The Car Doctor

Cheap oil filters, clicking drivetrain, worn wheel bearing

By John Paul, AAA Car Doctor
July 24, 2008

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Q. It's bad enough that Chinese manufacturers have put formaldehyde in our toothpaste and put poison in our pet food, but now a Chinese-made oil filter has killed the engine in my car. My very reliable local garage was purchased by a guy who, I think, wanted to cut his costs and started using cheap oil filters. What happened was that one of these oil filters shed its plastic lining and filled the engine with small plastic bits. I learned that this was what happened when the pick-up tube from the oil pan clogged up with the plastic pieces and no oil could get through. Consumers should be aware that these oil filters are out there on the market.

A. The oil filter is the life of the car and using a cheap oil filter is certainly one way to shorten the life of any engine. The problem is it is not just cheap oil filters. In the last 10 years there have been many cases of counterfeit auto parts and oil filters are just one of those parts. This is one of those cases when it is important have your car serviced by a garage that will not just stand behind their labor, but the parts they install as well.

Q. A few weeks ago while in low range with my four-wheel drive 2001 Ford F-150 SuperCrew I heard a thunderous clunk. I attempted to switch back to two-wheel-drive but it would not switch back. For the next two miles I drove at about 12 miles per hour. Only then could I shift back to two-wheel drive. The problem now is that when starting from a complete stop there is a tinny clicking sound. This sound doesn't happen when accelerating on the highway, just when starting from a stopped position. This sound is completely absent when engaged in four-wheel drive. Since this episode the truck shifts easily from two to four-wheel drive. What is going on?

A. The noise could be related to the transfer case, front differential, drive shaft or front hubs. At this point the truck needs to go to a repair shop that can identify the noise. This is generally done by running the truck on a lift to pinpoint the origin of the noise and the components affected. As a side note the low range of a four-wheel drive system is designed for crawling along at very low speeds. Driving at higher speeds can cause catastrophic damage to the vehicle drivetrain.

Q. When a wheel bearing is going bad will it make my car shake when I drive over 65 miles per hour? If not, how do I know I need a wheel bearing?

A. A worn wheel bearing will typically make a growling noise when driving. The noise may change intensity when steering left or right. A vibration at 65 miles per hour could be caused by a damaged wheel, badly worn or out of balance tire or worn steering system component.

Q. I have a 1985 Pontiac Fiero with 29,000 original miles. My problem is the car ran great one day but the next it would start, then shut off. The car has fuel and I have replaced the spark plugs, distributor cap and rotor and still have the same problem. Any ideas?

A. First take a look at all the basics. A faulty exhaust gas recirculation valve or large vacuum leak could be the problem. Once the simple things are ruled out take a look at the ignition coil, valve timing, fuel pump and fuel pressure. Don't rule out the possibility of contaminated fuel.

Q. I have a 2000 Land Rover Discovery II and I am unable to start the vehicle. It will start when the engine is cold but once you drive it and turn the engine off for five minutes you can't start it again. Can you tell me what might be happening and how to fix it?

A. One area to look at is the crankshaft sensor. A good technician will use a lab scope and check the voltage of the sensor. A weak signal will cause just this problem.