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Last post Author Topic: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?  (Read 17599 times)

mouser

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Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« on: March 09, 2015, 11:42:37 AM »
As some of you may remember, I purchased my first car, the Codymobile, last year (with some help from you folks).  See the thread on it, with some photos: here.

I love the car.. It's a very low mileage car -- not driven often by the first and previous owner, and driven even less by me (2008 Suzuki SX4 AWD, with only 22k miles).

It's in good shape, but I have no idea if the previous owner did any fluid changes, etc.

I'm not a car person, but because I want to spend more time bonding with the car and because I like tinkering with things and learning how to do things, I'm thinking I may invest in some tools and do everything I can do (change oil, transmission fluid, spark plugs, coolant, transfer case oil, break fluid, etc.).

There are some great videos on youtube that show how to do most things for my car, so I can follow those for most things.

Currently I'm thinking about buying some (rhino) ramps for getting it up to work on.

Any other thoughts? Am I crazy for trying to do this stuff myself?

Cost wise, I suspect I won't save much money doing this stuff myself -- mainly because I'll be spending all of this money on tools that I will only ever use once or twice (given how infrequently I drive the car, this may be my one and only change of these fluids before i die of old age).  On the other hand I am (rightly or wrongly?) completely paranoid about mechanics not doing a proper job in changing these fluids and not using quality materials -- especially when the customer is bringing in a car that probably doesn't need these fluids replaced  :-\



I also want to take a moment here and post some links to some great DIY car maintenance books that I've read recently -- most of which are available very cheap used on amazon.com:
(side note -- two of my top 3 books are written by women)

And some great youtube video sources:
« Last Edit: March 26, 2015, 10:40:47 AM by mouser »

hollowlife1987

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #1 on: March 09, 2015, 12:00:48 PM »
Jack and jack stands are useful too, an get a floor jack for pretty cheap.

But basic things like plugs wires, oil, air filter, radiator fluid, transmission filter are all good things to know.

I'm not a car person either however I do know how to do all the things listed. Thanks to youtube and actually doing it

Costwise a plugs and wires dealship wants $300 to do, can easily do it for <= $100

Only thing is have to take the oil and such for proper disposal your self.

MilesAhead

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #2 on: March 09, 2015, 12:03:54 PM »
My suggestion would be to find things interesting to tinker with on the vehicle that don't require you to get under it.  Especially if you are by yourself, if you get pinned you may not be able to call for help.

Not to do a "scared straight" on you but, a relative was an experienced mechanic.  He was found pinned underneath a car in the shop as he was working alone.  From the story I heard he became complacent and used a screwdriver instead of a hardened steal pin, in those jack stands that have the holes to set the height.

Doing it outside I would not get under a car unless you have hard flat level ground, and high quality jack stands.  Not ramps.  As you say, buying the tools will likely cost you more than you save.  But things like brakes can be done without getting under the car.  You can buy a small hydraulic jack to lift one wheel and lower it on a jack stand before removing the tire.  Some parts stores will rent you the "one time use" tool rather than making you buy it.

Fluids are easier to learn to change than brakes.  So if you decide to go that route I would check around for a garage that rents a lift to do it yourself customers.  They may even let you rent use of a tool set by the hour.  It's a lot more fun anyway having the car at the proper height on a lift with the safety lever extended.  The danger would be getting some oil or grease on your clothes rather than pinning yourself under a couple of tons of ain't going nowhere.

Another mechanic I worked with was working under a car with one of the gray bumper hydraulic jacks holding up one end of the car.  He put 2 safety stands under the frame, but didn't lower the car onto them.  While he was distracted doing the work, some twit decided he wanted to use one of the jack stands and just took it away.  The gray jack tipped over and my friend was feeding through a straw for months while the surgeons reworked much of his skull.

Please stay out from under.  It's a lot safer.   :Thmbsup:


cranioscopical

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #3 on: March 09, 2015, 03:49:18 PM »
All of what Miles said.
Do it indoors, somehow.
Buy a decent suit of overalls.
If you mess with the brakes and lose some fluid, make sure you top up and bleed the system.
Write down all that you do at every step so that you have a good chance to reverse the process/reassemble stuff.
Make a will.
 


mouser

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #4 on: March 09, 2015, 03:53:24 PM »
Quote
Make a will.
:P

mwb1100

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #5 on: March 09, 2015, 04:10:31 PM »
Some parts stores will rent you the "one time use" tool rather than making you buy it.

Yes - keep this in mind for those oddball tools that have a single, specialized purpose.  Some of the parts stores around here (Seattle area) will 'rent' these tools for nothing - essentially you pay for the tool then return it.  While this might sound like a scammy way to borrow a tool, it's the way the store has designed their loaner program.

And personally I like the Haynes brand of repair manuals, though I often combine using a Haynes book with the official technician's manual from the manufacturer if it's not too expensive.  I'm not really a mechanic, so I find it helpful to have a couple different perspectives on how something needs to be done.  But like you said, youtube makes this kind of thing a lot clearer than just going by books.

MilesAhead

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2015, 05:47:43 PM »
btw does this machine have standard stick or automatic transmission?  I'm mentioning it because many people think "low mileage" is the key to everything.  But with cars over 5 years old, especially if they are stick shift, what you may find is that the brakes have never been serviced.  The driver down shifts to put the car's first brake job onto the next owner.

Especially a foreign car you may find the calipers cannot be serviced as it is solid rust etc..

What can happen is you pay for factory rebuilt or new parts, which on a foreign job, may require a straight from the dealer purchase.  You can take a serious beating in this fashion.  The moral of the story is, drive slow and downshift.  Put the brake job off to the next owner.  ;)

mouser

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #7 on: March 09, 2015, 06:29:09 PM »
It's a 2008 auto.

Joe Hone

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #8 on: March 09, 2015, 07:44:36 PM »
To offer a contra opinion (and just because you asked. . .), I take my car to a mechanic who doesn't hesitate to tell me a repair is not needed, or not needed for another ____ miles, or most recently, that it was possible to fix but would never interfere with the car's operation and wasn't a safety concern, so why bother. I drove that car 2300 miles in 32 hours straight last week. I read recently about a lady who drove from Phoenix, Arizona to Riverside, California (350 miles) because the Riverside mechanic was honest, didn't overcharge and gave good maintenance advice. I think if you ask around you will find the same mechanic where you are.

Target

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2015, 08:08:10 PM »
most of the jobs you're probably going to tackle are pretty basic, and certainly nothing to be afraid of.  Rental agencies will generally look after their cars pretty well (they're depending on them after all - renters, not so much :o) so most things should be ok.

Modern cars are generally pretty reliable so the stuff you're probably looking at to start with is oil and filter changes, and spark plugs. 

Check the users handbook that came with the car for servicing schedules (download it if you didn't get one).  It will tell you the recommended intervals and what to change when.

You should also be able to get away with a minimum of tools for the basic stuff but as has been mentioned previously safety is paramount.  NEVER EVER EVER get under a vehicle resting solely on jacks, ALWAYS use an approved jack stand and remove the jack.  Also you shouldn't need to buy a jack, there should have been one in the car when you bought it. 

You can build a basic tool set piecemeal but a plug socket, a ring spanner (for the sump plug), a filter spanner and a 'drip tray' to catch waste oil will cover the basics.  And probably some feeler gauges to gap the new plugs...

+1 to what Chris said, but instead of taking notes, take pictures!!  A picture tells a thousand words and digital cameras make it super easy to document a process and will make it much easier if you want to tackle bigger jobs like brakes.  Plus if you want to compare something against what you're seeing on the net...


mouser

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #10 on: March 09, 2015, 09:04:23 PM »
I might try to build a set of 4 wheel cribes, as described here: http://www.myturbodi...tion-to-jack-stands/

Target

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2015, 09:46:35 PM »
I might try to build a set of 4 wheel cribes, as described here: http://www.myturbodi...tion-to-jack-stands/

that wood work but why bother?

