Category Archives: General

Body and Paint Repairs

Ownership, or just want to boost your car’s morale, you can make body and paint repairs. A window has a crack in it or is leaking. A door doesn’t close tightly. The garage attacked your car’s fender. A rock-or a boulder-whacked your car when you weren’t looking. The upholstery has a tear or a cigarette bum on it. You can fix these and many other body and paint problems yourself. Here’s how.

Makeover Tips for Your Car

These are the last ones. I promise! Here are some guidelines for troubleshooting automotive body and paint problems that I’ll cover in this article:

  • If your car is parked overnight in a rough neighborhood and it isn’t stripped, it probably needs body and paint work.
  • Before spending big money on a new paint job, spend a little money on cleaners, rubbing compound, and polishes to see if elbow grease solves the problem.
  • Rust-neutralizing products like naval jelly really work to remove and stop rust. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Your auto parts retailer probably has bunches of aftermarket car-care products designed to tempt you to keep your car looking good. In this case, give in to temptation. Look them over, buy a few, and make your car feel better about itself.

Car Body Repair

What Kind of a Crack Is That?

Car windows are amazing. They allow you to see where you’re going without letting the wind muss your hair. Windows keep the rain and snow from joining you inside the car. So what can you do if car windows are cracked or leak? You can easily repair them using products you can buy from auto parts retailers and even many super-duper stores. Depending on what you’re doing, you might also need one or two glass suction cups to lift and position larger pieces of glass.

Car Body Repair1

To repair a car window with basic tools, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the damage to the window. If it is a small chip or crack, it probably can be repaired using an automotive window repair kit. If possible, check the damage over a few days to learn whether it is stable or spreading. If it is spreading, a repair kit might not be able to stop the spread. New glass will be needed.
  2. To repair the glass, read the instructions on the packages of various window repair kits. Some are for cracks, others for chips, and some are for both. Find one that seems to best solve your car window’s problem. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Some kits require that you remove rough edges from a chip, install a retaining cup, and then inject plastic filler into the chip. For glass scratches, apply a glass abrasive and cleaner available from larger auto parts retailers or at a glass shop.
  3. To replace the glass, first figure out how you’re going to get it out. Even if it has shattered into a thousand pieces, you’re going to have to remove glass at the edges before installing new glass. Door glass typically requires removal of door paneling to access the mechanism that moves the window up and down (called the lift channel; call your local cable company for availability). The glass is attached at the bottom. Front and rear window glass requires that trim and a rubber gasket be removed. Replace the rubber gasket with a new one as you reinstall the glass. The car’s service manual sure comes in handy for removing and replacing glass.
  4. To repair a leaking window gasket, run water on the glass to identify how it’s getting in. lf it is getting in through a gasket, use a putty knife to lift the gasket away from the glass and then squeeze a little window sealer (from the parts store) behind the gasket. Clean away any excess. Let it dry, and then retest and repeat as needed.

Sagging Doors Make Your Car Feel Old

There are few things more frustrating than standing at a car door in the rain trying to get it to close tightly. Bang! Slam!

Car Paint Repair

To adjust doors using your car care toolbox, follow these steps:

  1. Check for door sag. Open the door and slowly close it, stopping just as it touches the latch. Is the door too high or too low for the opening? Then lift the door from the bottom edge below the handle. Does the door move very much before it moves the car itself, indicating play? In either case, open the door fully and look at the hinges for loose bolts or obvious movement in the hinges. To move the door forward, back, up, or down, slightly loosen the hinge bolts on the body, move the door to the correct position, and then tighten the bolts. To move the door in or out, slightly loosen the hinge bolts on the door, move the door to the correct position, and then tighten the bolts.
  2. When the door is aligned correctly, check for door latching. Carefully close the door to see how it catches. Either the striker bolt on the door or the latch on the door frame can be adjusted. By carefully opening and closing the door a few times, you can roughly estimate how much of an adjustment is needed. To guide you, look at the relative positions of the latch and striker on the opposite door. Once you’ve adjusted the door so that it’s almost but not quite right, make small changes in alignment by adjusting the screw(s) on the top or bottom, but not both at the same time. When the door latches well, tighten the screws as much as possible to make sure that the force of closing the door doesn’t knock the latch out of alignment.
  3. Inspect the rubber seal around the door’s edge for cracks or stiffness that can keep the door from closing securely.
  4. Let your kids or nephews test the door for you. They love slamming doors!

Un-Denting Unavoidable Dents

Someone should offer a T-shirt that boldly exclaims “Dents Happen!” No matter how careful you are parking and driving your car, dents will happen, especially those little ones that no one knows anything about. Of course, you can call your insurance agent and let him or her take care of it-except that your policy has a $1 million deductible! Here’s what you can do to remove body dents. Repainting the car is covered later in this article. You might need some specialized body tools for the following job. Read on. You can find them at larger auto parts stores.

