Is beaten-up truck with a rap sheet worth saving?

Dear Car Talk:

My 2007 Silverado was stolen and used in some robberies. I was in Ohio, and upon learning that the police were looking for me, I contacted them and found out that my truck had been stolen and now has a rap sheet! My camper shell was removed and the mud flaps cut off. They must have done some rough riding in the truck, as it is now slightly twisted. The insurance company says the frame is cracked, and they want to total the truck. I have taken it to my mechanic, and he put it up on the lift and had three mechanics looking under it, and none of them found a crack. There are a lot of other things wrong with it, though:

  • Steering rack and pinion
  • Replace intermediate shaft
  • Oil-pan gasket rear main seal
  • Replace clutch kit
  • Lube oil and filter repeat
  • Alignment

Total cost: $3,184.20

But my mechanic says other things could pop up later. The outside of the truck has minimal damage; most damage is internal. My question to you is: Should I take the dismantle fee ($3,400) for the truck and use that to fix the internal stuff, or just take the total loss and find a newer-model vehicle? The truck was well-maintained before this happened, and got great mileage on the freeway, and I travel a lot. Oh wise one, I need a voice of reason. Sincerely – B.J.

RAY: I can't give you a definitive answer, but I think the biggest question mark is the frame. Rather than ask your regular mechanic if the frame is cracked, take the car to a collision shop that does frame and alignment work, and ask those guys to evaluate it. You even can ask your insurance company which shop it used for its appraisal, and ask that shop to show you the crack.

If the frame really is cracked or bent, I’d be tempted to take the money and let the truck go. If the frame can’t be straightened out, you’ll never be able to align the truck properly, and you’ll end up joining the Tire-of-the-Month Club. Not to mention the stiff neck you’ll get from always having to look over your shoulder as the truck drives sideways.

So, you want someone with some real expertise in frames to give you a professional opinion on that – not the guys who do oil changes and brake jobs. The frame is the make-or-break issue.

If the insurance company is wrong, and the frame turns out to be OK, then you can take your chances if you want to. It sure sounds like they beat the heck out of the truck, so your mechanic is right that it’s possible more damage will crop up.

But on the other hand, you’ll also be getting a bunch of brand-new parts – plus a great story to tell. I mean, who else’s truck has its own mug shot? That’s cool.

Sorry, but cam sensor error not good candidate for black-tape ‘fix’

Dear Car Talk:

I have a 2008 Chevy Malibu, with 53,300 miles. About six months ago, the check engine light came on, but went off within several days. This continued – on, off, on, off – for several months. Now it stays on all the time. According to a local auto-parts store, the "error code" is P-0013 and P-0014. I Googled the code and it says something about a "cam location sensor." The car runs fine. Should I be concerned? Is fixing or adjusting it beyond the ability of an average mechanical person, like me? My friends say to put a piece of black electrical tape over the light. – Mike

RAY: Your friends must be regular readers of the column, Mike.

Actually, this is not a good candidate for the black-tape solution. The cam sensor tells the computer the position of the camshaft. There’s also a crankshaft position sensor. The inputs from those sensors have to line up perfectly so that the spark fires at the right nanosecond.

If the spark doesn’t fire exactly when it’s supposed to, performance will start to degrade, pollution will increase and, eventually, the car will protest by putting itself into what’s called “Limp Home Mode.” Which is exactly what it sounds like. And you’d better hope that when it goes into “Limp Home Mode,” you’re not just leaving Cousin Eldred’s place two states away.

There’s no adjustment for this; the sensor either works or it doesn’t. And in this case, according to your car’s computer, it doesn’t. So it needs to be replaced.

The good news is, I think you can handle this, Mike. The part costs about $50. It’s located on the side of the head on four-cylinder Malibus, or in between the heads behind the water pump on six-cylinder versions. It’ll be a lot easier to find once you have the new one in your hand and you know what it looks like.

And it’s a simple fix: I think it comes out with one bolt. Then you unplug the old one, plug and bolt in the new one, and you’re done.

It’s not quite as cheap as applying black tape, but you’ll feel a lot more smug satisfaction when you’re done.

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