Thursday, June 23, 2005, 11 a.m. ET

Goss's Garage

Pat Goss
Automotive repair expert
Thursday, June 23, 2005; 11:00 AM

Pat Goss has worked on cars for more than 40 years. He owns a car repair company that bears his name, has authored numerous books on auto maintenance, and makes weekly appearances on Motorweek, a PBS television program.

He visits right here once a month to answer questions about fixing your car.

The transcript follows below.

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Trenton, N.J.: Thanks for all the help Pat as usual.

1988 Ford Mustang 5.0. Bought the car in 1991, had the A/C recharged with R-12 in 1996, the shop upgraded the O-rings at the hose fittings based on a TSB, etc. Car has been used occasionally for the last 5 years. I'd like to get the A/C recharged/repaired. Is it worth doing a 134A conversion, or is there any other newer technology out there for doing a conversion? Or should I just leave it be and recharge with R-12?

2nd question, same car. Has about 107K on it, Mobile 1 since 33K, car is down on power and pings a lot. I used to use 93 octane before I started listening to the radio show, now I know better (manual says to use 87). I am assuming there is a good amount of carbon build-up, what is the best service to have done to clean up the intake, pistons, etc.?

Thanks again.

Pat Goss: There are several "Drop-In" replacement refrigerants that are now approved by EPA. The problem with these products are that there is such a small demand for AC refrigerant on older cars most shops are not investing in the equipment necessary to dispense these products. Consequently (especially on Fords) due to the extreme cost to convert to R-134A (that is if it is done properly)it is usually more beneficial to reinstall the R-12.

For the carbon problem I would recommend a BG carbon depletion service.

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Hyattsville, Md.: I have a 1998 Lincoln Town Car with about 49K plus miles. When driving, I hear what sounds like a loose screw whistling -- sometimes squealing. I have taken it to the dealer and each time the noise disappears and the mechanic does not hear the noise that I hear. My grandson (who is a mechanic now in Iraq) and son each believe that I just need a lube job. Lately, the noise appears to have dissipated, only to return for a couple of days at most. Any light you can shed on this will be greatly appreciated.

Pat Goss: Actually I would need more information to give an opinion. Does the noise occur when the car is cold? Hot? Both? Is the noise rhythmic? Does the noise change with the speed of the car? Does the noise change with the speed of the engine? Etc.

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Feagaville, Md.: I have a 1996 Accord. Periodically the ABS warning light will come on and make a clicking sound when it does.

What are some possible causes/solutions?

Thank you, Patrick.

Pat Goss: There are a lot of possible causes, but begin by flushing the brake fluid. Frequently ABS warning lights are caused by contaminated brake fluid.

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Arlington, Va.: Pat ... Thanks for taking my question! I have a '99 Ford Explorer 4WD, and the warranty is due to expire in about a month. I have had no major mechanical problems with this car, and I would like to keep it for at least a few more years. What can I do to maximize the amount of time I can get out of this car? Are special motor oils essential? What about the services my mechanic advertises (transmission service, radiator flush, fuel injector service, etc.)?

Pat Goss: Your vehicle is now 6, almost 7 years old, and it would appear that you haven't done the most basic services to extend the life of a vehicle transmission flush ,radiator flush, fuel injector service, power steering flush,...

If this is indeed true it does not bode well for the future. I suggest you go to www.goss-garage.com and obtain a copy of the recommended maintenance guide. Get the vehicle checked thoroughly and then step up your maintenance to something that makes sense. This is especially critical if you have the 4.0L 6-cylinder single overhead cam engine (SOHC). Good Luck

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Pat, big fan of yours.

My 2001 Jetta (only 37K miles) experienced an unexpected failure on the interstate on Sunday. I was unable to drive the car out of first gear, and the check engine, anti-slip reduction, and electronic control system lights turned on. I figured an electronic problem was the cause, and the VW shop confirmed my suspicion, as they said it was a weak battery. Should I be surprised that a battery just flake out on a moment's notice, with a lightly driven four-year old car? Thanks for your comment.

Pat Goss: Bad battery on a '01 not surprising at all. Average life a battery (original equipment is between 3-4 years, forget miles). So your car is almost 5 years which would make it a prime candidate for a bad battery.

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Washington, D.C.: Pat, based on your recommendation I have been using BG Products to maintain my cars. Now, the big question: Mercedes vs. BMW. Last night I rode in a 1997 Mercedes with 73,000 that rode like it was new. How does a BMW match up assuming similar maintenance schedules. I ask because I'm in the market for a used Mercedes or a BMW.

