Howdy, folks, how y’all doing? I’m back with another hands-on and user-friendly series: this time we’re gonna talk about taking care of and repairing your car without calling the local mechanics. Cars are pretty complicated things in terms of design and powertrain, but, don’t be frightened – we’re not gonna get into the details of auto-manufacturing. Today we are just simple folks, trying to lend a helping hand to our steel friends.
Repairing Your Own Vehicle – The Not So Difficult Task
Keep in mind, that even if you don’t really have any idea about the way your car works (nobody really does – even I don’t know the whole thing), as long as you’ve got two hands and two legs (yep, legs are important too), and a pretty basic set of tools in your garage, you’ll be able to take care of most of the basic maintenance routine, and even – if you read through this series of articles – accomplish many of the minor repairing tasks.
So, as you can see, it’s not rocket science, but, it still requires discipline, a straight head, and firm hands. You got those? Then you’re alright – you’ll learn your way around the car in no time, and you’ll start surprising not only your relatives and neighbors, but also yourself – that’s a good motivation for mastering the art of maintenance and repairs, don’t you think? So, curb your steel horses, ladies and gentlemen, curb your steel horses – that’s an expression my uncle used to say a lot, when me and him were working at his dealership back in the day.
Alright, take a deep breath, get yourself together, and let’s handle this bad boy. First things first – you gotta play this safe, my friends. Safety comes first – you heard that, right? No matter what the task at hands, taking precautions and making sure nothing bad is gonna happen is imperative. So, if you’re about to make some magic happen with the engine, make sure it’s completely cooled down.
As a matter of fact, some of the engine compartments are pretty crowded, and, at first, if you’re new to this, it’s gonna be tricky to differentiate the various parts, nuts, etc. And reaching out and accessing the screws and nuts can be difficult already, so, if the engine is steaming hot, that’s gonna cause you a lot of problems. That’s why you need to make sure it’s cool first, and only then get to screwing and bolting.
Repairing Your Own Vehicle – Safety Comes First
Also keep in mind, that hot oil and other fluids, as well as battery acid can burn you real bad. Be advised: if you – by mistake, of course – cause an electrical short, that can very well be the end of your car’s fuses, relays, and anything computerized. Furthermore, you gotta know that repairing and working under your vehicle in the middle of the street or in the parking lot is fraught with danger. My advice – don’t ever get yourself under there, if you’re in a potentially dangerous environment. Do it in your back yard, and make sure that the car is firm and steady.
Know Your Rules
When you’re dealing with screws and bolts, it’s important to understand the concept of left-loosely and right-tightly – that means that turning left results in loosening the screws and nuts, and turning right results in tightening them. So, when you’re under the car, with little space to move around, and both of your hands full, knowing about this rule will help you a lot – trust me, been there, done that. It’s a bit tricky, though – keep in mind, that if you’re looking at the screw head (or nut head) from the opposite end, that means you gotta do that backwards – turn left to tighten, and turn right to loosen.
Don’t Screw With The Screws
Under tightening (that’s when you don’t tighten the bastards enough) can be the cause of constant leaks and maybe even loosing the bolts/screws (the vibration will take care of that). Over tightening, on the other hand, can result into striping, or even breaking the screws. And you don’t want that to happen – you know how difficult and troublesome it is to plunge out a broken part of a screw, that’s stuck? It’s like fighting World War III with the screw! No matter how gentle and professional you’ll try to be, it will still manage to screw you over! So, don’t ever let that happen – just go slow and steady – that’s the right way in this sort of things.
Repairing Your Own Vehicle – The Right Tools Make The Difference
This one’s important: make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job. A screwdriver of the wrong size can destroy your nut/bolt/screw heads, so, make sure you’ve got the right-sized tools, that don’t slip off, and get a firm grip, otherwise, you’ll still gonna have to fight with a ruined screw. If you do get into a situation like that, you can use some tried-and-true tricks to lure them out – keep drills, knifes, hack saws and punch nearby – you might need them from time to time. But I suggest you try to keep your work clean – all those knifes and drills can and usually do damage the screws and bolts.
The Collective Mind
If you’re not sure how to proceed in a certain situation with a screw stuck, get help from the World Wide Web – don’t be shy, guys, we’ve all been there. The internet is a great source of amazing (and not so much) info, tips, tricks, and helpful people – you just gotta find them. So, organize a big search on the web – look for discussions, videos and articles about your current problem(s) and misfortunes – you might just find the perfect solution online.
