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Question: I have a 1983 Nissan 280ZX turbo with 147,000 miles. When I start the car up on cold mornings, there is a loud tapping noise for a few seconds, even though the engine idles smoothly. When I drive it, it sputters and lurches for a good 10 miles, with occasional backfires in the engine compartment. The sputtering seems to happen when I step on the gas pedal. I always use 91 octane, the compression is strong, the fuel injectors were cleaned, the gas/air ratio was tuned richer while I'm getting poorer trying to fix this problem. Please help! - Susan

RAY: Gee, Susan. I'm reminded of what the doctor says when he looks at my brother. "At your age," he says, "it could be almost anything!" And that's true of your car, too.

TOM: It's possible that tapping noise has nothing to do with the sputtering and lurching. The tapping could be coming from a stickyvalve or a bad lifter. And that may have little or nothing to do with the poor performance.

RAY: The drivability problem could be caused by something like a bad coolant temperature sensor, a bad air mass meter or even partially plugged-up fuel injectors. Any of those things could cause sputtering when the engine is cold.

TOM: I'd start with the sensors, Susan. They're easy to check. And if that's not the problem, I'd seriously consider marrying a Nissan mechanic. That'll save you some money. Or, if you're already married, consider taking one in as an au pair.

Question: Help! My extended warranty expires in 800 miles and I can't seem to convince the Toyota dealership that there is actually anything wrong with the transmission on my '90 Celica GT Liftback. Recently (in the past six months), I've noticed that when the engine is cold, the transmission does not shift into fourth gear. It'll rev way up between 40 and 45 mph, with the tachometer about halfway between 3,000 and 4,000. Then, all of a sudden, it will shift and the tach will jump back down under 2,000. Once the car warms up, the transmission shifts just fine.

I've been driving this car for six years, and it didn't do this for the first five and a half. The transmission has been serviced, and the fluid is at its proper level. The dealership says that until the engine is warm, the car isn't supposed to shift into fourth gear. I don't want to get stuck paying for a new transmission. So, whattaya think? - Nancy

RAY: I think they don't want to pay for a new transmission, either, Nancy. And that's why they put on the top hat and tails and gave you that lame song and dance.

TOM: But don't worry about the warranty running out. If you've complained about a problem during the warranty period, the dealer is not off the hook as soon as the warranty expires. Otherwise, they'd all just wait us out! "Sure, come back in 40,000 miles; I'm a little busy right now."

RAY: If you have a service order, dated during the warranty period, that asks them to check your transmission for this problem, the dealer is obligated to keep trying until he fixes it - under warranty.

TOM: And they may not have to buy you a whole new transmission, Nancy. A lot of electronically controlled Toyota automatic transmissions of that era use a electronic solenoid to shift the gears. And when that solenoid goes bad or starts sticking, the transmission can behave erratically. And that's relatively easy to fix.

RAY: I'm not sure that's your problem. But if you have one of those transmissions, that's a good place to start.

TOM: If that's not it, they may have to replace or rebuild your transmission. And you know what? Tough! That's why you bought the extended warranty. Insist that they fix it, Nancy. And good luck.

- Is warming up your car actually bad for it? Does slamming the door really make a difference to the life of your car? Should you "save the brakes" by shifting into a lower gear to help you slow down?

RAY: You'll learn the surprising answers to all of these questions, and more, in our new pamphlet called "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It.'

TOM: It's our guide to making your car last forever.

RAY: Become an instant know-it-all. Order your copy of "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" Send $3 and a stamped (55 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Ruin No.1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.

The Magliozzi brothers' radio show "Car Talk" can be heard each Saturday at 10 a.m. on KUER FM 90.1 If you have a question about cars, write to Click and Clack Talk Cars c/o King Features Syndicate, 235 E. 45th St., New York, NY 10017. You can e-mail them at http://cartalk.com