Pat Goss: It's been my experience that both cars will be very similar in reliability. However, the majority of the BMW's, that I drive here in the shop, lose more of the bank-vault feeling as they age. In other words, we find more squeaks and rattles and annoyances in the BMW's. That may be a result of the average BMW driver being much more into driving and being more aggressive but that's only a guess.

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Baltimore, Maryland: Hi Pat:

I would like to know your opinion on the use of off the shelf fuel injection cleaners. Is anything you can buy over the counter worth the effort or should you just have the injection system serviced by professionals. If the service by professionals is your response ... how often and what price is good?

Thanks!

Pat Goss: Some form of fuel injector cleaner should be used on a regular basis. My choice is BG 44k. The over the counter products typically will have to be used more frequently to get the same level of cleaning, which may push the cost higher. Even so the vehicle will still need a professional fuel injection cleaning to help maintain portions of the system not touched by the cleaner used in the tank. The frequency of the professional cleaning will vary from make of vehicle to another but will usually be beneficial at 24-50,000 miles. Expect a cost of $90-150.

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Washington, D.C.: What is a pcv valve and how will replacing it improve (or change) a car's performance?

Pat Goss: A pcv valve controls the flow of harmful gases out of the engine's crankcase. Replacing it probably will have little of no effect on the cars performance. But has everything to do with the life expectancy of the engine. Fail to replace the pcv valve and service the pcv system, which will eventually cause it to clog and in little has 8 weeks, your engine could be history.

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Washington, D.C.: There is rust at the bottom of the interior side of the car door and a discoloration of a rust color has formed under the clear coat on the exterior side which is perfectly smooth with no "bubbles" or other surface deformation. Is it advisable to apply naval jelly on the interior side of the door, paint it and then paint the exterior side of the door? If not, what do you recommend? Thanks.

Pat Goss: I think you should do something considerably more dramatic than naval jelly. That would be similar to putting a band-aid on your leg to cure a blood clot inside your leg. The problem is coming from inside the door and that's where your efforts need to be concentrated. Get professional help.

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Arlington, Va. (again): Thanks for the tips! I've been getting all the regularly scheduled maintenance done, but my most recent mechanic has been trying to sell me more services more often. I'm not horribly car-savvy, so figuring out when I'm being taken for a ride is the new challenge. But may I ask why the 4.0 DOHC engine is extra crucial? Thank you!

Pat Goss: My maintenance recommendation sheet will give you recommendations for longest vehicle life. Manufacturers recommended maintenance is usually based on an expected life of 100,000 miles. My recommendations are based on an expected life of 250,000 miles. Why worry about the 4.0L SOHC, it's a dog, that's why. Be extremely, extremely good about oil changes. The engine has severe problems with components related to the rear timing chain.

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Leesburg, Va.: Pat -- I have a black 2004 Honda Accord coupe. I used a sponge to try and get dead bugs off the front end and it left small swirl marks all over. I tried buffing it out with polish and paint cleaner which made a bit of a difference, but it is still noticeable. Any suggestions to try before I take it to a body shop??

Pat Goss: First, you never use a sponge on a painted surface of any vehicle for any reason. Second to get dead bugs off, you soak them with bug and tar remover, and then wash using a wash mitt not a sponge. The reason for not using a sponge on a car is the little cells on the sponge are closed at the top. They pick up small pieces of dirt and as you move the sponge across the paint the small pieces act like sandpaper. I think what you need is not a body shop but a very good detail shop. The one that I use for my black Mercedes is Detail Authority www.waxmycar.com speak to Randy Coffee. If anybody in the world can give you advice, he can.

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Cleveland, Ohio: I have a 2003 Grand Am with 44K miles. After I have been driving for about 10-15 minutes, I start hearing a squealing side from the left side of the car. Can't tell whether it is in front or back but it gets louder when I make left turns. What could this be and what kind of repair is involved?

Pat Goss: When it starts making the noise, notice if the noise goes away when you apply the brakes. If it does, you need new brakes.

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Herndon, Va.: Do you miss working on the non-computerized carburated muscle cars from the 60s and 70s? Do you ever watch any of those vehicle restoration shows on cable like "Pimp My Ride" and/or "Overhaulin?"

Pat Goss: Not in the least. No challenge there. I love the new computerized cars, I love the challenge, I love the power. Do I watch some of those shows? eh, once in a while. Not much to do with reality there, it's neat television. But keep in mind I was in the customization/restoration for over 20 years, and have built many hundreds of cars long before those shows were even thought of. Thanks for asking.