There will be some really good and on-point forum discussions and maybe even reviews on some well-respected web-sites; and little or nothing on others – it’s a matter of luck, to be honest. Me, I don’t really have one or two personal favorites; I just surf the web, hoping to find something solid. If you’re desperate, and can’t really seem to find anything even remotely helpful, try Wikihow.com – it might just have the answers to your questions.
Watch this video: Don’t Be Lazy. Learn to Fix your own car.
Repairing Your Own Vehicle – The “Dummies” Way
Get a manual for “Dummies” – the so-called “Haynes” manual. This is for the less experienced folks out there. You can find the manual at a parts store. Don’t worry, even pro mechanics sometimes use these – they just don’t want to admit it. Make sure not to mistake the friendly manual with the dealer service or repairing department manuals – those are for the double-dyed mechanics (and even they don’t always fully get them), and are really hard to understand, not detailed enough, and, in addition, advice you to get some exotic tools, which are usually not really necessary, especially for a routine check or tightening/loosening procedures.
The Misconceptions Of The Manuals
You might get lucky and find a manual at your local library – really lucky, ’cause the manual will have to be exactly specific for your car. If you do find one at the library, don’t expect to have it for a long time – those are really indispensable, so, it might be best to just buy it.
So, familiarize yourself with the whole layout of the manual. Manuals are generally divided into logical sections, like “Suspension”, “Engine”, etc. Find the “Maintenance” chapter, and dig into it. While you’re at it, keep in mind, that the sections for fuse boxes are usually labeled very badly, the charts are messy, and differ, depending on the model and the year, and are really hard to read and to understand. So, that means that you gotta rely on yourself – and me, of course!
Getting Down To It
It’s a good idea for repairing to remove only one plastic fuse at a time and check it out to see whether it is dead or not (burned out, that is). That will help you avoid mixing them all up. Put it back (or replace it, if needed) and move along to the next one in line. Generally, there are some bigger relays and fuses in the fuse box, that’ll catch your eye. If that’s not the case, then thy’re probably just scattered all over the place.
But, the standard fuse boxes for us to access are usually just under the instrumental panel, or on the kick panel near the driver. With some trucks, vans and min-vans it can be tricky to find the fuse boxes. They can be located in really odd places, compared to the cars. You might find one in the glove box, or just beside the instrumental panel/dashboard, if you unscrew the cover.
Repairing Your Own Vehicle – Go Simple And Go Slow
If you wanna repair your ride, then you must at least have an idea about what’s wrong with it. Diagnostics is the trickiest part in the process, and it’s considered to be the most difficult part of a car repair. The actual repairing routines are usually covered step-by-step in the manuals. So, if you can diagnose, than you can make the right moves, do it correctly, and not just throw parts at the car, hoping to fix it that way.
Incorrect repair can cause more damage, than good – and it can turn out to be quite expensive. In the manuals you’ll find some troubleshooting indexes and charts for some specific parts, but no manual can help you out, if you don’t have any idea about which part is bad, and which is OK.
Diagnostics: One At A Time
If you’re set to replace a spark plug, or spark plug cables, use the same technique as with the fuses – remove only one at a time, replace it if needed, and only then move on to the next one. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of getting the cables out of sequence – that’s very likely to happen – and that could be the cause of firing out of order, which might very well result into some significant engine damage.
Diagnosing The Problem
If you’ve got some difficulties with the diagnostics, don’t be sad – the parts store fellas will be your best friends in this situation. These guys are usually working there for their knowledge, because a correct diagnosis generally leads to the customer buying a new part. They have a code reader, and will happily read it for you – maybe you’ll buy some parts – or, you can borrow it (for free, with a deposit). Oh yeah, you heard me right. If you’re one of those people who have been paying 60 to 90 dollars at your repair shop for that same service, then you can lighten up – now you know that the folks at the parts stores do that for free!
These guys can also run some diagnostics for you on the de-installed parts, like the battery, starter, alternator, and such. If you don’t feel the professional chemistry with the first fella you talk to, just take some time and go to different stores – eventually, you’ll find the right pro for you.
There was a guy in my neighborhood – back when I was a college student – who really knew his way around cars, and we just instantly clicked with him the first time we met. Time passed, we both grew up, but we still keep in touch, and even have some family barbeques together – he has an amazing wife and lovely kids, and I’m always happy to spend some time with them. So, that’s one story for ya, and the bottom line is – find the professional that you feel like working with. Otherwise, it won’t be a very pleasant event.