To remove body dents, follow these steps:

  1. Scrutinize it. Is it a deep scratch, a large indentation, a crease, or many of the above? A scratch might need only touch-up painting. Deeper damage means that you must move some metal.
  2. Visit an auto parts retailer and ask to see the tools for body repair. There are bumping, pick, and slide hammers, and a variety of metal blocks called dolleys.
  3. To hammer out a dent, hold a dolly on the back side of the dent while you bang on the front side with a hammer.
  4. To pull out a dent, drill a hole in the dent, screw the slide hammer into the hole, and then move the handle back and forth to pull it out.
  5. To fill holes and finish repairing a dent, use a file or grinder to remove paint from the area, and then use filler to contour. Filler can be lead or plastic. Easier and more popular, plastic filler is sometimes called Banda, the brand name of a popular filler product.

Permanent Makeup

Painting some or all of your car isn’t really difficult-as long as you take your time. Much of it is common sense: Remove the old finish, cover the parts you don’t want to paint, and then paint. You’ll actually paint twice. The first coat, called the primer coat, gives the second or finish coat something to hold on to. Many cars also have a third coat, called a clear coat, to protect the color coat..Painting equipment you’ll need includes an applicator and a respirator (for you, not the car). Applying paint by brush doesn’t produce a smooth surface, so automotive painters spray on primer and paint. The spray can be powered by an air compressor or compressed air. An air compressor, in turn, can be powered by hydraulics or electricity. Hydraulic-pneumatic air compressors are expensive, but they can be rented. Electric air compressors are less expensive and can be purchased for less than $100. Paint in compressed air cans can be bought for a few bucks each, but is offered only in standard car colors. A respirator is any device that keeps you from breathing paint fumes as you workdangerous stuff. Your paint or auto supply store can help you pick out one that is both functional and fashionable. Maybe you can find one that matches the color you are painting your car.

Car Paint Repair1

To repaint your car, follow these steps:

  1. Pick your equipment. Depending on the size of the job, your budget, and the value of your car, choose a paint application system. You can often rent what is too expensive to buy, such as a sprayer and compressor.
  2. Pick your paint. Automotive paint supply stores are located in larger cities. Most sell to the public as well as to paint shops. Find one with helpful clerks who don’t mind questions. They can help you choose between lacquer and enamel paints and select the right supplies and equipment, as well as offer techniques for easy application.
  3. Pick your spot. Paint in a clean, dry, well-ventilated area. Follow paint and equipment manufacturers’ recommendations.
  4. Prepare the car. Make sure the body work is done and that rusty areas have been cleaned. Use masking tape and paper to cover any area you don’t want to paint. If you’re painting a small section, you need to mask off only the area around it. If you’re painting the whole car, mask off windows, and mask or remove chrome and plastic parts.
  5. Apply primer to the car. Spray primer on the areas to be painted. Some primers also include a filler to fill in small scratches. Follow the primer paint manufacturer’s recommendations for sanding and second coats.
  6. Paint the car. Lightly apply paint in long back-and-forth motions, overlapping edges. If you’re repainting an entire car, start with an obscure part to build your skills. Don’t get in a hurry. Follow the paint manufacturer’s recommendations for sanding and second coats.
  7. If you’re painting a portion of a clear-coated car, make sure you apply a clear coat to the repainted section.

Beautiful on the Inside

Car interiors get lots of use-and abuse. If your car’s interior looks like an emotionally disturbed gorilla lives in it, here are some things you can do to repair it (after you’ve carefully evicted the gorilla).

To repair vinyl upholstery, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the damage. A few small tears can be repaired. If the damage is more extensive, consider seat covers.
  2. Buy a repair kit. Most auto parts retailers and larger department stores sell vinyl repair kits that include a patch, glue, and filler of the same color as your existing vinyl.
  3. Follow the kit manufacturer’s instructions. The typical steps are to trim the tear, install the backing, cement the vinyl to the patch, and then fill the edge.
  4. Stand back, look at the job, and repeat these words: “Good job!”

To remove stains, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the stain. Typical stains include pen ink, food grease, automotive grease, and body fluids.
  2. Apply the cleaner. If the stain is dry, use a brush to remove as much as possible without extending the stain. Pen inks require rubbing alcohol. Greases are removed with a cleaning fluid. Body fluids are removed with mild soap and water.
  3. Reapply as needed. Some stains require heavy-duty upholstery cleaner.

Further Readings:

Exhaust System Repairs

Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. The controlled explosions within your car’s engine also produce “smoke,” or emissions. Your car’s exhaust system is supposed to remove these emissions from the engine and clean them up as much as possible before dumping them into the atmosphere. When your car’s exhaust system doesn’t do its job, you need to replace it. Components in your car’s exhaust system (illustrated next) include some or all of the following: exhaust manifold, exhaust pipe(s) and hanger(s), muffler, resonator, catalytic converter, and exhaust gas recirculation parts.

About replacing exhaust system components: Some can be replaced with simply a wrench, but others require welding equipment. Assuming that you probably don’t have an arc welder in your household (I could be wrong on this one), you can use clamps to cinch down joints between components. It’s doable. Working on your car’s exhaust system typically means getting it up on safety stands or ramps, blocking the wheels, and crawling underneath. Sorry, it can’t be helped.

Exhaust System

Troubleshooting Tips for Tailpipes

In an effort to reduce noise and air pollution, here are a few tips for troubleshooting your car’s exhaust system:

  • If your exhaust system is loud, the muffler might need replacement. If the noise sounds more like hissing, it’s probably a hole in an exhaust pipe.
  • If the engine overheats or lacks power, the culprit might be a damaged muffler or tailpipe causing backpressure on the engine.
  • If the exhaust system is noisy, visually inspect the pipes, muffler, catalytic converter, and other parts for obvious holes and broken hangers.
  • If you can smell burning oil around the engine, the emissions-control system might be clogged and need cleaning or parts replacement.

The Manifold Life of an Exhaust System

The exhaust manifold collects burned exhaust gases as they leave the engine’s cylinders. The collected gases are then piped to the catalytic converter through the exhaust pipe. Cars with all cylinders in one row (2, 4, or 6) have one exhaust manifold. Cars with cylinders in a V-shape (V-6, V-8) have two exhaust manifolds. Exhaust manifolds are pretty simple in concept and construction. So what can go wrong with an exhaust manifold? Not a whole heck of a lot. It can become cracked or warped from excessive engine heat. Look and carefully feel for exhaust escaping from places it didn’t before. If exhaust is escaping, the exhaust manifold may need to be replaced, although there are some aftermarket products that claim to repair manifold cracks. More often, repairing an exhaust manifold means replacing the gasket seals between the manifold and the engine block or the manifold and the exhaust pipe(s).

Exhaust System Repairs

To repair an exhaust manifold, follow these steps:

  1. When the engine is cold, locate the exhaust manifold on your car. The best way to do so may be backward: Find the exhaust muffler and pipe under the car and trace it into the engine compartment where it attaches to the exhaust manifold.
  2. If necessary, remove the bolts that connect the exhaust pipe(s) to the output of the exhaust manifold. You will need a long 1/2_ inch socket wrench driver to loosen the bolts. If they won’t budge, spray WD-40 or a penetrating lubricant on the nuts and let them sit for a while before trying again. After you have removed the bolts, check the gasket between the pipe and the manifold; if necessary, replace the gasket. Hold off on gasket replacement if you’re also going to remove the manifold.
  3. To remove the exhaust manifold, find and remove the bolts (or nuts) that attach the manifold to the engine block. There are typically two bolts per exhaust port or cylinder. Use a long liz-inch socket wrench driver to loosen the bolts or nuts. Carefully remove the exhaust manifold and gasket from the engine block.
  4. Replace the gasket and/or exhaust manifold if either is damaged, making sure that the old gasket material is removed from the engine and manifold. Then reinstall the exhaust pipe to the manifold output, replacing the gasket.
  5. Take a rest after your exhausting work.

Don’t Let Your Pipes Get Exhausted

Exhaust pipes are simply round pipes that transport exhaust gases from the manifold to the catalytic converter and/or muffler, but they aren’t pipes you can buy at a plumbing shop. Exhaust pipes are bent to fit specific cars. You can buy prebent exhaust pipes for most modern cars, or you can hire a muffler shop to bend the pipes. To repair an exhaust pipe that has a hole in it, purchase and use a muffler repair kit by following the package’s instructions. Most kits include a tape or adhesive that can temporarily plug the hole. Of course, don’t bother repairing a pipe that has numerous holes and really should be replaced.

Exhaust System1

To replace an exhaust pipe, follow these steps:

  1. If you are replacing the entire exhaust pipe, loosen and remove the bolts holding the exhaust pipe to the exhaust manifold, as described previously. If you are not replacing the entire pipe, loosen and remove clamps on the section(s) you will replace.
  2. Carefully loosen and remove hangers holding the exhaust pipe to the underside of the car, making sure that the unit doesn’t fall. You might need to grow or borrow an extra hand or two.
  3. Replace the exhaust pipe(s) and reconnect to the system. If you are also replacing the catalytic converter, muffler, and/or resonator, do so as you replace the pipes, starting at the exhaust manifold and working toward the back of the car.
  4. You deserve a treat for such a nice job. Sorry, I don’t have one for you, but you deserve it.

Let There Be Silence

A muffler minimizes exhaust gas noises. So what does a resonator do? The same thing. Some cars have both a muffler and a resonator in the exhaust system to reduce noise. Other cars can get by with just a muffler.

Exhaust System

To repair or replace a muffler or resonator, follow these steps:

  1. Find and inspect the muffler/resonator for damage. A small puncture can be repaired using a muffler repair kit found at most auto parts stores. A rusty or damaged muffler/resonator should be replaced.
  2. To replace a muffler/resonator, figure out how the old one was installed: by welding or by clamping. If welded, the exhaust pipe may need to be cut with a hacksaw or replaced. If the muffler/ resonator’s joints are clamped together with metal connectors, remove the nuts holding the clamp in place and remove the muffler from the pipe. You might have to remove one or more hangers from the pipe to free the muffler or resonator. Replacement parts are available at larger auto parts retailers.
  3. Make sure all clamps and hangers are tight before test-driving your quiet car. You can now come in at 3 a.m. without waking all the neighbors.

TLC for an Aging Catalytic Converter

If your car was born in the past 20 years, it probably has a catalytic converter. There are two types: Older ones reduce carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons; newer ones reduce nitrogen oxides as well.

How long should a catalytic converter live? It should give you at least 50,000 miles of service and, with care, up to 100,000 miles.

If you suspect that the catalytic converter isn’t working well, take it to a mechanic who has emissions-testing equipment. If your converter needs replacement, do so yourself or have it done. Don’t even think about repairing a catalytic converter. Also, make sure your car hasn’t been operated in at least eight hours, allowing the catalytic converter to cool down completely.

Exhaust System Installation

To replace a catalytic converter, follow these steps:

  1. Find and inspect the catalytic converter. On most cars, it’s located between the exhaust manifold and the muffler or resonator. Inspect it for obvious damage or simple solutions such as a loose clamp. A piece of wood can be carefully banged on the casing to test it for rust.
  2. Remove the catalytic converter from the exhaust system. If the converter is welded, the exhaust pipe might need to be cut with a hacksaw or replaced. If your converter is clamped, remove the nuts holding the clamp in place and remove the catalytic converter from the pipe. You might have to remove one or more hangers from the pipe to free the catalytic converter. Larger auto parts retailers and dealer parts departments can get you a replacement catalytic converter if you tell them the car’s make, model, and engine size.
  3. Install the new catalytic converter, replacing rusty exhaust pipes and hangers as needed.
  4. Don’t forget that converted catalysts must also be confirmed.

Keeping the Environment Clean of Auto Emissions

Your car probably has at least 1.625 scads of emissions-control devices hidden in its nooks and crannies (see the next figure), maybe more. What do these components do? The exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) system returns exhaust gases to the engine for reburning. The positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) system recirculates gases from the oil pan to the intake manifold. The evaporative emissions control (EEC or EV AP) system recycles fuel vapors. It’s AC (Acronym City) under your car’s hood.

How can you repair these systems when they go awry? When you suspect-or have been warned by a state emissions control officer-that your car’s emissions-control system (ECS) isn’t working efficiently, you can test and replace it. Your car’s service manual or an aftermarket manual gives you specific instructions on how to test and replace these components. Here are some guidelines.

To replace an emissions-control component, follow these steps:

  1. Test the ECS components in your car using a vacuum gauge or volt-ohmmeter (VOM), depending on the component’s function. If it is a sensor, a VOM typically tells you whether it’s working correctly. If it recirculates fuel, oil, or emissionsvapors, a vacuum gauge can register vacuum pressure. Compare readings with those suggested by the manufacturer.
  2. Inspect the component for obvious damage. Then clean it up and test it again. Vacuum-operated components can be cleaned with a solvent. Electronic components can be wiped clean and retested, but cannot be rebuilt. Instructions in the service manual overrule anything said here.
  3. To replace a defective component, remove it from the car and take it (along with vehicle identification information) to your friendly auto parts professional. In most cases, the defective components are vacuum-controlled or electrically controlled valves that either work or don’t.
  4. Install the new part and test the system to make sure it works. Take your car to an emissions test center to verify that it works.
  5. Feel good about doing your part to keep the environment clean and healthy.

Further Readings:

Electrical System Repairs

Your car both produces and consumes power. Part of the engine’s power is used to produce electrical power, which then is consumed by the computers, spark plugs, lights, radio, and other paraphernalia. The battery is the power storage room (yes, it’s a small room). Repairing or replacing these components is what this article is about. Your car’s charging system includes the alternator, voltage regulator, battery, cables, wires, and fuses. (Don’t sweat it yet if you don’t recall what these are; I describe each of them later in the Page.) Some alternators have the voltage regulator built into them; others require a separate component to regulate the alternator’s voltage output. Some of us with geriatric cars have generators instead of alternators. Same difference. If troubleshooting says you need to repair electrical components, this article will show you how. Most components in the charging and electrical system of your car are replaced rather than repaired. In fact, they are another commodity item. You can find them on the shelf of most auto parts stores or through mail-order suppliers and replace them yourself. You’ll be able to make these repairs with your car care toolbox.

