Kaboom!
Q: I was doing some performance upgrades on the engine in my '85 Chevy shorty pickup, and something went wrong. The truck has a 350 V-8 with an automatic transmission. I added an Edelbrock intake, carb, and cam kit, plus a Mallory distributor and wires, and so on. I also added headers, but didn't do anything internal except for the camshaft. I had the hood off to make it easier to work on.

I used a remote starter so I could watch things when I first started the engine. It cranked over just fine, but suddenly kicked back hard. I immediately quit cranking and checked for problems. It turned out that I didn't get everything right with the plug wires and distributor. I double-checked everything and tried to start it again. This time, the starter made some nasty grinding and whining noises, although the engine started fine. There was also a popping or snapping sound, such as metal snapping against metal. Once the engine started, it ran fine. I could tell the changes were definitely good for more power. The whining and popping sounds didn't go away, though, so I installed a new starter. I was careful to use the correct shims and new starter bolts, but the whining continues. I like the way the truck runs, but I'm concerned that I did some serious internal damage such as hurting the block or starter mounting area, or that something is on the verge of breaking. Do you know what could be causing these unsettling noises?
Dale Lowery
Macon, Georgia

A: You obviously did some damage with your initial starting problems. You didn't mention it, but we'd guess that you broke the aluminum snout on the original starter. If you'd damaged the block, you would have had trouble securing the fasteners for the new starter. You probably damaged the flexplate. You could have chipped some teeth on the ring gear, or at least nicked several of them. The grinding and whining sounds you hear indicate misaligned gear teeth between the starter and ring gear. The popping, snapping sound could be caused by a crack or cracks in the flexplate. If the flexplate developed a fissure or split, the two separated areas could "snap" against each other and make the sound you described.

The solution is to install a new flexplate. You can inspect the current flexplate by removing the inspection cover on the bottom of the transmission. Remove the coil wire so the engine won't start. Make a mark on the ring gear with a marking pen or grease pencil so you can tell when the flexplate makes a full revolution. Bump the engine slowly with a remote starter. Reasonably priced special flexplate turning tools use leverage to rotate the engine and are an option. Be sure the truck is safely supported, and keep your hands out of the way of the ring gear.

A crack is most likely to be near one of the holes in the flexplate. After confirming that the flexplate is damaged, remove it and install a new one. We suggest that you install a heavy-duty aftermarket flexplate. The aftermarket flexplates are constructed out of heavier, thicker steel than factory original units. The aftermarket units usually have double-welded ring gears. These flexplates are designed to withstand the rigors of drag racing, so they should be plenty strong for your truck.

Seams Bad
Q: My two-wheel-drive Dodge Dakota pickup has the V-6 engine and automatic transmission. I tow a ski boat, and it gets plenty hot around here in the summer. The truck recently turned 140,000 miles. It runs fine, and I've had very little trouble with it except for the radiator. I installed my third new radiator around 120,000 miles. It's only the second one I've paid for, but the previous owner had the receipts for when he replaced the first one. In both of my cases, the radiators burst at the seams of the upper tank. The tanks are plastic, which apparently isn't the best material for longevity. I bought both radiators through the parts department of a Dodge dealership. I'm stuck with my plastic-tank radiator, but if I have to go through this drill again (I'd consider selling the truck, but I like everything else about it), I'd like to know if I can get a better quality radiator.
Kyle Farnsworth
Corpus Christi, Texas

A: You're just one of countless Dakota owners who have had problems with the plastic tank radiators. It's not uncommon for these tanks to give up after 40,000 or 50,000 miles. The problem isn't so much to do with the tank as it is with the radiator core material. Most plastic-tank radiators have aluminum cores, but your Dakota has a copper core. The aluminum radiators do an excellent job of handling high-temperature situations. The next time you need a new radiator, look for an aftermarket one that's all-aluminum. Since you know that the problem will hit you sooner than later, start looking for good deals ahead of time. You might also consider installing an auxiliary electric fan or a big aftermarket transmission cooler to give your existing radiator some help in handling your truck's cooling demands.