Black Light Special
My '95 Ford Explorer is leaking oil somewhere at or near the front of the engine. I have an aggregate driveway, so it's a pain to clean up the oil spots. The truck runs fine, and it doesn't seem to use anymore oil than normal, so I'm thinking the leak might be coming from the front axle or differential.

The Explorer has four-wheel drive, but it's never been off road. Although, I do occasionally engage the 4x4 system and put it through the gears on a gravel road. Someone told me a long time ago that using the 4x4 components occasionally was a good preventative measure. That's the only time I use the 4x4, especially since I put some dubs and low-profile rubber on it.

If the problem is the front axle, is there an easy way to seal it up? Would some RTV silicone do the trick? How can I separate engine leaks from drivetrain leaks? This isn't a serious problem, but I'd still like to fix it. Any advice would be most appreciated.
Branson Hermes
via e-mail

Oil leaks coming from the front differential are a common enough problem for '95-and-later Ford Rangers and Explorers that Ford issued a service bulletin (#02-4-2) on the subject. Oil gets forced out of the axle vent as the gears move. Ford developed a new housing cover with an internal baffle that keeps the oil in the differential.

If you want to determine where or if you have an engine leak and have some retro fun at the same time, you can get an engine dye test kit. These kits-there are different ones for different types of fluids-have an additive that's put in the crankcase, cooling system, or fuel system. Then, after the engine has been run sufficiently, a black light (ultra violet) is used to inspect the suspected leak area.

You can find these inspection kits at well-stocked automotive tool outlets or online. We found several kits starting at about $45 at www.thetoolwarehouse.net. After you've found and fixed the leak, you can look in your parents' attic or at garage sales to find some Sixties psychedelic concert posters. Turn on the black light and experience the Sixties.

Jumpty Dumpty
I'm ready to dump my '00 Chevy Silverado because the transmission keeps jumping out of First gear for no apparent reason. The truck is equipped with the 4.3L V-6 and five-speed manual transmission. This problem is very annoying, but I'm afraid I'll have trouble selling the truck. Anyone taking a testdrive runs a good chance of it jumping out of gear when they're driving it. Is there a quick, easy, and cheap fix for this problem? Thanks.
Jay Roth
via e-mail

Five-speed manual transmissions that jumped out of First gear were a problem experienced by many '99-'00 Silverado pickups. Most of these trucks had the problem fixed under warranty. Apparently, your truck jumped through the cracks. The problem transmissions were built without a detent ball and spring.

Those are inexpensive parts, but there's a lot of labor involved in removing and replacing the transmission. It's mostly grunt work, so you could rent a transmission jack, remove the tranny, and take it to a repair shop. By doing the hard labor, you should substantially lower the cost.

Overpriced At Free
I bought an '01 Ford F-150 SuperCrew two-wheel-drive pickup at an insurance auction. The truck wasn't so much crashed as it was very badly wrinkled. There are dents of varying degrees all over the truck. The bed received the most damage, but I've already located another bed, and I'm going to swap beds.

The only way to make this project fly for me, financially, is to do my own bodywork. Since there doesn't seem to be any structural damage, I think I can handle it at least to the point of getting the truck ready for paint.

While I'm making the repairs, I figured I'd do a little customizing, such as shaving door handles, removing trim pieces, installing a roll pan, and maybe molding in some type of front fender vents. The truck will never be perfect, but as long as I keep costs down, it doesn't have to be.

Keeping my low-buck approach in mind, I've been doing some swap-meet shopping. That's where I found the bed. I also found and purchased a large supply of body filler, primer, and sandpaper at a screaming deal. The seller played dumb when I asked how old the stuff was (he was selling it for a "buddy"), but the price was too good to pass up.

When I opened the first can of filler, I noticed that the solids had separated from the resins. That made me wonder about the condition of the filler. Is there any reason for concern about using old filler? I haven't tried any of the primer, but I'm a little worried about that, too. My problem is that I've priced new materials and they're expensive. Can you suggest what I should do?
Bill Page
Kingman, Arizona


Our suggestion is to take the filler and primer to the nearest hazardous waste disposal site and get rid of it. This stuff could be hazardous to the future of your truck's paint. There's a reason the products were at a swap meet and at such an attractive price. The seller didn't want to risk using it on anything he owned.

The solids and resin typically separate during storage, but a little stirring should blend them together. The trouble with old products is that you don't know what their storage conditions were. They could have been subjected to extremes of cold or heat. The integrity of the can could have been compromised.

Your bargain products might be OK to use, but we wouldn't risk them on anything nicer than a demolition derby special. The risk of problems with the topcoats is simply too great. Buying fresh filler and primer is a minor expense compared to repainting a truck.

We recommend that you buy your materials from a busy autobody paint store. Don't buy them from a traditional auto parts store that occasionally sells a little body filler. You want a store that moves lots of product to professional body shops. That way you're sure to get fresh products.

Before you get too carried away with doing your own bodywork, find a painter that's willing to apply the color coats without having done the prep work. Many painters won't guarantee their work unless they've done the entire job.

The good news about your swap-meet swag is that the sandpaper is probably still useable.

Stevie Wonder's Flame Job
I had my '05 Chevy Avalanche flamed. The truck is low, black, and rolling on 22s. I'm happy with the flames (multicolored candy), except for the ridges along the edges of the flames. You can definitely feel them, and I can see the difference between the flames and the rest of the paint. When I complained to the painter, he said the only way to totally get rid of the ridges was to clear the whole truck. That seems excessive to me, since the truck is almost new and the paint is perfect. Do I have any other options?
D'Wayne Smith
Dallas, Texas

The flames are on top of the black paint. Candy flames can take many coats (over the basecoats) to attain the desired colors. Then, you have the clear topcoat. The paint can and will form an edge against the masking tape. That's a considerable materials buildup. The only way to really bury them is to carefully color-sand the flames and clear the whole vehicle. It's best to do this when the flames are applied.

You didn't mention if the flames were pinstriped, but we'd guess that since they're candy flames over black and that they weren't striped. Pinstriping can help hide the ridges, but they may still appear in the center of the stripes. We say stand back and enjoy your trick truck.

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