Car Electrical System

When the Automotive Power Goes Out

I know you’ve been waiting anxiously for these. Here are a few useful tips for troubleshooting charging and electrical systems. Solutions are offered later in this article.

  • If the battery tests okay but won’t hold a charge, make sure the alternator drivebelt is adjusted tight. If the drivebelt is okay, test the voltage regulator using a volt-ohmmeter.
  • If turn signals work only on one side, check the bulb and wiring on the side that isn’t working. If they don’t work at all, check the fuse.
  • If you suspect that your car’s battery is weak, pull your car up to a garage door or other wall, turn off the engine, and turn the headlights on for a moment. If they are bright, the battery and voltage regulator are okay. If they are dim but brighten after you start the engine, the battery is bad. If they are bright but the engine turns slowly when you try to start it again, the starter is bad.

Energize Me

A car battery is an electrical storage device. It receives electricity from the alternator/ regulator and passes it on to other electrical components on demand. As the battery’s electricity is used up, it is replaced. Problems occur when a battery isn’t strong enough to keep a charge because the electrolyte is weak. This typically occurs a few days after the warranty expires.

Electrical System

To replace a battery, follow these steps:

  1. Find your car’s battery. It’s usually under the hood and typically on the passenger’s side of the car.
  2. Disconnect the cable from the negative side of the battery first and then the positive side.
  3. Remove the hold-down clamp or frame that keeps the battery in place. Typically, this means removing nuts from the end of two long bolts. Grasp the bolts as you loosen the nuts, making sure the released bolts don’t fall out of reach.
  4. Use a battery strap (from the auto parts store) attached to the two terminals to lift and remove the HEAVY battery. Set it aside for a moment.
  5. Inspect the battery tray for corrosion and damage. If the tray is rusted or damaged, replace it. Wearing rubber gloves, clean the battery with baking soda and water to neutralize the battery acids.
  6. Test the battery or have it tested to make sure it will hold a charge. If it will, recharge the battery or have it recharged by a mechanic. If it won’t, replace the battery with one of the same voltage, size, amperage rating, and coldcranking rating. Consider replacing the battery cables at the same time.
  7. Reinstall the battery, hold-down clamp, positive cable, and then negative cable.
  8. Lift your right hand over your head, bend your elbow to 120°, and then move your wrist repeatedly, patting yourself on the back. You done good.

Your Battery on Cable

A more expensive battery can be worth the extra expense. A 60month battery is built to hold a charge longer than a 48-month battery. So is a 60-month battery worth the extra money? Yes, it is-if you plan on keeping your car that long. If you plan to sell your car in the next year, a 36- or 48-month battery will do just fine at less cost. Your car’s battery produces and stores direct current (DC) by converting chemical energy into electrical energy. Electrolyte is the dietetic version of Electro. It’s also the sulfuric acid and water solution within a car battery that produces electricity.

Electrical System

The battery cables playa vital part in delivering electricity to and from the car’s battery. Battery cables are simply heavy-duty coated wires withterminals on the ends to make attaching them to the battery and other components easier. So what can go wrong with battery cables? They can become corroded by the electrochemical process that’s going on inside the battery. Corrosion is a buildup of powdery

substance on the cable ends. The ends can also be damaged by mishandling or become brittle with age. Unfortunately, I understand that all too well.

To replace your battery cables, follow these steps:

  1. Find your car’s battery. It’s under the hood and typically on the passenger’s side of the car. There are two cables attached to two terminals on the top or side of the battery. One is probably red and the other black.
  2. Disconnect the cable from the negative side of the battery and then the positive side. The negative cable is usually black and smaller than the red, positive cable.
  3. Disconnect the cables at the other end. The negative ground cable (usually the black one) is probably connected to the engine. The positive cable (red) is probably connected to the starter solenoid.
  4. Inspect the cable wire and ends for damage. Even if you can’t see it, there might be damage to the wires within the cable, reducing the flow of electricity through it. Battery cables are just a few dollars each, so replace them every few years whether or not you can see damage. The easiest time to replace cables is when you replace the battery, every four or five years.
  5. To find replacement cables, clean the old cables and take them to your favorite auto parts retailer for an exact match. You want the new ones to match the old ones in length, circumference, and ends. If you have a choice, spend a couple of extra bucks and buy ones with better quality wires to transport electricity more easily. Cheap is cheap. Pick up some battery terminal corrosion inhibitor (or petroleum jelly) while you’re at the store-and a candy bar for me.
  6. Reinstall the ends of the cables to the ground and the starter solenoid or wherever they came from, applying corrosion inhibitor to the bolt threads.
  7. Apply corrosion inhibitor to the positive battery terminal. Reinstall the positive (red) cable to the positive terminal on the battery.
  8. Apply corrosion inhibitor to the negative battery terminal. Reinstall the negative (black) cable to the negative terminal on the battery.

