Q. Dear Tom and Ray:
Help! Help! I need more power! I currently have a '93 Ford Explorer with the 4.0-liter V-6 engine. It has less than 55,000 miles on it and runs great but lacks power, especially for climbing hills. Should I just live with it? Should I install a free-flow exhaust? Or should I go for the big guns and put in a new computer chip and a supercharger and really get my hair flying?
A. RAY: My brother asked me the same question about his late, '63 Dodge Dart. He wanted to know how he could get his hair flying. I suggested he stick his tongue in a spark-plug wire.
TOM: It worked! I've had an awesome perm ever since.
RAY: I'd strongly recommend you live with it, Christie. There's only so much power you can wring out of an engine that isn't designed for high performance. And if you really squeeze it hard and run it hot with a supercharger, a free-flow exhaust system or a computer chip that changes the basic engine parameters, you're going to eventually cook the engine and ruin it.
TOM: On the other hand, maybe that's the approach you should take. Put in the chip, the supercharger and the exhaust system and drive it around until you burn your valves and crystallize your oil. Then you'll need a new engine, and you can make it a V-8.
Dear Tom and Ray:
My local friendly discount auto parts store has been sending out fliers saying that they have R-134a air-conditioning retrofit kits. The flier says it includes "all fittings and the full amount of R-134a oil and refrigerant needed to retrofit all cars 1976 and newer" for only $39.95. I'm no expert, but everything I've heard and read says that you need to have a completely new air-conditioning system installed--one that was designed to handle 134a--in order to make a conversion. And that usually costs several hundred dollars. My wife thinks that for 40 bucks we might as well give this retrofit kit a try. I told her we might as well just throw our money out the window. What do you guys say?
RAY: I'd tell her you'll try it, Bob. Then take the 40 bucks and go buy yourself six cases of Mountain Dew with the money and tell her it didn't work.
TOM: There are two problems with this kit. First of all, although R-134a is believed to be more environmentally friendly than Freon, it's also less efficient. So when you switch to 134a, you also need a bigger evaporator and a more powerful compressor--in addition to the fittings, oil and refrigerant.
RAY: If you just put the 134a in your current system using this kit, it'll work, but it won't cool very well.
TOM: But the second and more important reason for not using this kit is because it's immoral, if not illegal. Federal law requires that you dispose of your existing Freon properly. (Service stations have to buy very expensive machines to collect and store the stuff for later pickup.)
RAY: And if you buy this kit, how are you going to dispose of the Freon that's in your current AC system? You're just going to just dump it out, right? And that's illegal. So in my opinion, this kit shouldn't even be available for sale to individuals.
TOM: And that's why we recommended the Mountain Dew. Not only is it more environmentally friendly than releasing Freon into the atmosphere, but it'll also do more to keep you cool this summer than this bogus retrofit kit.
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(C) 1999 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman