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Dear Tom and Ray: My wife has a 1999 Subaru Forester with low mileage (85,000), but the interior is not so good. She lets the kids eat in her car, and, as such, the seats are getting ruined, the floor mats are gone, the cup holders are broken and the list goes on. I’d like to replace the broken items in her car and replace the seats and the carpet, but I don’t know where to get those items at reasonable prices. Of course, the local dealer can get some of those parts, but at a nice premium, which I’d like to avoid. Any ideas where can I find OEM parts or replacement interior parts at reasonable prices? – Jaime

Ray: Sure. At a junkyard. Also known these days by its society name, the “automotive recycling center.”

Tom: There are situations where a car will get in a wreck of some kind, and the car is totaled but the interior is still fine.

Ray: Or the car is sent to the junkyard for some kind of catastrophic engine failure, even though the cup holders are still working like they’re brand-new.

Tom: In fact, you even can buy an entire interior for your car at a junkyard if you want to. Or, if you’re looking for a hobby, take the engine out of yours and put it into one of those junkers!

Ray: Most junkyards are connected electronically these days, so if one doesn’t have what you’re looking for, they can see if another one has it.

Tom: Another option is to find a body shop that’s willing to do the work for you and source the stuff “used,” from a junkyard. They do this a lot more frequently than you do.

Ray: But if you do decide to do it yourself, ask if you can check out the interior “in situ” first – that is, when it’s still in the donor car, if that’s possible. Then get in, and take a deep breath. Because you don’t want to install seats and carpet in your wife’s car only to find out that they were previously in the car of an old lady who drove around all day with her eight male cats, while chain-smoking Cuban cigars.

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Dear Tom and Ray: Our mechanic states that the heater in our 2000 Ford Focus sedan is clogged. He says there is nothing he can do, since attempts to unclog it by shooting air through it would cause damage to the whole system if the inside is corroded. Is there a way to put an auxiliary heater vent in the inside of the car? Do you have any suggestions? – Phil

Tom: How about a hibachi, Phil?

Ray: No, don’t do that. I’d have to disagree with your mechanic. I think flushing it out is worth trying.

Tom: The easiest thing to do is simply reverse-flush it by hooking a hose up to the heater core and pushing water through in the opposite direction from how it usually runs.

Ray: You also can start by adding a chemical flush to the entire cooling system and, after letting the engine run and the coolant circulate for a while, you can drain that out and then reverse-flush the heater core with clear water.

Tom: Finally, you can blow compressed air through the heater core. You want to follow that up with a flush in case you loosen any crud that could flow into the rest of the cooling system (that’s probably what your mechanic is worried about). But the truth is, as long as you flush the heater core well, you have very little to lose by trying.

Ray: In the worst-case scenario, you damage the heater core and cause it to leak. If that happens, you’ll have to replace it. That’s an expensive pain in the neck, because it’s up under the dashboard. But that’s probably what your mechanic is suggesting that you do now, anyway.

Tom: So why not try the easier, cheaper stuff first? To be honest, we find that flushing a plugged heater core works in only about 40 percent of cases. But that 40 percent of car owners leave the shop feeling happy and “flush” themselves, so we think it’s worth a try. Good luck, Phil.

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Used cars can be a great bargain, and reliable, too! Find out why by ordering Tom and Ray’s pamphlet “How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows.” Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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