[url=http://www.walmart.com/ip/Torin-Jacks-3-Ton-Jack-Stand-Pair/14560047] costs significantly less, takes up 1/4 of the space to store, and is guaranteed to work

mouser

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2015, 09:49:27 PM »
Well, if I only needed to lift one side at a time, I think I would just buy some ramps.. $50 to lift one side 6 inches is within my budget and seems safer than jack stands.
But.. my problem is that there is some work that I'd like to do which could really benefit from lots of room under the car for a prolonged period (scraping rust and then painting with rust encapsulator).. and I would not feel comfortable being under the car with the entire care raised up on 4 jack stands.

Shades

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2015, 12:13:41 AM »
My mother drove for a taxi company when I was a young kid and I spent quite some time in his garage and houses. The guy did all the maintenance himself...or delegated to his sons. His garage had a hole in the floor where an adult could stand in. It was all tiled up, had stairs for easy entrance, room for tool storage on decent height. All that was left was to drive the car over the hole, leaving the bottom exposed for any kind of job you require. Very safe for when you need to work under a car.

 

mouser

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2015, 12:19:46 AM »
I would love to have such a pit -- i don't understand why all neighborhoods don't have one somewhere that people could use.

MilesAhead

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #15 on: March 10, 2015, 05:50:21 AM »
I would love to have such a pit -- i don't understand why all neighborhoods don't have one somewhere that people could use.

Front end alignments are usually done in a pit with an alignment measuring machine stuck on the front.  Most of the time though, to save expense they are only about 3 feet deep.  You have to sit on a creeper to do the adjustments underneath.  I think I only worked on one alignment machine with a pit that you could stand up and work.  Driving up those ramps was pretty hairy though.  The pit was 3 feet deep but the ramps were built up higher to make stand up space.

I think working underneath a car by yourself is risky no matter what the lift, jacks/stands whatever.  Hydraulic lifts with a bad seal can be very sneaky as they lower at a very slow rate, and you are concentrating on what you are doing.

Just my opinion but avoiding being crushed by several tons of metal is not where I look to save a dollar.  I might buy Craftsman wrenches instead of Snap-On if I was to save a buck.

But it's you on the ground, not me.


IainB

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #16 on: March 10, 2015, 06:50:21 AM »
I can offer you some advice from my own hard-won experience, having started to teach myself auto-mechanics for DIY at the age of 18 out of necessity. My motivation was economics - I could not afford to run the car I needed to use. I had to leave home to live in digs which were cheaper than college accommodation, but remote to the college I would be attending, and my brother had serendipitously recently left to work overseas, leaving his old car for anyone to use (it had little resale value).

