Fleeing Fluid
Q:
My '97 F-150 Lariat SuperCab is losing automatic transmission fluid and I can't figure out where it's going. I haven't noticed any puddles where I park, either at home or at work. The truck has four-wheel drive. The engine is the 351 with the automatic transmission. I use the 4x4 when I launch my boat in the summer and when I go skiing in the winter, but I don't do any hard-core off-roading or any other abusive driving that might be hard on the transmission. Do you have any suggestions as to where the transmission fluid is disappearing?

I follow all the rules about checking transmission fluid, so I know I'm not misreading the dipstick. I bought the truck new so I know it has the right dipstick. I would appreciate your help.Gary McLean, via e-mail

A: The most likely cause of your mysteriously disappearing transmission fluid is the transfer case input seal. Other Ford F-series pickups and Broncos from 1987 through 1997 have experienced similar fluid losses. Ford issued a service bulletin on the problem. There is a new seal (part number F77Z-7B215-AA) that should solve your problem

Tanked
Q:
I'm in need of a third radiator for my '94 Dodge Dakota Club Cab. That seems like a couple too many. Shouldn't a radiator last at least 100,000 miles? My truck has a little more than 114,000 miles on it. I replaced the stock radiator at 63,000 miles, and now it's leaking again. The truck has the V-6 and automatic transmission if that matters. The radiator is leaking around the seams of the upper tank. The symptoms are the same as the last time it gave up. That time it burst and I had to be towed home.

I don't care to buy a new radiator any sooner than I have to, but I'd like to buy a stronger unit. I bought the last one at my Dodge dealer, since it was an exact replacement for the original radiator. These radiators have plastic tanks and I get the feeling that's why they fail prematurely. Is that the case?

Can I buy a replacement radiator without the plastic tank, and should it be stronger? Thank you.Dale Iverson, Flagstaff, NM

A: Dakotas with the plastic-tank radiators are known to fail prematurely. Besides the suspect plastic tank, the bigger problem is the soft copper core. Most plastic tank-topped radiators have aluminum cores, not copper such as yours. The aluminum core radiators are superior at handling high temperatures. High temperatures also equal higher pressures, which can lead to seam failure. The solution is to buy an aftermarket all-aluminum heavy-duty replacement radiator.

Phat Phlake Phacts
Q:
I want to do something wild and retro on the roof of my '02 Chevy S-10 standard-cab pickup. I'm thinking about using some big, fat metalflake, maybe something really flashy, such as bass boat flake. My truck is all black factory paint. Since it's a relatively small roof, I'd like to paint it myself. I have some painting experience, but I've never done flake

I thought about putting some flames on top of the flake. I'd like the flames to be flake, too. I don't know if I want the same basic shade for the flames, or if I want something very high contrast. A couple possibilities are a silver-flake roof with purple flames or a purple-flake roof with lime-green flake flames.

I'd like the flames outlined, but I don't know how to pinstripe, and I'm not so sure I would want pinstripes. Is there a way to outline the flames in a different shade of metalflake and keep everything smooth and under the clear? Any advice you can give me would be most welcome.Jason Fong, Sacramento, CA

A: Flaking the roof of your truck is an excellent way to add flash without doing the whole truck. There are a couple different ways to do the flake, depending on whether or not you want flames. The particulars of applying the paint are related to the brand of paint you choose. We like the wild colors available from House of Kolor.

Flake paintjobs can require a great deal of clear to bury the flakes. The little flake particles don't always lay flat. When they stick up on end, it takes extra clear to bury them.

If you use a base color that is similar to the flake, you won't need as much flake. The base color should be metallic. The metallic will help cover any mistakes or areas where the flake was a little thin.

A silver flake such as House of Kolor Silver Mini Flake would look great with your black truck. You could have the base silver flake with purple- or lime-green-flake flames. A base of silver metallic or silver pearl will help intensify the silver flake.

A trick to helping the flake sit right is to first apply a base tack coat of wet clear without any flake. This serves as a base and a "glue" for the flake. You want the flake to stick to the roof, not blow around. The House of Kolor Silver Mini Flake is dry and comes in a small jar. You add the flake to the clear or to HOK Intercoat Clear (SC-100).

Shoot the flake from a greater distance than normal. Be sure your spray gun has a sufficiently large fluid tip to allow the flake to pass through. The flake is dusted or fogged on. Use a 50 percent overlap pattern. Many painters like to spray a crisscross pattern to avoid any missed areas or odd patterns. You want as thorough coverage as possible.

It usually takes about three coats of clear to level the flake. Then you pick the HOK Kandy shade you want the roof to be and apply it over the flake base.

To make the roof two-tone with silver-flake outlines takes a fair amount of masking, but the results will be spectacular. Apply the silver base of flake. Lay out the flames with 1/8-inch blue fine-line tape. Make the flames approximately 1/8-inch wider than normal to allow for the spray-on pinstriping. After the flames have been laid out, tape the inside of the design.

Apply one of the many wild House of Kolor Kandy colors, such as Purple or Violet. When the purple has dried sufficiently, remove the masking from inside the flames, but leave the border tape in place. Follow the blue border tape with 1/4-inch fine-line tape. Attach the 1/4-inch tape to the inner edge of the flame outline. That will provide a wider area for the rest of the masking tape. You don't want any leaks around the flames.

Spray the silver-flake base inside the flame design with either Lime Time or Organic Green Kandy; they both make a wild contrast to the Purple or Violet on the rest of the roof. When the paint has set up enough to remove the tape, do so. You'll be left with a 1/8-inch silver-flake outline between the green flames and the purple roof. Another coat of clear should be applied to the whole roof. Finish with wet-sanding, buffing, and polishing, and you'll have some flaky flames.