RAY: The front goes in the direction you want, but the rear end has a direction of its own? Hmmm. Sounds like my Uncle Silvio.

TOM: I think I know what's wrong with it, Joe. You're like me, Joe. You're a real cheapskate, aren't you? How do I know? Well, for starters, you're driving an '82 Tercel with 95,000 miles on it. My guess is that since you're a cheapskate, those rear shocks had never been changed, so they were really worn out. And I'm also going to guess that you over-inflate your tires to get better gas mileage and save a few pennies on gas. Am I right?

RAY: And that's the problem. The combination of over-inflated tires and new, stiffer shocks is responsible for the poorer handling. The tires didn't cause a problem before because the shocks were so soft. But now that you have good shocks on there, the over-inflated tires are making the rear end bounce around.

TOM: It's possible that the dealership made some sort of mechanical mistake when installing the A frames or the shocks, but that's unlikely. First of all, it's a pretty simple job. Secondly, there IS a recall on these, so they've probably done a jillion of them.

RAY: It's also possible that the rear wheels are out of alignment due to a previous accident, and that the new hardware has exacerbated the problem. But I assume they would have checked for that.

TOM: I think it's the tire pressure, Joe. I'll bet restoring it to the recommended specifications will improve the bad weather handling significantly. But I'd leave the kitty litter in there anyway. The extra weight can't hurt, and besides, I'm sure the neighborhood cats love it.

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