Learning auto maintenance and repair

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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conwy
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Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by conwy » Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:42 pm

Hi all,

I'm a little ashamed to admit that I know little or nothing about car repair or maintenance.

Apart from changing oil or replacing a tire (and even those I'd probably have to Google a bit for), I'd be practically useless if faced with a broken down car or van.

For those of you who have such skills, how did you learn them?

And are there any books or online resources you could recommend for learning?

Eventually I'm thinking of buying my own van and perhaps taking that opportunity to learn repair & maintenance. Where would you advise to start, if I was to do that? Should I perhaps just try taking things apart? Perhaps start with an oil change and work up to changing the engine belt or something?

I'm a bit confused and don't know where to begin. I don't think I even know what the major components of an engine are.

So yeah, any resources and tips you could offer would be much appreciated.

Thanks!

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Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Gilberto de Piento » Sun Jun 03, 2018 8:37 pm

I learned how to works on mechanical things by trial and error. I messed up a lot in the early days (pre internet).

YouTube is great for learning how to fix specific car problems. Maybe think of a car you are interested in and search for "how to change oil 2005 Ford f150" or whatever.

You could also try learning about general concepts by reading or watching. Look up things like "how does a transmission work."

If you buy a van you could start my doing basic maintenance. Go from easy to hard. Replace the wiper blades. Check the oil. Replace plugs. Change oil. Rotate tires. Etc.

Go slow. Be very patient - it is easier to work a stuck bolt than drill a broken one out. Buy good tools. Try to work on it in a clean, well lit space with no deadline for getting the job done. Have a back up plan for if something goes wrong like if you need to get another part and the store isn't open. Try to find a mentor or a club - easier with an enthusiast car like a Jeep than with something no one cares about like a Saturn.

If you don't have a car to work on try bicycles. Work on your own bikes or help others, maybe at a volunteer shop. The basics apply to bikes and cars.

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Riggerjack
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Riggerjack » Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:01 pm

Ok. Newer vehicles will have a maintenance schedule. It will list recommended maintenance tasks and intervals. Of course, things break on their own schedule. Older vehicles will have things already broken, for your enlightenment. But start there. YouTube has a video showing everything you want to do. If one isn't clear, the next will be.

Also, look for mechanical tricks videos. This is where you learn about using one wrench as an extention for another, how to use specialty tools, etc.

Also, when you need to fix something, I prefer to start with a specific search, like GE washer clunking noise in spin cycle, or such. And many cars have a few dedicated forums of owners of that car. So the first place I search for a Prius problem is priuschat.com. if there has been a problem, someone has already had it. Easier to read about the way they fixed it.

Good luck.

Farm_or
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Farm_or » Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:45 pm

It sounds like you have the passion. That's the hard part. Now you just need to build on it.

I would recommend "Drive it forever" - Kiorsky for a starter book. The author is an accomplished mechanic that explains operating an auto to make it last. He debunks a lot of myth about maintenance.

Read, learn, and practice. You tube is a fantastic resource. It almost negates the need for old school shop manuals. And in many ways it's better. So long as you have the experience or understanding to recognize a hack from a tradesman...

ba199
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by ba199 » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:26 pm

I taught myself. In the past 5 years I've changed out brake pads, rotors, brake calipers, alternator, rear sway bar, multiple sensors, struts, shocks, serpentine belt, timing solenoid, door actuators plus probably a few other things on top of the normal fluid changes.

Everyone else posting here so far has good advice. I want to add in that rockauto is for the most part the best place to buy auto parts online and also finding a forum dedicated to your car is a good idea. I could search a forum (crvownersclub.com) for any problem I was having and would usually get a write up, picture descriptions, and links to youtube videos.

Farm_or
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Farm_or » Sun Jun 03, 2018 10:41 pm

Second on the rockauto tip. Be sure to learn the method for checking close outs. It has saved me a whole lot of money vs traditional auto parts brick and mortars...

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Sclass
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Sclass » Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:59 pm

My path probably isn’t optimum for you. I basically worked on cheap broken down bicycles, motorcycles and cars from age ten. When I finally started working, my first boss was a hot rod builder. We worked on our cars and motorcycles together. He knew more than me and some of it rubbed off.