These are some of the key points I would make:
  • 1. Knowledge: Vehicles are all about physics and mechanics. Read up on the design and development of the internal combustion engine. It will save you a lot of time/trouble later on. Read up and learn about the physics of torque and what a torque wrench is and why torque is important in tools/mechanical assemblies. An understanding of timing - i.e., valve timing and ignition timing in the combustion cycle  - could also be very useful.
  • 2. Workshop manuals: Don't try to service or fix anything on the car without having a pukka workshop manual to hand for the exact car make and model you are intending to work on.
  • 3. Toolkit: Buy a portable steel toolbox (preferably galvanized) of the type that opens out with 2 or 3-layer cantilevered trays and has a good carry handle. It won't hold all of your tools, but it will be an essential item. Some of the tools you will need will be wrenches that will need to fit the same standard of the nuts/bolts on the car - for example, refer Wrench Conversion Table: SAE/Metric/Whitworth (and various Brit schemes). Keep your toolkit (or as much of it as you can) in the car's trunk, ready for when you need it.
  • 4. Garage: Fantastic if you have one. If you don't have a garage, then pick a fine day to do routine roadside servicing work. Freezing or wet days are no fun at all and are likely to get your tools wet and make them rusty, and make you ill.
  • 5. Battery: Lead-acid batteries are a necessary anachronism, and wear out over time as an insoluble deposit builds up on the plates. There is a chemical additive (I forget its name) that you can add which actually restores the plates in old batteries to near-new state, but battery vendors won't tell you about it. A failing lead-acid car battery discharges very poorly in sub-zero temperatures. Heating it up in an oven can help improve its discharge, but take care not to overheat and melt the battery casing and don't get a battery anywhere near naked flames (hydrogen is given off in the battery cells and is highly combustible.
  • 6. Battery charger: Buy a trickle-charger for the battery. Fast charging damages the plates of the battery, whereas regular trickle-charging does not. If you can, leave a battery charging overnight on the trickle-charger.
  • 7. Car electrics: Buy a moving-coil analogue multimeter (I built one from a kit). You will need it - car electrical faults can sometimes be fiendishly difficult to trace and fix. It helps a lot if you have studied and understand electronics.
  • 8. Using car jacks and axle-stands: Employ a "belts-and-braces" approach at all times. Before jacking up a vehicle, pull the handbrake on and engage 1st/reverse gear or auto-lock ("Park"). Always work on the car on flat, solid ground (concrete, tarmac, or compressed chip). Always put wheel chocks or bricks fore and aft of any wheel that is resting on a flat surface. NEVER allow any part of your body to go underneath a raised vehicle that is not stable and supported by axle-stand(s) or is on non-collapsible wheel-ramps. If you got the vehicle in the air with a jack, ensure that the jack remains securely in position whilst you have the vehicle securely resting and stable on axle-stands/ramps. Do not attempt to operate the jack whilst you are under the car, unless it is to get yourself out of an emergency - e.g., due to (say) an axle-stand that is sinking in soft ground when you are doing an emergency roadside repair. Get a set of four adjustable folding tripod axle-stands, and keep one or two of them in the trunk, with your toolkit.
  • 9. Check/correct headlamp alignment: As well as being an interesting and relatively simple exercise in mechanics/physics, checking that the headlamp main and dipped beams are square, parallel and horizontal can not only be useful for safety, but also can provide early warning of something going amiss with the car's suspension.
  • 10. Know your limits: Do not try to undertake more major work on your own. Either give it to a garage, or have a friendly mechanic with you - one who is suitably competent to assist you. If you do not have the proper special tools for a job, or do not have experience using them - e.g., an engine hoist for raising the engine block, or calibrated tools for wheel alignment or toe-in/toe out adjustment - then leave it to a garage. Jobs done the wrong way on a car can turn out to be very expensive and/or downright dangerous in terms of accelerating wear and tear, or fracturing/stripping components or due to bits falling off (e.g., due to over-tightening, incorrect reassembly, under-tightening).
  • 11. Clothing and cleanliness and safety: Have a high-visibility overall and keep it in the trunk. Keep spare rags and a can of CRC in the trunk (CRC for use as an easing oil and as a cleansing lubricant). Keep a tube of barrier cream and a can of water-soluble degreaser detergent in the trunk, for keeping your hands clean. NEVER wear any flappy clothes or a necktie whilst leaning over the engine whilst it is running. NEVER poke fingers or tools into a moving part - cars can maim/kill you whilst they are standing still. For engine bays, the rule is: If it's metal, it's HOT.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2015, 08:14:35 AM by IainB »

MilesAhead

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #17 on: March 10, 2015, 10:16:07 AM »
Quote
NEVER wear any flappy clothes or a necktie whilst leaning over the engine whilst it is running.

Along those lines, it may seem obvious, but it's a good idea to take off stuff like rings, watches, wrist bands, necklaces etc..  Getting your hand out of where you snaked it in isn't always easy.  It can be much tougher if one of those gets caught up on something.

Stoic Joker

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #18 on: March 10, 2015, 04:55:48 PM »
I haven't had time to comment on this, but for simplicity sake I'd like to +1 everything MilesAhead has said, Safety is key and mistakes tend to be painful.

One odd habit I have, that I acquired from my father...is to always keep a shop rag handy (they're cheap as hell at any auto parts store). Regardless of what I'm working on I will always be wiping the majority of the oil/grease grime off my hands to ensure that anything I pickup will not get dropped. This is partially because - as my father said - cleanliness is critical to proper assembly. And because the parts frequently tend to be sharp...so if your hands are oily enough to make your hands slip you can get cut badly rather quickly. Plus dropped parts get and/or cause damage, and dropped fasteners (or small parts) can go places - like the intake - that can get expensive almost immediately. Not to mention the Murphy's Law that any tool dropped will automatically roll to the exact mathematical center of the vehicle (making it a bitch to retrieve).

