• Q. Recently I’ve been thinking of piece-mealing a car (aka creating a Frankenstein car) from the best parts of all the cars I can identify, the goal being that the car would be the most reliable, lowest-maintenance, most fun to drive vehicle ever to grace the surface of this planet. I do realize that such an endeavor would entail a great deal of fabrication and modification of components, but hopefully these matters will be overcome by my optimism and determination. I’ve been Googling to find the best components, and so far I’ve decided that the engine of this beast will be the Volvo B18/20, which apparently powered some of the world’s highest-mileage cars. So, do you have any other advice for me, as far as components or anything else? •
TOM: Well, I’d suggest that you go back and watch “Frankenstein” again and take note of what happens to the “vehicle” in the end.
RAY: It certainly sounds like a fun project. And you’re obviously unencumbered by such hindrances as family or employment. So I take it you need something to keep you busy. This will fill up your schedule. TOM: But keep in mind that there’s a 99 percent chance that if you do produce a vehicle in the end, it’s going to be unsafe, unreliable, unpredictable and undriveable.
RAY: Manufacturers spend a lot of time and effort matching their components so they all work well together — so that the weight balances and the car handles well, so that it has the right amount of power and braking ability, and the engine works well with the transmission, and so that the computer software ties everything together, including the safety equipment.
TOM: You’re just going to throw a bunch of parts together and hope for the best. The result is likely to be a mess, even if all of the individual pieces are good ones.
RAY: But I know you’re going to do this anyway. We’ve been answering car questions long enough to recognize that no matter what we say, you’re going to be out hunting for an engine this weekend.
TOM: In which case we’d recommend a late-1990s or later Honda Civic engine. The old Volvo “DL” engines certainly were great and durable, but the Civic engine is less expensive to fix, more reliable, more fuel-efficient, cleaner and easier to get parts for.
RAY: In fact, I’d use the engine AND transmission from a Civic. Not only will you have a reliable drive train that way, but you know they’ll work well together, and you’ll be able to use the computerized engine-management system with little modification.
TOM: Actually, while you’re at it, you might just want to buy a whole Honda Civic and be done with this crazy idea. We know it’s already full of great components. And then you could concentrate on modifying the body panels and interior. That way, you might end up with something you could actually drive.
RAY: I know, I know. That’s not enough of an adventure for you. And to be fair to you, projects like this sometimes are the venues in which genius is unleashed.
TOM: Or the venues in which people get killed. Those activities often are closely related. So whatever you decide, please be careful. And send us pictures of your monster — before the fire consumes it.
• Q. After 25 years of faithfully patronizing my highly competent mechanics, I fear that they are getting nervous about their approaching retirement. I have always trusted them, and they have always done a great job for me. This week, when my vehicle was in for its annual state inspection, they called to say that it had passed, but they recommended a few “services.” When they got to suggesting that they wanted to “flush out the brake lines and replace the brake fluid,” it took all my strength to resist going ballistic. They mentioned the tendency of brake fluid to absorb water and said that ABS systems are particularly sensitive to it. I was devastated. I thought that after 25 years, they had more respect for my automotive IQ. I have never flushed out and replaced my brake fluid, nor had anybody ever made such a preposterous suggestion. I considered it to be like suggesting that they replace the air in my tires! Being an open-minded guy, however, I wanted to get an expert opinion. Are they just stretching to pad their retirement funds, or should I take their preposterous suggestion seriously? •
RAY: I wish I had 100 customers like you. I’ve got 200 now.
TOM: Your mechanic is absolutely right. You don’t say what kind of car you have, but most manufacturers now recommend flushing and replacing the brake fluid at regular intervals — often every two years or 30,000 miles.
RAY: Brake fluid absorbs any moisture that gets into the brake system, and it holds that moisture in suspension. But eventually the brake fluid gets to a point where it can’t hold any more moisture. And then you’re in danger of rusting your brake components from the inside, or having brake fluid that’s susceptible to boiling under hard braking conditions.
TOM: And as your wise, honest and trustworthy mechanic told you, anti-lock braking system modules are particularly susceptible to moisture. They’re also very expensive to replace.
RAY: So call your mechanic. Apologize profusely for accusing him of trying to rip you off — even if you only muttered it under your breath — and thank him for letting you know that you are overdue for a brake-line flush. Then bring him some fresh, high-quality baked goods when you pick up your car, and we’ll consider the matter forgotten.
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