So for you...hmmm. Van just makes me want to run home and hide under the covers. The few vans I’ve looked at ar amazingly hard to work on due to the location of the mechanicals. Unless you want a 1960 VW bus. I would get a simple car that you can easily access all the goods.

I owned a Saturn twin cam and it was a great car to do this on. But because of their various diseases there aren’t many left. Some had valve body issues on the autos, some had cracked head defects, and some had oil consumption issues. I got lucky, I later found out from a Saturn employee, in that I chose a twin cam with a manual trans. I only had the high oil consumption. So my suggestion for a car to tinker on would not be a Saturn but an older Civic. They have a good following and there are tons of used parts out there. An important skill to pick up is how to go to a self serve junkyard if you want to get really cheap. You haven’t lived till you have to fight with poor people over used tires at Pick and Pull.

Get a vehicle. I like single cylinder Honda motorcycles because everything is easily accessible and you only have one cylinder and a couple of valves to deal with. Buy a factory service manual. This will teach you how to service everything in a simple step by step instruction format. If you can follow a recipe you can do engine repairs. If you’re too cheap to get a factory manual pick up a Haynes or Clymer manual on eBay for the bike. Learn how to change a motorcycle tire by yourself. And learn how to change it again after you pinch the tube or tear the valve.

Or alternatively if you don’t like motorcycles get a Honda Civic from the late 90s. See all the immigrant types driving these? There’s a reason. Cheap, reliable and easy to fix. Stay away from modified cars. Get a service manual. Start fixing it. They have a great following online and many people will help you work through your issues...which they have already seen and solved. The old civics make great daily drivers and are simple systems. The key here is a strong internet community and a lot of used models still around.

I’ve saved a lot of money fixing my own cars and motorcycles for the last thirty-five Years. I told my SO a few days ago the average person spends $2000 a year to maintain their vehicle over its lifetime...at least that’s what the tappet brothers said. 35 years, $2000 a year, 10% return (mine is higher but let’s make it believable) and boom $600,000 in an old man’s pocket. Wait, that’s $1.2 million for the two of us. I’m in six figure car territory now but I still drive a 1982 Mercedes that cost me $2000 on Craigslist. I like old Mercedes cars because they stay fixed after I fix them. Good internet community. Lots of them to pick over in the junkyard. May not be right for everyone tho.

So there are my tips. Get something junky that needs fixing. Make sure it is something that you don’t mind destroying if you blow it. Get a service manual and follow the directions. Buy some cheap tools at Harbor Freight to get started. By the way I have two friends who took this basic advice from me and still didn’t learn a thing. And they had to drive some beater cars in the meantime too. :lol: ymmv.

I finally got to a place where I’m not forced to crawl under a car, but I still do it for fun and the satisfaction that I don’t get ripped off. It is shocking how much people get ripped off by mechanics. You learn this after you understand cars. A lot of unnecessary fixing going on out there. Short of dumping your car altogether learning how to fix it will save you money.

Hey, if you’re really cheap and I know you’re here because you are, go to the library and go over to the section where they have all the Chilton, Haynes, Clymer manuals and thumb through one for a particular car. See if you would be comfortable following a long with the steps IRL. It’s free.

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Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Gilberto de Piento » Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:42 am

So the first place I search for a Prius problem is priuschat.com.
I was not expecting you to own a Prius. I would have guessed a diesel F series. ;)

ffj
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by ffj » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:04 am

@Sclass

Good advice. Similarly, if you want to learn how to work on a house, buy an old one and start fixing it up. You'll screw some stuff up, but you'll also do a lot of things right and take away the fear of swinging that hammer.

Regarding getting ripped off, last year I dropped off our car at the local box mechanic shop and asked them to inspect and quote me on new rotors and brake pads. I knew it was going to be high but I truly wasn't prepared for what they quoted me: $950 for four rotors and pads. I thought I had misheard, haha. I told them I would be picking the car up shortly, after which I went to NAPA and bought the parts (less than $200) and had a local shop put them on for $60. It's astounding the mark-up.

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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by jacob » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:34 am

Key-point, however, is to not live, drive, or ride your learning-project while you're learning. Otherwise, that's asking for a lot of pressure/stress/imposed deadlines.