Make Some Preparations
Believe me, nothing is more frustrating and painful, than being fully buried in the engine, tired, sweaty, and dirty, and then suddenly realizing, that you don’t have the God damned screwdriver, wrench, or any other vital instrument for the task. Yep, we’ve all been there. Even if you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ll still have to go back and forth the local stores a couple of times, remembering the next vital tool for your job. So, followe the Guidelines.
If you’re about to buy a universal tool, meaning something that you’ll still need in the daily routine after you’re finished with the repairs, like a screwdriver, or maybe some metric tools, I advise to pick out a good, expensive one. There is also that “Rent To Own” program at some auto parts stores – that’s when you buy expensive tools, and get a refund, only if you bring the tools back in a healthy condition within 48 hours; and don’t forget to take the receipt with you as well.
First of all, block the wheels to keep them steady and firm. If you’re gonna be leaking fluids, like oil, don’t forget to get a drop cloth. If you know you’re about to get under the car, it’ll be a very good idea to use something like a carpet pad. Trust me, it’s gonna be SO MUCH more comfortable, than the cold garage floor, especially when you’ve been there for a while, and are getting tired and grumpy. Make sure to always use jack stands whenever you need to raise the car. That will help with the safety and security of the jack. Ramps are very helpful, but be advised: some very-very low cars can’t really seem to work with ramps. If you need to raise one side, or the front/rear end of the vehicle, try driving two wheels onto a curb.
Repairing Your Own Vehicle – Follow The Guidelines
Follow the Manual’s instructions and guidelines. It can be tempting sometimes to get it all done in a fast and furious way, and you may think that some instructions aren’t really that relevant – but they are, so, trust the manual; otherwise, you’ll regret skipping a step or two later on in the process.
Also, it’s very important to keep it all organized and clean. If you’ve removed a part, and all its various little “friends” along with it, make sure to place them all together in one place, don’t scatter them all over. It’ll be a really frustrating process of guessing who’s who, and it’ll cost you a lot of time and nerves. Organize your workplace, remember to put all the new parts on a different table, and don’t hurry – that’s the main rule.
It is a good idea to reverse the order of removing all the parts, and put it all back together again. Repeat this once or twice and you’ll quickly learn your way around the procedure. And while the manuals can sometimes be very helpful and detailed, they’re not always clear about everything, and the pictures aren’t labeled or explained in plain and easy English. Keep the manual close and refer to it from time to time, but, as I told you before, you are your own shepherd in this quest, so, rely only on yourself.
Some General Tips And Tricks
For marking the exact place of alignment of the various parts, use nail polish to make some scratches. Just apply the polish on the two touching parts and re-align the polish strokes later on. That’ll save you a lot of re-calibrating and re-adjusting.
Remember – each repair is a learning process, and a big step forward. The first time may be a bit confusing, so, breaks are a must. Take 15 to just walk around, stretch your muscles, have a drink and clear your head. The second and third time will be a lot easier, and after that you can consider yourself a pro.
Also, make sure to protect your hands. Wash them first, and then apply some Vaseline. As an alternative, you can get surgical latex, or nitrile gloves – those will take care of your hands. The parts stores sell hand cleaners and protection, but keep in mind, that grease and creases on your skin won’t wash off that simply – that’s like oil paint. So, as I mentioned before, keep it clean and organized.
The Technological Approach
Take pictures. Yep, that’s gonna be very helpful. Label parts with numbers, names, etc. If you’ve got an expensive Smartpone or just a phone with good picture resolution, make sure to upload the pics to your computer/notebook. And even if the resolution is very low, you’ll still be able to see the vital details, and that can save you hours of frustration and run-arounds. Some people advice to draw pictures, but I don’t really understand why – just take pics with your phone, guys; I mean, everybody has a phone nowadays!
Repairing Your Own Vehicle – DIY Or Call The Mechanic?
And finally, familiarize yourself with every problem before getting down to it: if you’re not sure you’re up to the task, just read the manual once again. Reach out to people on the web – if you don’t understand something, don’t be shy to ask again. That’s how you learn, my friends. And, if after all the learning and studying you still don’t feel like taking on the problem by yourself, then don’t. There’s no shame in realizing, that somebody is better at something than you are. Just call your local mechanic, and he’ll take care of your car. But generally, nothing is really that difficult, and repairing a car is not rocket science. You just gotta warm up to it.
Alright, ladies and gentlemen, that’s the end of my Guide To Repairing Your Own Vehicle! I hope you’ve learned something from it, and I hope that it can help you overcome some of the difficulties, and become a pro at this. Good luck, and happy repairing!
Check out this video: Basic Tools For Fixing Your Own Car