Off the top of my head, I can only recall one on-line automotive forum that helped me to solve a problem. I had a dark green Cadillac Eldorado with the 32-valve Northstar engine. It was a really nice car that John McKay got for me at the car auction. One of those cars that I wish I had never sold. After a few months of ownership I noted that it was consuming a lot of engine oil. I got on to a Cadillac forum, and read that if you went through a rather specific series of WOT (wide open throttle) accelerations every few months, it got rid of carbon build up in the piston rings and oil consumption would return to normal levels. It worked.

Even though I had one success story with forums, I’ve had a dozen others with no positive results. After purchasing another Eldorado in navy blue several years later, I immediately got rid of its oil consumption issue, but then ran across a shifting issue. I must have thrown $1,000 at that problem, only to finally give the car to a person who needed transportation. He ended up trading it, but he got a good deal of use from it so it all worked out. No forum information came close to solving the shifting issue, but at least the car solved other issues before it was traded.

On occasion a forum will let you know about a defect that the manufacturer really doesn’t want you to discover. I started having oil consumption issues with a 24-month-old car. The forum said that there was a batch of them with a ring seating problem.


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Knowing just exactly how frustrating a warranty claim would be with this particular manufacturer, I traded it. I don’t feel badly about trading it because it was still under warranty. I just wasn’t going to spend months fighting the manufacturer over the issue. OK, so maybe a forum alerted me to a problem, but in this case it didn’t solve it, I did.

I recently purchased a 1993 Volvo 240 sedan, and so far I like this car as much as any good one I’ve ever had, new or old. This one I got just for fun and back-up transportation to keep the miles off my Subaru Crosstrek. I’d like the Subaru to last a decade, but it won’t if I put 30,000 miles on it every year. This Volvo is actually fun to drive and has a modern sound system with Bluetooth and iPod hook-up. It has air, ABS, and even heated seats, which I absolutely love.

The one important option that it doesn’t have is cruise control. Like lots of folks, I use cruise to keep from speeding on the interstate. It’s just too easy to find yourself doing 85 with little prompting, so the cruise control unit gets used a lot. This time around I got on to a Volvo 240 forum to see if there was a retro-fit. Volvo 240s are considered one of the most reliable Volvos ever made, causing people to keep them forever. Forums for cars like that get a lot of use, and this one was no exception. Sure enough, the forum directed me to a guy who sources used Volvo cruise control units from junkyards. He refurbishes them and even offers an installation guide for the "kit" that he sells. OK, I’ll bite. So I look the guy up, purchase a kit, and am now patiently awaiting its arrival.

If, and its always a big "if," this transplant is successful it will be only the second time an on-line automotive forum has solved a problem. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. When you think about how forums work, you usually discover that a small handful of dedicated and erudite motorheads keep these things going. Many are service technicians who are dedicated to a specific brand or model. It is a truly altruistic endeavor, based on an idealistic view of home based auto care. In theory I think it is fabulous. In practice? Well, let’s just say that the forum is still evolving.

Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.