Cars are amazing things, aren’t they? They can take you places your grandparents never saw-at speeds they never dreamed of The world has changed dramatically over the past century, and much of the world’s movement has been made by the car.So it’s really frustrating when the *%$#@! things don’t work! Don’t blame the car. Today’s cars are designed to run 100,000, 200,000, even 500,000 miles or morewith proper maintenance.That’s where you come in. Whether you do the maintenance yourself or have it done, it’s your job to make sure it happens. Actually, it’s not that big of a job. You can handle it. You can spend just a few hours each year to check, adjust, and replace parts and fluids on your car-and you can save scads of money. If you can eat and watch TV at the same time, you can do at least some of the maintenance on your own car-or at least know how to hire someone to do it for a fair price.
Pickpockets in Overalls
The fact is that the cost of most car repair jobs is about 50% parts and 50% labor, so that $80 tune-up required only about $40 in parts. In fact, the mechanic also made at least 20% more on the parts because he or she buys the parts at a low price and sells them to you at a profit. So you could have done the same tune-up for about $32 in parts and pocketed the rest-if you knew how.Before you get started taking over the maintenance of your car and saving money left and right, here are some tips to make the job easier and maybe even more fun. Well, at least easier.
Tip #1: Buy tools only as needed. Some eager folks go right out and buy a $500 set of top-of-the-line tools before they open the hood of their car. Instead, start gathering a few tools needed for basic maintenance, and then build your set as you discover what jobs you want to do and which you’d prefer others do for you. In most cases, you’ll be able to pay for needed tools with savings from the first job you do yourself. Then the tools are yours, free and clear to save you money on future jobs.
Tip #2: Buy parts at a discount. That’s not the same as buying cheap parts. Cheap parts are those made to sell at the lowest possible prices. Discount parts
are quality parts that you purchased at less than the suggested retail pricesometimes just a few pennies or bucks more than the cheapies. By learning the year, make, model, and engine of your car, it becomes easier to compare the prices of specific parts by number. You don’t have to shop at Wally’s Superduper Phantasmagoric Store to get a low price. In fact, you might find a local auto parts retailer who will give you a discount (as much as 35%) on purchases of quality parts that are more durable and reliable. You’ll also get knowledgeable answers to your questionssomething that Wally’s clerks might not be able to offer.
Tip #3: Group maintenance tasks. One way to make your work easier is to do more than one job during a maintenance session. When you check the oil, check the coolant and other fluids at the same time. Use a maintenance plan that helps you use your time efficiently.
Tip #4: Make maintenance a habit. Keeping your car in good condition actually won’t take much time at all. In fact, if you make maintenance a regular habit, you can do much of it using the time you’ll save being frustrated by needless repairs.
In Your Driveway or in the Parking Lot
One big reason why more people don’t do maintenance on their own cars is they just don’t seem to have a good place to do it. They think that they need a garage and shop. Not so. Most car maintenance can be done nearly anywhere the law allows. Following are some ideas about where you can get the work done. Depending on the task, you might be able to do much of your car’s maintenance right where it’s parked in the morning. You can open the hood, check and fill engine fluids, and Visually inspect your car where it is.
If you’re changing oil, you might be able to get permission to drain and replace the oil and filter in the parking lot where you buy the parts. Of course, you’ll need an oilcollection can to eliminate spillage and allow recycling, but many auto parts stores can sell you the collection system and even help you recycle the old oil and filter. The same can be said for refilling other engine fluids.
You can also replace many worn car parts, such as filters, right there in the parking lot where you bought them-if you don’t have a better place to do so. Some parts stores offer a specific area to do so. If not, ask permission. Make sure you can do so safely and can clean up after yourself when done.
What about maintenance in colder or wetter climates? Some cities have do-it-yourself maintenance shops where you can buy and install parts in a heated garage bay-for an hourly fee. Or you can borrow a friend’s garage for a few hours. Or you can do your own maintenance when the weather’s nice and have your mechanic do it when it’s not so nice.
How To Get Your Hands Dirty
As you’ll soon discover, most car maintenance can be done in a couple of minutes a week and a couple of hours every few months. It’s really not going to take that long once you know what you’re doing and how to do it.
The first step to trouble-free car care is planning what you’ll do. The second step is gathering the needed fluids and parts. Having a system also helps you make sure you have what you need for normal maintenance. The third step is gathering the tools you’ll need for the maintenance procedure. What tools? This is a good time to look over the scads of tools found in an auto parts store and figure out which ones you’ll need-and which ones you won’t. Let’s do that right now.
It’s Tool Time!
Tools are simply extensions of your hands. If you had eaten enough spinach when you were younger, you wouldn’t have to use tools to loosen bolts. You could do it with your bare hands. You didn’t, so now you must. (Fortunately for the toolmakers, few of us liked spinach.) Cars stay together because of fasteners. Bolts, screws, clips, and other fasteners are used to attach car parts to each other, and so they work together. Most of the tools you need for maintaining your car simply tighten or loosen these fasteners. A few perform related functions.
The key tools to have are listed here:
- Wrenches or sockets move bolts
- Screwdrivers move screws
- Pliers grab parts
- Lubrication or lube tools lubricate parts
Using Tools To Make a Dent
There’s a logic to how cars work. There’s a related logic to how tools work with car parts. Understand the logic and you’re on your way to making maintenance easier.
First, most fasteners have grooves or threads on them so that they can be rotated into or out of other parts. So it’s very important that the threads aren’t damaged or, if they are, that the replacement fastener has the same thread pattern.
Auto parts stores usually have small bins where you find a variety of bolts. The labels on the front of the bins tell you about the bolts inside. The label that says liz – 13 x 1 is telling you that these are l/z-inch-diameter bolts with 13 threads per inch and that the bolt shaft (not counting the head) is 1 inch long. The bolthead may have lines on it pointing to its corners. These lines tell you what grade or strength the bolt is. No memorization here. Just make sure a replacement bolt has at least as many lines on the head as the one it is replacing. Remember to take the original bolt with you when you’re buying a replacement so that you can check the match.
For you metric fans, the label on the bolt bin might say M12 – 1.75 x 25. It describes a metric bolt with a head width (tip to tip) of 12 mm, a distance of 1.75 mm between threads, and a shaft length of 25 mm. Be careful, folks, because this size is almost identical to the standard size described in the last paragraph. Bolt strength is indicated by numbers stamped on the bolt’s head. Make sure a replacement bolt has the same or higher numbers as the old bolt.
Most clocks now are digital, displaying the time numerically. Although that makes reading the time easier, it makes it more difficult to define the term clockwise. Bolts, screws, and other threaded fasteners are installed by turning them clockwise. Looking down on the top of the fastener, tum the upper side toward the right. To loosen a fastener, tum the upper side counterclockwise or toward the left. This rule applies for all right-handed screws, bolts, and most other threaded fasteners. Less common lefthand threaded fasteners are installed by turning counterclockwise and are removed by turning clockwise. Another way to remember which direction to tum the bolt is to think “righty-tighty, lefty loosey,” meaning tum the head to the right to tighten and to the left to loosen.
Finding Parts the Legal Way
Your car has more than 10,000 parts. Trouble-free car care means replacing a part once in a while. No, they don’t fall off-they wear out. How can you make sure you have the correct replacement part? The first step is to identify the part. Parts you need to replace during routine maintenance include filters, ignition components, and a few other parts that are easy to identify and remove. To identify the specific part, look it over for a brand name and any numbers. An oil filter might say Atlas F-14 on its casing, for example. A battery might be labeled Interstate Group 24, 60A on the top. A spark plug might say Autolite BRF42. (Okay, you caught me. A spark plug doesn’t “say” anything. You have to “read” it. Feel better?)
What if the part you need to replace doesn’t have a number or other identification on it (such as an air filter)? If possible, remove the part and take it to your auto parts retailer. With year, make, model, and engine specs, the retailer probably will be able to find the exact replacement part for you. And what if you can’t remove the part without losing your ride? Then identify it in other ways, such as description, size, and location. With other specifications on your
car, an auto parts retailer usually can identify the part and furnish a replacement. If you can drive the car to the auto parts store, do so and ask a counterperson to look at the part.
And what if the auto parts store doesn’t have the part you need? Ask whether they can order it for you or where else you might be able to get it. It’s out there somewhere. I’ve found tune-up parts for my 40-year-old Lincoln on the shelf in small-town parts stores.
As you begin to do some repairs on your car, you might not be able to find all the parts you need in parts stores. This is especially true of damaged body parts (sounds gory, doesn’t it?). Fortunately, there are auto recyclers or salvagers who dismantle damaged cars and sell the good parts. Some even inspect and guarantee their parts. An auto recycler can furnish a transmission or other major part at less than half the cost of buying a new one. Depending on the age and popularity of your car, mail-order parts companies can furnish nearly any component. One of the oldest and largest is j.C, Whitney & Co. (312/431-6102). Others furnish replacement parts for Ford Mustangs, Chevys, imports, and others. Car magazines will have ads from these resources.
The Car Maintenance System
The easiest way to memorize something is to picture it. You can obviously picture a car. The second-best way to remember is to find an acronym or letters that stand for words. So here goes my system.
There are three types of maintenance on your car:
- Check your car.
- Adjust your car.
- Replace fluids and parts.
The first letters of these three maintenance procedures can be remembered as the acronym C-A-R. Hang on, it gets easier
Car maintenance should be performed on a regular basis:
- Fluids should be checked about every week.
- Adjustments should be made about every six months.
- Fluids and parts should be replaced every year or two.
These guidelines fit most modern cars. Cars older than about 2S years need more frequent adjustments and replacements, depending on age and how much they are driven. Some need monthly adjustments and yearly replacements. That’s an easy way to remember what maintenance you need to do on your car. In summary:
- Check your car every week and every three months.
- Adjust your car every six months.
- Replace fluids once a year and parts every other year.
The Least You Need to Know
- Keep your maintenance costs down by buying tools as needed, by buying parts in quantity, and by efficiently scheduling maintenance sessions.
- Select the right tools for the job as an investment in trouble-free car care.
- Use the CAR Maintenance System to help you remember what and when car maintenance needs to be done.