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Riggerjack
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Riggerjack » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:44 am

I was not expecting you to own a Prius. I would have guessed a diesel F series. ;)
Prius C, for child size! With a Bernie sticker next to my "I am the NRA and I vote" sticker. Spreading confusion and befuddlement where ever we go.

It's a great, simple car, amazingly easy to do all that a car should, tight turn radius, easy to park, I get real world 50+ mpg. But, it's a car designed to be all that and easily assembled, rather than easily serviced.

I do have a full sized beater chevy truck, but it only hauls, I bought it for $1500, 10 years ago, and have only put 17000 miles on it in that time. I like diesels, but more for heavy equipment than road use. And on the road, I prefer maneuverability over momentum. Better to avoid the accident than ensure that the other driver loses more, for the comparative win. Besides, my wife prefers to drive, and I prefer to nap, so we bought the car she likes.

BTW, rockauto is awesome, but shipping can take time. Planning is necessary.

As for mechanics ripping us off, mechanics have to diagnose a problem from someone else's description, meaning that where they start in troubleshooting is where you send them. What they find has more to do with the history of the car than our description. After the mechanic finds a problem, he has to decide if that is what you brought the car in for, or keep looking. Then when he has to order the parts, and schedule the fix.

Now, we all know all that, but there's more. The mechanic has to get the partsquick, because nobody wants to wait. Here in the Puget sound, we have a big parts delivery company that just sells parts to mechanics, usually same or next day. But those are the fast parts, not the cheap parts. I needed to change the fuel injector in my infiniti, back in the day. 8 cylinders, 8 injectors. Rockauto, $50/ea. Westbay, $289/ea. It required pulling the plenum, with lots of old custom hoses I didn't want to pay with. The mechanic quoted me 10 hours. I was able to order the parts and deliver them with the car, and my savings over his parts source paid for his labor. Every shop, when they set up an account with a delivery service, decides on their parts profit margins. That is built into the price you see on the estimate. That's the business owner's cut, not the mechanics'.

I bring all this up, mainly to point out that the system is set up for the typical users, who have a car, a credit card, and a problem, and hope to leave with 2 out of 3. We, who are more effective with our spending, are just not a good fit for that system. So I recommend avoiding it when practical.

Also, I needed to second the van comment. Older vans have almost no access to the engine compartment through the hood. Most work involves removing the console cover of the interior, to access the engine from the driver's seat. Awkward. But mechanical work involves lots of awkward, just get comfortable with it. Wait til you are sitting in the passenger seat, feet in the air, head under the dash, fixing one of the many parts accessed that way. It's both satisfying and frustrating, have fun.

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Sclass
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Sclass » Mon Jun 04, 2018 1:30 pm

Getting ripped off is very real. Ok, I get it, it is tough being a sole proprietor and keeping impatient people happy and remaining open. I’ve known some good bankrupt shop owners in my time. But I’ve also known some downright evil ones. My friends. In their Smokey little offices they just laugh out loud about ripping off some Mom with car seats in the back. It was a game for a friend of mine to see if I’d laugh when he calmly overcharged and over repaired cars while I was hanging out at the shop. Millionaire shop owner...lousy mechanic.

Recently I took my SO’s car in for a smog check. I thought it would be scan and go but when I came back the guy said it passed but I had to see something. He had disassembled parts of the car...during my smog check. He had a checklist of things that needed to be done. Filters, hoses and caps all over. I supposedly had bad power steering fluid that needed to be flushed. Bad brake fluid that was clear on top in the reservoir but was “undoubtedly bad down below” and needed flushing. I’d just bled it a few months earlier. Transmission needed a flush too. Right. I did a drain and filter recently on that as well. I calmly said no. He put the car back together.