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Arlington, Va.: I have a 1993 Honda Accord SE with only 70,000 miles. The car works fine, but the radio antenna no longer retracts into the left rear fender. The dealer estimated a replacement part at $200 and labor at an additional $300. That sounds awfully expensive to repair a radio antenna. How does that sound to you? Whatever happened to jamming an old wire clothes hanger in there?

Pat Goss: That doesn't sound awfully expensive to me, nope, not at all. That sounds outrageous beyond anything reasonable and rational. Unless there is something peculiar to a 93 Honda Accord, the average labor to replace a rear antenna is $75-100.

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: Hi Pat! I have a '94 Infiniti J30 and recently the gas gauge has occasionally taken a dive straight to empty although the tank is 1/4 to 1/2 full. I also just used BG44k at your suggestion and wonder if that could have had any effect? Thank you.

Pat Goss: No BG 44k should have no effect on it. But have been seeing some interesting bulletins regarding fuel gauges and sulfur in gasoline. Some gasolines either have more sulfur or some different sulfur compound than others, which leads to intermittent erratic fuel gauge readings as the sulfur builds up on the resistor inside the fuel tank. The bulletins suggest trying 2-3 tanks of a different gasoline before condemning the tank unit.

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Annandale, Va.: Just bought an '05 Ford, which has a factory 3 yr/36K mile warranty. Dealer is offering -- for $1700 -- an additional 3 year/36k mile extended warranty. Exclusions from coverage are things that would wear out normally over time, like CV joints, mufflers, struts/shocks, brakes, etc. Now, they say that if I don't make a claim under the policy by the end of the 6th year of ownership, I get the $1700 back, so it's a no-loose proposition. Your thoughts?

Pat Goss: Maybe, maybe not. This sounds oh so much like an aftermarket warranty rather than a Ford Motor Company extended warranty. If it isn't Ford and if the company is still in business 6 years down the road, and if they have the money in reserve for refunds, it would be a great deal. But then there's that possibility that you could join the ranks of nearly 10 million other vehicle owners whose aftermarket extended warranties aren't worth the paper they're written on.

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Arlington, Va.: 2001 Camry Solara (4cyl, 5spd manual). My car did not come with ABS. Is it finanically viable/mechanically possible to have an aftermarket ABS system installed?

Same question but with regards to a sunroof? Can it be done inexpensively and are there any latent effects I should be aware of (leaking, rusting, etc?) Thanks, great help you are to your public.

Pat Goss: There is no such thing as an aftermarket ABS system. Factory ABS could be installed, expect $12-14,000 in parts and labor.

Sunroof totally different situation. Do a little shopping, $800-1500, often with a lifetime warranty, and frequently less problems than factory units.

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Springfield, Va.: Hi Pat,

Generally speaking, people love their cars but hate having to get them serviced. Part of the problem is the auto buying experience in the first place, but that is another story. How come nobody has ever come up with auto maintenance insurance. It would be similiar to your health insurance where you would have an established co-pay of something like $100 and that would cover anything you brought the car in for, from an oil change to a brake overhaul. I think most people would rather pay a set fee as opposed to taking their car in for a $29 oil change only to have it cost $300 when all is said and done.

Pat Goss: They're everywhere. They're pervasive in that new car buying experience. Give me $2000 and I'll take care of your oil changes and various other things for X amount of time. They are never financially advantageous, but I suppose it does take some of the aggravation out of the experience. Seems to me that it makes more sense to hook-up with a repair shop you can trust, which is about 99.9% of them.

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Chantilly, Va.: Pat,

What's this I hear about ceramic brake pads? Are they better than semi-metallic ? How do they work with stock rotors, or do you have to replace the rotors as well ?

Pat Goss: Ceramic brake pads in some cases wear better, and produce less noise. Neither is there real claim to fame. Ceramic brake pads make as much brake dust as semi-metallic brake pads, but the dust is light colored so you don't see it on your wheels. No reason to replace your rotors or anything other than to replace the brake pads.

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Staunton, Va.: Hi Pat. Could you settle a question that has been going around for years? Of course places like Jiffy Lube want you to change oil every 3000 miles but my manual indicates every 5000. I do every 4000 miles but would I be better off waiting till 5000. I drive about 60% highway and 40% in town. Which is correct? I could see 3000 if I drove 100% in town and on dusty roads.

Thanks.

Pat Goss: I think you're exactly on the mark. For most vehicles, exclusive highway driving, 5,000 miles is a good number. Exclusive severe driving which includes beltway driving (beltway is not the same as highway driving) than 3,000 miles is absolutely the way to go. Also keep in mind it is never better to go longer, if there is any question of your driving always go with the severe driving schedule for your car.

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Leonardtown, Md.: How do you cure a foggy rear window on a convertible top? I just got a new top and the rear window is already beginning to fog.

Pat Goss: Shouldn't be happening, because you just go a new top, take it back.

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Rockville, Maryland: I own a 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse. I use Mobile One oil, and my mechanic recommends changing it every 5000 miles (I do mostly highway driving).

Do you concur? If not, how often should I change it ?

Pat Goss: I use Mobil 1 in my cars, do almost exclusive highway driving and change it every 5,000 miles.

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Washington, D.C.: What is your opinion of vacuum-pump oil change equipment? I just purchased a car that has the oil filter on top, so I find the vacuum pumps intriguing because they would eliminate the need to use ramps or to crawl under the car.

Pat Goss: Most vacuum pump oil change units for automobiles are iffy at best. Where these systems really shine is on marine engines because the dipstick tube in a marine engine either goes all the way to the bottom of the oil pan or is attached to the bottom of the oil pan on the outside of the engine. In that application there is no question about the pickup tube reaching the very bottom of the oil pan. This is not the case with passenger car engine. If you can figure a way to be absolutely sure you are pulling oil from the bottom of the pan it should be fine. However, it probably won't help your top mounted oil filter because it should have an anti-drain back valve that's activated when the filter is on the engine. The minute you remove the filter oil runs everywhere.

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Springfield, Va.: I have a 2004 Acura TL and the car's computer calls for servicing when it decides it's time based on some sort of combination of factors. This has been a topic of some debate on the TL owners' forum online -- some folks say to follow what the computer wants, others say to ignore it and follow a strict mileage-based regimen. (FWIW, it's been calling for servicing about every 4200 miles or so for me, which I think is fine.) Which course of action do you recommend?

Pat Goss: Some place along the line people have decided that theses systems monitor the condition of the oil, they do not. Systems look at number of engine revolutions, temperature, and a number of other factors. None of which absolutely say anything about oil condition. If you want to prove this it is oh so simple. Change the oil without resetting the monitoring system, if the system does indeed no something about oil quality it will very quickly figure out the oil in the engine is new. But guess what, that ain't gonna happen, it's going to go right on telling you it's time for an oil change.

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Fairfax, Va.: I have a 1988 RX-7 convertible that runs great but has a problem with the driver's door lock -- sometimes the key simply refuses to turn when I put it in the lock, other times it works fine. My short-term workaround has been to open the passenger's door, then reach across to unlock the other door. Obviously, this is a stopgap of sorts. Do you have any suggestions on fixing a door lock?

Pat Goss: Buy a can of lock-ease graphite lock lubricant. Follow the directions on the can, your problem should be gone.

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Woodbridge, Va.: I have a 1996 Lincoln Town Car where the airbag light on the dashboard comes on shortly after starting the car. Shortly after that I hear 5 beeps coming from the passenger side of the car. Do you have any idea what might be causing this to happen? I have replaced both the alternator, and the battery.

Thanks, Steve.

Pat Goss: Whenever that light is on, your airbag system is disabled. I'd get it checked by a professional and I'd do it quickly.

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Baltimore, Md.: My 1996 Chevy Lumina hit 100K miles on the way to work today! Anyway I have been doing the recommended maintenance but wonder now that I have hit 100,000 is their anything else I should be wary of or add to my schedule of car upkeep?

Pat Goss: Not really, services just continue as they always have. The intervals don't change, the products don't change, actually there's nothing magical about 100,000 miles.

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Laurel, Md.: Hi, Pat. I have a 1997 Ford Taurus (V6 DOHC) and sometimes as I am slowing to a stop, the engine seems to want to push forward. This doesn't happen all the time, just sporadically. Is this a fuel injection problem? Would a fuel injection cleaning product help?

Pat Goss: Check for gum and varnish buildup in the throttle body and the idle air control. They probably both need cleaning.

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Vienna, Va.: I have a '96 8cyl. Ford Explorer. At low speeds on hills, or when backing my trailer up an incline, my "overdrive" light sometimes flashes. What's the explanation? Is my transmission overheating or something?

