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New parts may help alleviate Toyota’s rainy-day problem

SHARE New parts may help alleviate Toyota’s rainy-day problem

Question - Help! I own a 1985 Toyota Corolla four-door sedan with a five-speed transmission. I bought it used, and it was extremely reliable for a year. Then, starting at the beginning of last summer, the car won't start when it's raining. At first, engine starter fluid corrected the problem, but not anymore. Now I need to wait for the sun to appear, and it generally takes three to four days after a rainstorm or light rain for the car to start again. I'm a poor college student, so I hope you can help me. - Kimberly

TOM: Help you? You've got the world's most perfect car, Kimberly! Do you know how much work I could miss if my car wouldn't start for four days after every rain shower? I'd never miss a daytime rerun of "Columbo" again!

RAY: You'd best ignore him if you ever want to graduate, Kimberly. Let's start with the basics. Water, or even just moisture, can interrupt the flow of electricity from the ignition coil to the spark plugs. And if the electricity doesn't get to the spark plugs, the car won't start.

TOM: And the "classic" parts that get affected by moisture when they're old are the spark-plug wires, the distributor cap and rotor. They're all relatively cheap, so I'd start by replacing all three.

RAY: My guess is that will fix it. But if it doesn't, the problem may be in the igniter assembly, which is inside the distributor. And that requires replacing the distributor itself, which costs many hundreds of dollars. So if you need another distributor, I'd look for a used one in a junkyard.

TOM: Alternatively, Kimberly, you could just transfer to Arizona State. With all the nice, dry weather down there, you probably wouldn't miss more than two or three weeks of classes a semester.

Question - OK, guys, I went to buy a 1997 Honda Accord for my mom. But those dealers always have something new up their sleeves. This time it was "Cathodic Protection" (a.k.a. Auto Saver System). It's a little gizmo connected to your car's battery that sends a pulse to your car's body that changes the polarity so that rust doesn't form, even if the paint gets scratched. According to both a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and a chemical engineer/-metallurgist I know, this process is legit and has been used for years to protect underground pipes in oil wells and nuclear power plants. The problem is, neither of my sources has ever heard of this technology being used in a car. It sounded like too much of a good thing for the bargain-basement price of $319 (half off retail, just for me!), so I passed it up. But I must admit, my curiosity was piqued. Does this thing work? - Kris

TOM: Yes, it does, Kris. And it's been shown to make a big difference if you happen to be one of the following: an underground pipe, a fuel storage tank, an offshore oil rig, or a car salesman with a $319 boat payment due.

RAY: Unfortunately, we've never seen any evidence that it does a lick of good on cars. Why? We don't know. It may have to do with the fact that cars are not all one piece, or that those other items are constantly submerged. And cars, unless you spent last winter in Seattle, generally are not.

TOM: So until we see some independent research that demonstrates that cathodic protection helps prevent rust on cars, our position is that you did Mom a big favor by passing on the "Auto Saver System." I'm sure she's much happier that you spent that $319 on a 10-CD changer for her . . . so she can listen to her Grateful Dead albums on her way to and from bingo games.

TOM: Hey, do you think you're taking good care of your car? Are you sure?

RAY: If you're like many of our customers, you may be ruining your car without even knowing it. Yes, even you! Find out how. Send for your copy of our informative pamphlet, "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!"

TOM: 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