That’s what I get for a $29 smog check with coupon. Now what if I hadn’t been a wrench? That guy would have billed me $200 for all that useless work. It’s real. It happens all the time.
Every shop, when they set up an account with a delivery service, decides on their parts profit margins. That is built into the price you see on the estimate. That's the business owner's cut, not the mechanics'.
I’m using shop and mechanic loosely here. I just met a dealer mechanic who told me he knows a couple of dealership parts guys who make $250,000 a year. They get commissions. Basically the racket is they have this sliding scale where they can jack up the parts they order for the stealership up to 200% and get a cut of the action. If you whip out a rockauto page on your phone they’ll come down but if you agree they’ll charge what they can. This is why there is so much variability in dealership parts prices and why online parts houses have been able to offer such seemingly outlandish discounts. It’s a racket.

poleo
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by poleo » Mon Jun 04, 2018 2:21 pm

Simple answer - get yourself a Volkswagen.

Any model of any year will do. Make sure you have no warranty, and that you are broke as well. Also try and have a friend with a Japanese car, so that you can go buy parts with this one, with money that you either get from welfare benefits or your parents.

Borrow some tools or go to the cheapest auto parts store in town and spend some more of said money for a ratchet wrench and some sockets. Most things can be done with this tool, sometimes with the addition of a long tube for a more persuasive touch.

Get some good friends as well.

But really, it all boils down to getting a Volkswagen. You'll learn plenty in a hurry.

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Sclass
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Sclass » Mon Jun 04, 2018 8:11 pm

poleo wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 2:21 pm
Simple answer - get yourself a Volkswagen.

Any model of any year will do.

But really, it all boils down to getting a Volkswagen. You'll learn plenty in a hurry.
Do you have a favorite? Air cooled or TDI?

I had a rabbit diesel. 1984. I have to agree, it needed a lot of fixing but all the jobs were easily done. The following was strong. There was this really cool hippy book I used to fix it.

https://www.amazon.com/How-keep-your-Vo ... 0912528176

enigmaT120
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by enigmaT120 » Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:19 pm

My Volkswagen was a 1970 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle I bought in 1987 as my only motor transport. It definitely made a mechanic out of me. I still have it.

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Sclass
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Sclass » Tue Jun 05, 2018 10:44 am

enigmaT120 wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 11:19 pm
My Volkswagen was a 1970 Triumph Bonneville motorcycle I bought in 1987 as my only motor transport. It definitely made a mechanic out of me. I still have it.
I was in this place a month ago.

http://www.triumphclassicmotorcycles.com/index2.htm

The owner asked me if I was in the market for a vintage Brit bike. I told him I have enough problems in my life. I have a lot of respect for guys who maintain British mechanicals. The owner had a good way of saying it. “They require attention.”

That is an interesting thought along this thread. If you get a Civic or Corolla you may never learn that much.

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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by enigmaT120 » Tue Jun 05, 2018 11:35 pm

Like a line from a Bowie song "When it's good it's really good, and when it's bad I go to pieces."

Farm_or
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Farm_or » Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:36 am

I have a buddy who is an independent auto mechanic. His biggest problem is accounts receivable. Too many people want their car fixed fast and right (often conflicting) but don't pay. He's taken to putting their car on the hoist when it's ready. After the bill is paid, he brings it down. Sounds ridiculous? The times we live in...

We always hear the tales of the shady shops. It's bad representation for most mechanics. The good ones that I know of have such a backlog that they don't have to nor want to look for bogus repairs. But all of this is good reason to learn diy. Or at least, avoid the franchise shops that employ shady tactics and green mechanics. If you must hire a mechanic, talk to the manager at your local Napa. I worked at one during hs. They get to know the shops very well and can tell you where to go and where to avoid...

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Sclass
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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by Sclass » Wed Jun 06, 2018 11:08 am

Farm_or wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 6:36 am
If you must hire a mechanic, talk to the manager at your local Napa. I worked at one during hs. They get to know the shops very well and can tell you where to go and where to avoid...
This is really a good tip. They’ll certainly know if a mechanic solves problems by throwing Napa parts at it.

The Snapon drivers often know who is who in an area. I knew one who told me all Snapon drivers have to be able to size up a shop in a few minutes because they extend credit. Snapon is basically a tool financing company.

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Re: Learning auto maintenance and repair

Post by jacob » Wed Jun 06, 2018 11:12 am

Sclass wrote:
Wed Jun 06, 2018 11:08 am
Snapon is basically a tool financing company.
Ha! I always wondered how anyone could afford $10 sockets.

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