Curt

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #19 on: March 10, 2015, 07:21:10 PM »
Nothing Miles said.

One real danger is what may happen if you don't get under the car, because that's where any life threatening action on the road would take place. From time to time it is important to check for rust, how much is left of the brakes, is the petrol trunk rusting, are there any lose hanging wires, check suspension, etcetera. Changing oil and plugs, is cosy, and you save a little money, but getting under the car, may save your very life!




SeraphimLabs

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #20 on: March 10, 2015, 08:49:53 PM »
Ramps are positively dangerous because if the car slips out of gear or your chocks are not large enough it can very quickly roll right back down them.

Better to get the floor jack and a set of jackstands to go with it. The jack raises the car, then a jackstand is raised to be snug against the car's frame and latched at that height. If the jack fails or bleeds down, the car will land on the stand instead of on you.

And yes, better to go under it from time to time to make sure. You can spot fluid leaks, keep track of what is rusting where, and make sure there aren't any dangling pieces while under it.


Shades

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #21 on: March 10, 2015, 10:49:49 PM »
Is it not common to apply a coating on a new(er) car once every year or two, depending on the harshness of winter?

To clean roads of snow, municipalities use salt...which turns snow into a brown/blackish sludge that finds its way into every nook and cranny on the bottom and sides of your car. In no time your car will look eerilie similar to that brown/blackish sludge all year round. That is the reality in the Netherlands. However, there is a coating that protects your car. I only know it is called 'bitak'/'bitac' and that works very well for rust prevention.

If all you do is driving over smooth asphalt, then that coating easily lasts for years. Hence I always thought it was applied to any car. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Renegade

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #22 on: March 11, 2015, 01:16:17 AM »
To clean roads of snow, municipalities use salt...

Oh my good grief! That stuff eats cars... Compared rusted out, old cars in Canada to pristine machines from the 1940s & 50s in southern climates... Sheesh...

So, yeah. +1 for having coating there.
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MilesAhead

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #23 on: March 11, 2015, 05:41:38 AM »
Nothing Miles said.

One real danger is what may happen if you don't get under the car, because that's where any life threatening action on the road would take place. From time to time it is important to check for rust, how much is left of the brakes, is the petrol trunk rusting, are there any lose hanging wires, check suspension, etcetera. Changing oil and plugs, is cosy, and you save a little money, but getting under the car, may save your very life!





Although he hasn't specified, I get the impression Mouser will be tinkering just he and the vehicle in most cases.  My paranoia is about working underneath a car alone.  Obviously I spent a lot of time in alignment pits, under cars on hydraulic lifts, and under cars in the lot that were on jack stands.  But I remember doing foolish things in my enthusiasm when I first started.  Like changing the oil and filter for friends in the driveway with only a bumper jack.

 It is easy to think it won't happen to you.  But I just wanted to emphasize that when working alone paranoia may save your life in the very short term.  My cousin;s husband, who used the screwdriver in the jack stand, must have had over 20 years experience as a professional mechanic.  It can happen to anyone.  Complacency can kill you quickly, if you are lucky.  I don't like to think about him suffering pinned under that car all night.

« Last Edit: March 11, 2015, 07:54:19 AM by MilesAhead »

Stoic Joker

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Re: Interested in doing my own car maintenance.. Advice?
« Reply #24 on: March 11, 2015, 06:50:53 AM »
^This - All it takes is one stubborn part, that requires just a bit more force...and an improperly secured vehicle can end up on top of you. Like using jackstands in the dirt without putting a board under them so they don't sink in while you're focused on the removal of a particularly feisty idler arm. Fortunately a friend was there at the time...or I wouldn't be now.

Sure finding the source of a leak requires getting under the vehicle. But finding out that something is leaking only requires paying attention to maintenance routines (e.g. checking fluid levels), and paying attention to any spots/puddles that appear under the car. Lift the hood once in awhile and look around so you know what it's supposed to look like, and if any odd (leak indication) deposits are starting to form.