What to Do When You Can’t Charge Any More

An alternator produces electricity from a car’s engine. If your car’s battery is in good condition, but isn’t getting recharged, the charging system may be the culprit.

Car Electrical System

An alternator should give you at least 50,000 miles of service, and up to twice as much. Before you replace an alternator, check its drivebelt and pulley to make sure they aren’t the cause of the problem.

To test and replace an alternator, follow these steps:

  1. To test the charging system’s fuse, first locate the fuse by using the car’s service manual. It may be a fuse box or it could be on the wire between the starter solenoid and the alternator. Make sure the engine and ignition are off. Use an ohmmeter, placing one probe on one side of the fuse or wire and one on the other. If the fuse or wire has infinite resistance (1), the circuit is open and the fuse should be replaced.
  2. To test the alternator, refer to the car’s service manual for instructions on how to do so without removing the alternator from the car. One way of testing the system is by checking the battery’s voltage with a volt-ohmmeter (VoM). With the engine off, the battery should give a reading of about 12 volts. With the engine on, the battery should give a reading of 14-15 volts on the YOM. If it registers lower, replace the alternator. If it’s more than 15 volts, replace the voltage regulator.
  3. To replace the alternator, first disconnect the cable from the negative terminal of the battery. Then identify and remove all wires from the alternator. Loosen the alternator adjusting bolt, and then remove the drive belt. Remove the alternator from the adjusting bracket and the engine. Replace the alternator with one of the exact same size and rating.
  4. When done, test the alternator to make sure it’s doing its job. If not, sell your car and take the bus.

Regulating Those Volts

The voltage regulator plays an important role in your car’s charging system: It manages the alternator’s output voltage. How can you tell if the regulator isn’t working as it should? By checking the voltage of the battery with the engine running. If the battery voltage is less than 12 volts or more than 15 volts, the regulator is probably not working. Although you can replace the regulator without replacing the alternator, you should consider doing both at once. Don’t forget to disconnect the negative battery terminal when working on your car’s electrical system, and be prepared to reenter auto alarm codes if necessary, after the battery cable is reattached.

Electrical System Repair

To replace a voltage regulator, follow these steps:

  1. Find the dam thing. Your car’s service manual helps you locate it. Otherwise, older cars have the voltage regulator mounted on the firewall or a cowl (a wheel cover inside the engine compartment), and newer ones use a solid state regulator installed on the front side of the alternator behind the pulley wheel.
  2. Loosen mounting screws and remove the regulator. Don’t attempt to repair it. Replace it.
  3. Take the regulator to your auto parts retailer along with model numbers from the alternator on which it was installed. Make sure the replacement is the same size, shape, and rating as the unit it’s replacing.
  4. Install the voltage regulator, making sure that all wires are connected correctly.
  5. When done, test the voltage regulator to make sure it’s working as it should. If it’s now working properly, you have just passed the “Regulating Those Volts” final exam.

Other Auto Electrical Devices to Play With

Many other electrical devices in your car can also go awry at the least convenient time. They include lights, instruments, controls, radio, clock, and wiring (see the figure illustrating this system). Most have two wires; some have more. You can easily test these devices by checking the circuit to make sure electricity has a closed path through it. A volt-ohmmeter (VOM) can measure either the voltage in a live circuit or the resistance in a dead circuit. A live circuit is simply one with electricity flowing through it (with the ignition on and/or the engine running), and a dead circuit is one without power applied to it. So how is a dead circuit measured? The ohmmeter applies a small amount of electricity to the circuit using internal batteries, and then measures the output to see whether any of it made it to the exit. If so, it’s a closed circuit; if not, it’s open. An ohmmeter can also measure how much resistance the signal faced trying to get to the exit. Resistance is measured in ohms; more ohms means more resistance.

To test continuity of an electrical device, follow these steps:

  1. Isolate the device by marking and removing any wires attached to it. You won’t keep it isolated long enough for it to get lonesome.
  2. Decide what ohmmeter reading you should be getting (open, closed, low resistance, or high resistance). The owner’s manual can help you determine the appropriate reading.
  3. Test the device using the ohmmeter. If the reading isn’t what it should be, replace the device or have it repaired. A tum signal light should be replaced, for example, but an analog clock often can be repaired.

To test voltage of an electrical device, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure the device has power coming to it: fuses okay, ignition on.
  2. Learn what volt-ohmmeter (VOM) reading you should be getting (2 volts, 12 volts, and so on). The owner’s manual may help. Otherwise, estimate output voltage by what the device is designed to do: Use voltage to do a task (lower output) or multiply voltage (higher output).
  3. Test the device using the YOM. If the reading isn’t what it should be, replace the device or have it repaired, as necessary.
  4. Use your experiences with a volt-ohmmeter to bore others.

