Help me get my truck fixed up
January 13, 2008 8:14 PM   Subscribe

What should I ask the mechanic to do to get my 1995 truck running smoother again?

I have an older truck (a 1995 Isuzu Trooper II) that has seen better days. It is running rough, has a terrible squeal coming from one of the belts, and is otherwise feeling kinda junky. I've decided that I'd like to get another year or two out of the car before getting a new one, so I thought it would make sense to spend a few bucks at the local mechanic to try and get the truck into better shape (and maybe head off a major breakdown). But "make it run better" is kind of vague, so I'd like to come up with a list of items I'd like checked/fixed. Here's what I have so far:

-All new belts and hoses.
-New brake pads.
-New spark plugs.
-Check timing chain.
-Check water pump.

Is there anything else I should have fixed/looked at?

The truck has about 90k miles, but it has been mostly tough short-distance city driving, so it feels like a lot more in terms of wear and tear. I haven't had real service (other than Jiffy Lube) for a really long time -- maybe 3-4 years ago.
posted by Mid to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
-All new belts and hoses.
-New brake pads.
-New spark plugs.
-Check timing chain.
-Check water pump.

* Belts, yes. Hoses, no. You don't need to replace hoses that are not broken or kinked or otherwise totally fucked up.
* Brake pads is only part of it, you'll want to machine the rotors or replace them, and they'll flush the brake fluid while they're at it.
* Replace the timing chain, don't just check it.

You also want to consider doing things like an expanded general tune up -- air filter, oil change, replacing the fuel filter, oxygen sensor, etc. Have them do a vacuum check, maybe. Consider changing the transmission and transaxle fluids, if need be. Do a cold crank test on the battery. Check your tires for wear and pressure, obviously (which may actually be the No. 1 reason you feel it's "running rough" as you say). Flush the radiator if you've ever overheated it or if the fluid is bad. Check that the clutch isn't slipping.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:49 PM on January 13, 2008

Add plug wires to the list. Also if it's been that long, have the radiator flushed and filled.

What kind of transmission? You might want to get the fluid done in that too (although you'll get mixed recommendations about that if it hasn't been done previously).
posted by Doohickie at 8:49 PM on January 13, 2008

Well, here's what I'd do in your situation:

1) Ask around. See if anybody you know has a mechanic who works on Japanese cars that they rave about. Get a good recommendation.

2) Go to a mechanic that's been recommended strongly, and tell her what you told us. Yeah, it's kinda vague; "running rough" and "belt is squealing" don't really completely cover your feeling about it. As you say, it feels "kinda junky." So say: 'look, I'm not planning to keep this car for more than another year or two, but I want it to run smoothly while I do have it; it feels really rough around the edges. Can you look it over and tune it up for me?'

A good mechanic will know what to do. A good mechanic will be able to look it over, cover key tune-up points, and let you know if anything's seriously wrong. And a good mechanic won't make shit up just to make money-- that's why the recommendation is key. She's supposed to be the expert; let her be, and don't waste your time trying to guess what tiny things might be wrong under the hood that you can ask her to take care of.
posted by koeselitz at 9:02 PM on January 13, 2008

Also, by the way, a good mechanic should be able to tell you up-front how much a general tune-up and check-up will cost.
posted by koeselitz at 9:03 PM on January 13, 2008

Seconding koeselitz. Trying to guess what is wrong with your car, instead of letting a good mechanic diagnose it, is just going to cost you money you don't need to spend.
posted by bricoleur at 6:31 AM on January 14, 2008

I agree with koeselitz.

However, If it is a petrol engine, I'd be expecting to see something like the following as a potential maximum:

Spark plugs, leads and (if appropriate to your vehicle) distributor cap etc.
New oil and filter.
Possibly a fuel filter (these often get overlooked and need changing on older cars, I had a car that wouldn't run past starting and all was wrong was the filter... It fired then immediately stalled. Weird. I always change fuel filters of unknown age, now. It's only a few bucks). I'd recommend this one.
New belts - as appropriate. Not necessarily all.
Pads, if needed. Discs if needed. I'd always replace discs rather than get them machined. It's not enough of a saving to lose the extra wear caused by machining. It's unlikely a machined disc will last a couple of years without causing problems (not necessarily just fo
Transmission oil change/Diff oil change.
Air filter.
Check the last time the timing chain/belt was changed. If you don't know or it is overdue, get it done. How many miles has it done? Check the service interval from Toyota and trust that. It's an expensive job if it doesn't need doing.