Pat Goss: Get it to a good transmission shop. Do it quickly, do not ignore it. Be certain that one of the first tests they are going to perform on your transmission is a line pressure test. This will tell the technician whether the transmission is capable of sustaining sufficient hydraulic pressure to function properly. In the early stages, low line pressure can sometimes be corrected without replacing the transmission. Ignore it, and it guarantees the need for replacement.

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Newark, Del.: What is a BG carbon depletion? Where can I get one done and how do I know they are doing it correctly?

Pat Goss: It's a process that injects strong chemicals in to the engine to remove carbon from intake valves, pistons tops, ring lands, etc... To find someplace near you www.bgfindashop.com How do you know they're doing it correctly. Do your homework and select a quality shop.

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Pittsburgh, Penn.: Do you have any recommendations for economical cars (i.e., those that get high gas mileage).

Pat Goss: That's tough. There are so many cars that get good mileage these days. And there really aren't any bad cars anymore. One thing I can tell you, is I'm not a big fan of hybrids, yet. That may change as time goes on. But personally cars like Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have excellent reputation and deliver excellent fuel economy.

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D.C.: Fix vs. Replace

My Honda is ten years old, and it seems like each time I take it to the shop, it costs me another $1000.

Do you have a standard template or thought process you follow when deciding when to replace a car, rather than fix it?

Thanks.

Pat Goss: Yeah. You're doing it backwards. Before you spent the first $1000, you should have had the entire car checked, and I do mean entire. And by doing that you would have known up front that the next $1000 was far off. So it's a matter of overall general condition, when it's time to fix or replace.

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Arlington, Va.: We have a 1997 Nissan Pathfinder, 4WD, with about 50K miles on it. My husband has been changing the oil every 3000 miles, using Mobil 1 synthetic oil, because he thinks this will extend the vehicle's life. Is this worth the expense?

Pat Goss: Mobil 1 Synthetic will double, triple, quadruple, maybe even more the life of the engine. I'd step it up to 5,000 instead of 3,000. Is it worth the expense? It is to me. I don't use anything but Mobil 1 in my cars.

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Laurel, Md.: Hi Pat. Love your chats!

Took my 1998 Mazda Millenia to the mechanic because it was running hot (according to the thermostat) and my A/C was blowing out warm air. The mechanic charged me $60 for a diagnostic that reported my car has low flow to the radiator. He said I should replace the radiator, but I may also need to replace the water pump, and/or thermostat. I thought this sounded odd, so I told him I'd think about it a little while. Since I visited him, my car's thermostat is normal and my AC is working fine. Do you think I ever needed to replace those items? Thanks!

Pat Goss: A bad radiator is a bad radiator. A bad water pump is a bad water pump. They're not intermittent. Thermostat could be intermittent. So from your description the one possibility from the suggested items, is the thermostat.

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Arlington, Va.: My wife just recently got the Volvo XC90, and has had a lot of electric problems. Have you seen this with the Volvo brand, or could it just be our particular car?

Pat Goss: Owned one Volvo, replaced just about everything electrical on it. Love Volvo's, absolutely love them, when they belong to my customers. Doubt that I would buy one again.

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Derwood, Md.: I have started to notice a rumbling sound from the front of the car. When I last had my tires rotated, they commented that my tires seemed to be worn down the middle, even though the tire pressure was low or at spec. The car is a 1999 Mazda 626 with 110K on it. CV joints have not been touched, although there are surface cracks on the boots.

Pat Goss: Check for cupped tire tread wear. If the tread is smooth, check the axle bearings.

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Monterey, Calif.: Hi Pat! Glad to know you're accessible from afar ... I'm helping my Dad research and purchase a full size American car. Any suggestions? We're looking at used Cadillacs, new Buick Lacrosse. Nothing "head-turning" or flashy ... just good, safe, reliable daily driver under 25-30K. Any observations or suggestions? thanks ...

Pat Goss: Buick, Buick, Buick. Especially a Buick with a 3.8L engine. Be very wary of used Cadillacs, Northstar engines have problems.

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Annandale, Va.: (Follow-up on earlier extended warranty question) So you would recommend an extended service plan/warranty from the factory (in this case, Ford), over a private carrier who may not be in business in a few years? What's a reasonable tally for basic care with a $100 deductible?

Pat Goss: There is no basic price. The price for the extended warranty is base on the actuarials for the car being insured. In other words a DOHC engine would be cost more to insure more than push rod engine, a vehicle with 4 wheel drive would cost more than a vehicle with 2 wheel drive, etc., etc., etc...

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Pat Goss: Thank you every one. Have a safe happy holiday. See you next time. Pat

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