Q. Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 1986 Buick Century with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and 130,000 miles. On occasion, when I attempt to accelerate on the open road when in fourth gear (overdrive), it won't go above 50 mph. If I stomp on the gas, the car seems to shift briefly into second gear, then third and then will pass 50, eventually shifting back to fourth. Even normal acceleration in this car is sluggish. Any suggestions?

-- Bob

A. RAY: Well, cutting off the back half of the car may improve your acceleration, Bob.

TOM: My guess is that your engine is worn out. This was not a great engine to begin with. (It is essentially the same engine General Motors has been using since the 1960s.) And with 130,000 miles on it, this thing probably has barely enough compression to get out of its own way. And certainly not enough to accelerate in fourth gear.

RAY: So if you can stomach some bad news, you should go ahead and get a compression test. But be prepared for the worst, Bob. Your choices will probably be a replacement engine from a junkyard (oops, I mean an automotive recycling center) or a complete engine rebuild. Neither of which is cheap.

TOM: Of course, that, in turn, will raise some deep philosophical questions, such as "Should I spend a thousand bucks on this heap?"

Dear Tom and Ray:

I drive a '93 Honda Accord EX. I've owned the car since it was new and have had virtually no mechanical problems. But recently the car started doing something I can't figure out. Periodically, the ABS light will come on while I'm driving and the radio will cut out. This will last for less than a second, after which the ABS light will go out and the radio will come back on. There's never any problem with braking. Sometimes it does this several times an hour. Other times it never does it at all. What's going on?

-- Vic

RAY: I have no idea, Vic. And to make matters worse, I'm going to send you to your dealer.

TOM: And it's something you really do want to get fixed. When that ABS light is on, your anti-lock braking system (ABS) is not working. Your brakes may work, because there's a fail-safe mode that allows them to keep going when the ABS fails, but if you needed your anti-lock system you wouldn't have it.

RAY: And if a UPS truck happens to pull out of a driveway just as your ABS light is on, you may quickly find yourself strewn among the Amazon.com and Bloomingdales deliveries.

TOM: I doubt it's something as simple as a fuse problem, since the ABS and radio use different fuses on this car. If I had to guess, I'd say it's more likely to be a bad ground somewhere.

RAY: Your dealer can start by shaking the wires underneath the dashboard to see if he can get the problem to recur. But if he doesn't find it that way, he's going to have to do some more serious investigative work. And the dealer is definitely the place to go. This is one of those problems that's so unusual that the dealer is the only person who may have seen it before and may be able to figure it out without lots of exploratory work.

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(C) 1999 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman