Spider roadster owner enters the Fiat repair club

December 05, 2008

Dear Tom and Ray: My wife and I just became the proud owners of a 1981 Fiat 2000 Spider with only 40,000 miles on the odometer. The car is in great shape, runs like new and is absolutely fun to drive. After parking the car overnight, I noticed that a small amount of oil had accumulated under the car, and upon investigation found that oil was seeping from around the cam box cover on the passenger side of the engine. From what I can determine, the leak is small at this point, but persistent, so it isn't something that I would like to let go until I park the car for the winter. The cam box cover looks very accessible, and I have replaced gaskets on small engines (welders and other similar machines), so I am reasonably sure that I am up to the task. However, as in all things mechanical, there usually are unknown things that happen as soon as you put a wrench to it. Are there any quirks particular to this repair that I should know about? - Jeff


RAY: Yes. Know that it's one of many, many repairs you will be doing through the years. My brother has a '78 version of this car, and if this was the only problem he had, he'd be thrilled.

TOM: Only one oil leak? How'd you manage that, Jeff? That's fabulous!

RAY: This actually is a very easy repair, as are most repairs on this vehicle - which is only a few rungs up the evolutionary ladder from a Radio Flyer red wagon.

TOM: What you refer to as the "cam box cover" is called the "valve cover" on most other cars. There's one on each side of the engine. The cover is held on by three hex bolts. So, the first thing you want to do is check them to see if they're tight.

RAY: If they're not tight, simply tightening them up may stop the leak. If they're already tight, then you need to replace the gasket.

TOM: So you remove the three bolts, and you'll be looking at the cam lobes, and the valves below that. You scrape off the old gasket, careful not to let pieces of it fall into the valve train, and then you put in the new gasket, replace the valve cover, tighten up the bolts, and you're done.

RAY: If you can't find a new gasket, pick up some RTV silicone adhesive at your local auto-parts store. There's a special kind of RTV that's oil-resistant, and we use it to make gaskets when we have an old heap in the shop that we can no longer get parts for (e.g., any of my brother's cars).

TOM: You just squirt a bead of this stuff where the gasket's supposed to go, let it set for two minutes, slam the cover on, tighten it up and let it dry for an hour. And then drive the car. And presto, you're ready to start looking for the next oil leak! Good luck, Jeff.

Dear Tom and Ray: I drive a 2002 Mazda Miata. I love it. Yeah, I'm a guy, and it's a great car. It reminds me of my old MGB. Back when I had hair, I had a 1963 MGB roadster and picked up many a girl with that car. And the Miata is almost as good. I had the 60,000-mile checkup a month ago. After the checkup, I had to take it back because the fuel filter clogged up. The filter was clogged with a white substance. Then, a week ago, I had to have the fuel pump replaced and the fuel tank cleaned. The pump and pump screen were covered with a white powder. It was dry and chalky. The mechanic had no idea what it was. The whole thing cost me another $1,000 on top of the checkup. Yes, I am a fat, bald, old man, trying to figure out what happened to my life and my hair. And my Miata helps keep the other losses in perspective. Can you tell me what the white substance was? - Skip

RAY: Sounds like it's revenge powder, Skip.

TOM: Yeah. One of those many girls you picked up - or one of their angry boyfriends or husbands - put something in your gas tank.

RAY: I can't imagine what else it would be. As far as I know, there's nothing in the car that could produce copious amounts of a white, chalky substance in your gas tank.

TOM: Yeah. You may want to start an apology campaign. Go through your little black book, call anybody you've wronged, tell them you've been feeling terrible about what happened and say you'd like to apologize.

RAY: Then ask if they happen to be missing a five-pound bag of King Arthur Enriched Flour.

TOM: Or if their husband happens to be missing an extra-large container of Cruex Jock Itch Formula.

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