Other than that, I'd take advice on the rest of it from a good mechanic. A dealership will over prescribe work, as their service schedule is conservative, not because they are necessarily trying to screw you over. A non-affiliated mechanic will just do the work that he thinks needs doing. As long as he's honest, you will be fine for only spending enough. Especially if you are honest about not wanting to spend too much.
posted by Brockles at 7:18 AM on January 14, 2008

One important thing - timing belts need to be changed every 60,000 miles. Timing chains, however, should not require replacement unless something has gone horribly wrong. A timing chain will likely outlive the engine. I forget which of the two your vehicle has, though.

There are certain things that are OK to ask a mechanic to do, these usually being things that are in the realm of routine maintenance. For example, if you haven't had the accessory belts changed in several years, that's a good thing to request. Or the aforementioned timing belt. Same with cooling system maintenance or transmission maintenance. Spark plugs if they've got a ton of miles on them. These are things you should be keeping track of anyway.

But when it comes to repairs, if you don't know exactly what's wrong, it's best to let a mechanic diagnose it. (This is why it is a good idea to find a mechanic you trust well ahead of time instead of having to scramble when things go wrong and throw yourself at the mercy of an unknown shop.) If you tell them you think certain components are failing or need to be checked, they will check them, and charge you for it. But if you let them do what they're trained to do, they'll attack the problem directly, and it's likely something they've seen before. Here's an example - you mentioned having them check the water pump. Is there a specific reason for that? Is the vehicle running hot or is there coolant seeping from the pump? If neither of these is true, it is likely working fine. If the engine is indeed running hot, or if there's coolant on the ground, it'll be one of the things they check. (If it is running hot, more likely causes are an iffy thermostat, old or low coolant, a coolant leak elsewhere - hopefully not at the head gasket - or a plugged up radiator. Water pumps do fail occasionally, though.)

By the way, as far as that squealing belt goes - you'll likely need to get either the belt tensioner replaced or the alternator. I forget exactly which one of the two it is, but mid-90s Isuzu Troopers and Rodeos are notorious for bearing failures in one of those parts. Again, just tell the mechanic that it's squealing - they'll figure out where the problem is in short order.
posted by azpenguin at 8:43 AM on January 14, 2008

One important thing - timing belts need to be changed every 60,000 miles.

Timing belt service intervals are manufacturer dependant. There is no blanket mileage at which they need to be replaced. Check with your dealership or manual as to the correct interval.

Timing chains, however, should not require replacement unless something has gone horribly wrong

That is, I'm afraid, very much wrong. Timing chains have service intervals like most other components. Stretching and breaking is a very real possibility in higher mileage engines.

By the way, as far as that squealing belt goes - you'll likely need to get either the belt tensioner replaced or the alternator.

Being as the most likely source is the belt slipping slightly (the rubber gets hard as they get old) then replace the belt first (I'd check with your manual/dealer etc if there is a replacement advised on the tensioner and do that if it looks crappy). If the squealing goes away, you have saved a ton of money instead of replacing stuff 'in case'. Personally, I'd just do the belt and see what happens. I'd only replace the tensioner at the first stage if I was feeling super-conscientious.
posted by Brockles at 9:35 AM on January 14, 2008

Thanks for the helpful responses so far. To answer a couple of questions:

1. It's a stick.
2. By "running rough" I mean that the engine is noisier and choppier at idle than it used to be -- it sort of putters more.
3. I mentioned the water pump because I had a water pump fail in this car once.

Thanks again.
posted by Mid at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2008

It also seems to have less power than it did before -- i.e., I find myself upshifting at lower speeds than before because the engine seems to be working harder to do less.
posted by Mid at 9:54 AM on January 14, 2008

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