Further Readings:

Brake System Repairs

Brakes are an obviously important part of your car. Although many car owners leave brake work to a specialist, it doesn’t have to be so. Brake parts are commodities, easily found at larger auto parts stores. The steps to repairing or replacing brake parts are easy to follow. The job requires few special tools beyond those in your car care toolbox. Can you do the job as well as a brake specialist? Maybe not. But you can do it adequately-and sometimes better than a poorly trained employee who last week was grilling hamburgers. Specialists know more; you know less. They have a hundred brake jobs to do this week; you have just one. Most cars today use a hydraulic brake system (see the figure showing a brake system) with drum brakes on the rear, disc brakes on the front, and each with a brake cylinder that’s controlled by the master cylinder. A hydraulic system uses brake fluid to force the brakes against moving parts in the wheels. Some cars have a proportioning valve that keeps the rear brakes from locking up when you slam on the pedal. Antilock brake systems (ABS) have a built-in proportioning valve and some electronics to control skidding. Like more and more systems on today’s cars, the ABS is controlled by an electronic computer. Each brand is just a bit different to service. If your car has an ABS, find and follow the service manual. ABS systems usually can tell you what’s wrong with them through trouble codes. Deciphering these codes requires the service manual.

Avoiding Skids on the Road

As promised, here are some useful tips for troubleshooting automotive brake systems. Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with all the terms used here. You’ll learn about them later in the article.

  • If your car pulls to one side during braking, first check tire pressure and front-end alignment. Then check for malfunctioning drum or disc brakes.
  • If disc brakes squeal when applied, the brake pads are probably worn out and need replacement.
  • If the brake pedal pulsates when pressed, brake pads or shoes might be worn unevenly and need adjustment or replacement.
  • If drum brakes make a grinding noise, the brake shoes are probably worn out or the wheel cylinder is stuck.
  • If the brake pedal seems mushy, there’s probably air in the hydraulic brake lines.
  • If the brakes automatically apply when you see a police car, check your foot for lead content.

Brake System

When Your Car Needs New Shoes

Most modern drum brakes (shown in the next figure) are self-adjusting. When the brakes are worn, the drum brakes need inspection and possibly replacement of key parts. Brake shoes need to be replaced about every 30,000 miles. You can do it.

You need to be familiar with several parts of a drum system:

  • Brake drum: The part on a drum brake system that receives pressure from the brake shoe.
  • Brake shoe: The movable part of a drum brake system that applies pressure against the brake drum. The replaceable surface of a drum brake system is the friction lining, which typically is replaced with the shoe; alternatively, what brakes step on as they’re dancing.
  • Wheel cylinder: A hydraulic cylinder at each wheel that magnifies the master cylinder’s pressure to evenly operate the wheel’s brake system. Disc brake systems have wheel cylinders, too.
  • Parking brake: A hand- or foot-operated brake that applies brake shoes or brake pads against the braking surface on a car’s rear wheels; also called an emergency brake. All cars have an emergency brake.

To repair drum brakes, follow these steps:

  1. Safely jack up your car and place stands under the axle.
  2. Remove the wheel covers and then the wheel from the car as you would when changing a tire.
  3. Remove the cap at the center of the axle using large pliers and/or a screwdriver. Remove the cotter pin by straightening the bent end and pulling the pin out from the round end. Remove the nut and washer.
  4. Carefully pull the brake drum toward you, wiggling it from side to side if necessary to loosen it. The wheel bearings and washers will come off the axle first, so catch them in your hand and set them aside. Continue pulling on the drum until it comes off the axle, and then carefully set it aside.
  5. Clean parts as needed with an old brush or compressed air so that you can see what you’re doing. Caution: Older brake shoe linings use asbestos, so wear a filtering face mask when cleaning.
  6. Inspect the inside of the brake drum for deep scratches, and the brake shoes and other parts for wear or damage. If in doubt about wear or damage, remove the part and show it to an experienced auto parts clerk.
  7. To remove brake shoes, first install a wheel cylinder clamp (from the auto parts store) to hold the cylinder together. Then remove the large return springs using a brake spring tool (from the auto parts store, of course). Remove the self-adjusting unit as needed to free the brake shoes. Finally, remove any other fasteners or components holding the brake shoes in place.
  8. Remove the wheel cylinder by disconnecting the brake line and removing fasteners holding the cylinder in place. If the cylinder is leaking or if you’re completely replacing your brake system, replace the wheel cylinder with a new one. You can rebuild it yourself or buy a rebuilt unit.
  9. Replace the brake shoes, wheel cylinder, springs, and other components as needed by reversing the earlier instructions.

Brake System

Reinstall the drum, repack the wheel bearings, and replace the wheel and tire. When done repairing all brakes, refill the master cylinder with brake fluid and bleed the brake system, as described in your car’s service manual. Finally, adjust the brakes.

