QDear Tom and Ray:

I found an AMC Gremlin for sale in Seattle, where I used to live, for $300. Going on the pictures and the owner's word, it has very little rust, runs well, needs interior work and needs a brake job and a rear wheel bearing. I want to buy it because it is cheap and cool, but my dad, who does the repairs in our house, says the Gremlin was a piece of crap. Was it? Would it make it from Seattle to Indiana? Any advice? -- Emily

ARAY: Well, if you live long enough, you hear just about everything, Emily. The Gremlin is cool. Go figure.

TOM: Actually, I don't agree with your dad. It's easy to criticize this car now, because just about any car from the early '70s would look bad next to today's cars. They had no fuel injection, no independent suspension, no air bags, no anti-lock brakes, no nothing! But compared with the other cars of its era, the Gremlin wasn't bad.

RAY: I agree. I remember doing a fair amount of front-end work on Gremlins, but that wasn't unusual back then. The six-cylinder engine and automatic transmission were both pretty bulletproof. We know, because Gremlin owners often tried to shoot them.

TOM: So if you're looking at cars from that era, I think you'll do okay with the Gremlin. However, don't take our word for it -- or the word of the owner. Get it checked out independently.

RAY: Here's how you do it. Go to our Web site (www.cartalk.com) and look for the "Mechan-X-Files." That's a database of mechanics personally recommended by our Web site's visitors. Look for someone in the Seattle area who knows his way around older cars.

TOM: Be prepared to pay $50 to $100 to have it thoroughly checked out.

RAY: Have the seller drop it off for an afternoon, and then call the mechanic for a full report. After a complete exam, he'll be able to tell you whether the frame is rusted out, the transmission is operating on sawdust or the engine last saw compression during the Carter administration.

TOM: Even if the mechanic finds nothing else wrong, though, you'd still have to do the brake job and the wheel bearing before driving it to Indiana.

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1991 Ford Escort with a 1.9-liter engine. I have oil accumulating in the air cleaner, then draining out on the driveway. It appears that the oil is coming from the top of the valve-cover vent tube into the air box. I have changed the PCV valve with no success. It seems to only do it after driving at highway speeds for any distance. I also pulled the valve cover to replace the gasket and cleaned out the valve cover with a solvent. I even went to the extent of rerouting the valve-cover-to-air-box line "uphill" from the air box to try to eliminate the problem. The vehicle has 98,000 miles on it and runs fine; no other symptoms. Any ideas for me? -- Arthur

RAY: Ideas for you? Yeah. Start looking for a new car. Or at least a rebuilt engine.

TOM: You've got a severe case of blowby. Blowby occurs when your piston rings get old and worn out. What happens is that combustion gases from the cylinders slip by the worn-out rings and end up down in the crankcase, where they don't belong.

RAY: The PCV (positive crankcase ventilation) system can take care of a certain amount of that excess combustion gas. But at some point, all that heat and pressure overwhelm the system, and the gases start pushing oil out of the engine. And the path of least resistance for the oil is through the breather hose to the air cleaner.

TOM: There are some "additive" products on the market that claim to help heal worn-out or sticky rings. You've got nothing to lose by trying them now.

RAY: We've had some success loosening sticky rings with a product called Restore.

TOM: Arthur, if the car is otherwise in good shape, you can look for a junkyard or rebuilt engine. But since it's a '91 Escort with 98,000 miles on it, I don't think anybody would think less of you if you took this as your signal to dump this car and go for an upgrade. Good luck.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com.

(c)2004 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman