Back in the, “CAR Weekly Check Up” article, you learned to check your car’s fluids on a weekly basis. Well, S2 of those weekly checks have come and gone, and it’s time to replace some of those fluids. And some parts, too. Why replace them? Automotive fluids are your car’s blood, sweat, and tears. They are the fluids that circulate and lubricate within your car. Every once in a while, they need to be transfused with new fluids. At the same time, there are automotive parts that need replacement about every 12 months.
This article offers instructions on how to replace automotive parts and fluids that need attention annually. Of course, there are so many car designs and needs that there can’t be a hard-and-fast rule for much of anything having to do with cars. So read your car’s owner’s manual, apply your common sense, ask your mechanic, and determine when your car needs parts and fluids replaced.
You’ll need your handy-dandy toolbox to replace parts. I’ll point them out as you need them.
Readjusting the Ignition Timing
An engine is poetry. Maybe it’s not Carl Sandburg, but at least it’s pentameter. At the exact moment that fuel is compressed in the combustion chamber, a spark comes along to ignite it. So the timing of the ignition is critical. Without correct ignition timing, power is lost. Correct ignition timing ensures that each spark plug fires at exactly the right microsecond. How does this happen? Fortunately, there’s an indicator on your car’s engine that tells you exactly when a specific cylinder (usually #1) is ready for the spark. This indicator is mounted on the front of your car’s engine. It’s the crankshaft pulley that rotates as the engine does. When a mark on the rotating pulley aligns with a mark on the stationary engine block, the ignition is in time.
You might ask now, “How do I know when those two marks are aligned?” The engine is running so fast. Here’s how: Attach a tool called a timing light to the spark plug wire on the #1, or reference, cylinder. The light will go on each time electrical current is sent to that cylinder’s spark plug. Point the timing light at the engine’s timing mark, and it will light up to show you the relationship between the mark and the reference point. Pretty snazzy, eh? The other question you probably have is “What do I do if the timing is off?” Answer:
You adjust it by rotating the distributor slightly. A bolthead below the distributor, where it attaches to the engine block, can be loosened to allow the distributor to be turned and then tightened when the timing is correct.
To adjust the ignition timing on your car, follow these steps:
- Before starting the engine, use chalk or touch-up paint to identify the timing marks on the crankshaft pulley and the stationary pointer. Mark the scale as indicated by specifications. The manual or a plate or sticker on the car tells you where the mark should be. TDC means top dead center. BTDC means before top dead center. 50 BTDC means five degrees before top dead center.
- Connect the timing light to the engine following the manufacturer’s instructions. For most models, this means attaching the black lead wire to the negative terminal on the battery, attaching the red lead to the positive terminal, and attaching the third lead on or around the reference spark plug wire.
- Loosen the adjustment nut or bolthead on the distributor base so that the distributor can be rotated to adjust the timing. Be careful not to move the distributor yet.
- If your car’s manual says so, disconnect and plug the vacuum advance on the distributor. The vacuum advance (on older cars) uses increasing vacuum pressure to advance the timing at higher engine speeds. You don’t want this to happen because it will throw off your ignition timing test, so disconnect the vacuum line and plug the hole with tape or a golf tee for now.
- Make sure all the timing light wires and other tools are clear of the fan blades before starting the engine. Start the engine and let it warm up for about 15 minutes. If the engine is running at a high idle speed, press the accelerator a couple of times to bring the engine down to normal idling speed.
- Point the timing light at the ignition timing mark on the crankshaft pulley. If the marks line up, tighten the adjustment bolt on the base of the distributor. If they do not line up, slowly rotate the distributor with your hand until the timing marks on the pulley are lined up and then tighten the adjustment bolt. If no amount of adjustment aligns the marks, or if aligning them makes the engine run very rough, you might not be using the correct spark plug wire. Stop, check everything for accuracy, and then start over.
- After the distributor adjustment nut or bolthead is tightened, recheck the timing to make sure nothing was moved in the process. If everything is okay, reinstall the vacuum advance (if any), and then remove the timing light connections.
- Take your car for a test drive, this time stopping off for a milkshake or other frozen artificial dairy product.
Replacing Engine Drivebelts
The rotation of your car’s engine not only rotates tires; it also powers the radiator cooling fan, the alternator, the air-conditioning compressor, the power steering (if any), and the washing machine. That’s efficient! The power is transferred from the engine to these components through drivebelts. The belts wrap around the crankshaft pulley (introduced in the last adjustment) and pulley wheels for these other parts. Rubberized belts are used rather than chains because they are more pliable-and less expensive. If the belts are too tight around the pulleys, the belts are stretched, and they break. If they are too loose, the belts don’t efficiently transfer power to the driven pulley. So your job, should you decide to accept it, is to make sure the drivebelts are adjusted properly. Which drivebelts? Your car’s service manual is more specific. Don’t lose any sleep. Check them every six months or so and you’ll be fine.
To check and replace the engine drivebelts in your car, follow these steps:
- With the engine off, open the hood of your car and find the radiator and cooling fan. Behind the fan will be one or more drivebelts wrapped around one or more grooved wheels called pulleys.
- Visually inspect each drive belt for tears, small cracks, grease, and other signs of wear or damage. Especially inspect the inside of the drivebelts-the part that fits into the pulley grooves-because this side gets the most wear. ReplZ/e worn drivebelts with ones of the exact same size, shape, and function. Some drive belts have the manufacturer’s name and part number stamped on the outside edge of the belt. If not, a parts dealer can help you identify the exact replacement part.
- To install a drivebelt, first find the adjustment bolt. Loosen the adjustment bolt to allow movement of the driven pulley. Some drive belts have an automatic tensioner that also must be loosened. Remove the old drivebelt and replace it with the new one. Use a prybar to move the driven pulley back to near where it was with the old belt and then tighten the adjustment bolt. Adjust the drivebelt tension (unless done so by the automatic tensioner).
- To adjust the drivebelt tension, press against the outside of the belt about halfway between two pulleys. The movement of the drivebelt is called the deflection. Typical deflection is about 1/4 inch for drivebelt spans (between pulleys) of less than 12 inches and about liz inch for spans of 12 to 18 inches. Loosen the adjustment bolt, use a prybar to move the driven pulley until the belt has the correct deflection, and then tighten the adjustment bolt.
Replacing Chassis Lubricant
Is there a doctor in the house? This patient needs a transfusion. There are many moving parts on your car. The engine, transmission/transaxle, and differential all have their own lubrication systems. Everything else that needs lubrication gets it under the category of chassis lubrication. The chassis includes the frame and secondary systems of your car: suspension, steering, and braking. Lubrication minimizes wear. Does your car’s chassis need lubrication? Probably. Depending on the design of your car, some or all of the lubrication may be done for you by the manufacturer. Many newer cars are designed with sealed lubrication points. Others need lubrication on only a couple of parts every 12,000, 24,000, or more miles. Older cars require chassis lubrication as frequently as every 3,000 miles and at as many as 2S places on the car. Your car’s owner’s manual or service manual includes specific recommendations on chassis lubrication.
To replace the chassis lubricant in your car, follow these steps:
- Gather the tools you’ll need: wrenches, lubricating spray, and a grease gun. A grease gun, available at auto parts stores for about $10, forces thick lubricating grease into a fitting on your car when you squeeze the gun’s handle.
- Find the lubrication fittings on your car. A lube chart or service manual for your car shows you where they are. Most of them are on or around the steering linkage and the suspension system between the front wheels.
- Lubricate the steering and suspension parts as needed. Some parts have a nipple, called a zerk fitting, on which you press the end of the grease gun. Other lubrication points have a small plug that must be screwed off to reveal the lubrication point.
- Make sure you lubricate all the miscellaneous chassis components as needed. They include the emergency or parking brake linkage, the transmission shift linkage, and universal or CV joints. These are lubricated either with a grease gun or by smearing grease on friction points with your finger. Many cars also require a drop of light oil on some parts. Make sure you hit the right part because oil is a conductor that can short out electrical components that are errantly doused.