Replacing Your Car’s Brake Pads

Disc brakes (see the figure showing the disc brake setup) stop your car by applying lots of pressure to both sides of a spinning disc (rotor) on which the wheels are mounted. The brake pads are held and operated by the caliper, which squeezes the pads against the disc when you press your foot on the brake pedal. Brake pads should give you at least 25,000 miles of service before needing replacement.

To repair disc brakes, follow these steps:

  1. Safely jack up your car and place stands under the axle.
  2. Remove the wheel covers, and then remove the wheel from the car as you would when changing a tire.
  3. Inspect the brake caliper, brake pads, the wear indicator, the disc, and other components of the disc brake system. If the brake pads are worn, replace them with new pads. They should be no thinner than 1/16 inch. If the brake disc (rotor) is scored (has grooves in it), take it to a brake shop for resurfacing (turning) or replace it with a new disc.
  4. To replace brake pads, use a C-clamp (which you can get at a hardware store or auto parts store) to push the piston back in the caliper. Remove the bolt(s) holding the caliper in place and move it aside. Don’t disconnect the caliper from the brake fluid line unless you plan to replace the caliper. If you remove the caliper, brake fluid will leak out. Remove the brake pads and shims from both sides of the disc. Install new pads and shims following the instructions that come with the parts.
  5. Reinstall the disc and hub assembly, repack the wheel bearings, replace the caliper and other components, and replace the wheel and tire. When done repairing all brakes, refill the master cylinder with brake fluid and bleed (remove any air from) the brake system, as described in your car’s service manual. Finally, adjust the brakes.
  6. A go-for-your-favorite-treat test drive is optional, but highly recommended.

Brake System Repairs

Masters of the Brake Universe

A brake system’s master cylinder usually doesn’t need replacement, except as an entire brake system is being rebuilt. You don’t want a 1S-year-old master cylinder trying to operate new wheel cylinders or calipers. If you replace wheel cylinders (done in pairs), consider replacing the master cylinder at the same time. On most cars, the master brake cylinder is located on the firewall on the left (driver’s) side of the engine compartment. Your car care toolbox has all the tools you need for this job.

To replace a master cylinder, follow these steps:

  1. Remove fluid from the master cylinder using a siphon. Cover painted parts near the master cylinder with rags because brake fluid can damage paint.
  2. Disconnect the brake lines from the master cylinder and plug the end of the lines to prevent leakage and contamination.
  3. Disconnect the electrical wires from the master cylinder, marking them for later identification if it’s not clear where they should go.
  4. Remove the bolts holding the master cylinder in place and remove the unit from the car.
  5. Replace the master cylinder with a new unit, reconnecting lines and wires. Refill the master cylinder with approved brake fluid.
  6. Bleed the brake system following the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, this means having one person press on the brake pedal while another opens the bleed fitting on each wheel cylinder or caliper, in turn. Close the bleed fitting once brake fluid flows instead of air. Repeat the process at each wheel to remove air from the brake lines because air in the hydraulic system can reduce braking efficiency, and that can mean the difference between stopping in time and calling your insurance agent with another claim.

Boosters for Brakes

Power brake boosters make braking easier because they boost the driver’s foot pressure on the master brake cylinder. Some power brake boosters offer adjustments that can be made as needed. Such adjustments can be made at the top end of the brake pedal before the brake pushrod goes through the firewall to the booster. Visually check your car’s system for adjustments before replacing the booster. The car’s service manual can tell you more-if there’s more to tell. Before replacing the power brake booster, test it to find the cause of the problem. Boosters that use a vacuum might simply have a hole or break in the vacuum line to the booster. Use a vacuum gauge to test the line following the manufacturer’s instructions. In addition, many power brake booster systems have an adjustable pushrod between the booster and the master cylinder. If your car has one of these, check the manual for information on this adjustment. You can save yourself some valuable time and money.

Brake System

To replace a power brake booster, follow these steps:

  1. Locate the power brake booster on your car. It typically is installed on the engine firewall between the brake pedal lever and the master cylinder.
  2. If necessary, remove the master cylinder from the power booster. Depending on the system, you might not need to disconnect brake lines or drain the master cylinder; just remove the bolts mounting the cylinder to the booster.
  3. Remove vacuum and hydraulic lines from the power brake booster unit, marking them for easier re-installation unless you like jigsaw puzzles.
  4. Disconnect the power brake booster unit from the brake pedal arm. This typically means removing a nut or a cotter pin.
  5. Remove the power brake booster unit from the firewall. On most cars, mounting bolts fasten the unit to the firewall.
  6. Replace the power brake booster unit with an exact replacement, following the instructions that come with the part or in the service manual. Some units require adjustments before installation; others are adjusted in place.
  7. Be careful when you test your brakes. If your brakes were tired, you might find yourself kissing the windshield the first time or two you apply the refreshed brakes.

Further Readings:

Steering and Suspension System Repairs

Your car’s steering system enables the car to tum; its suspension system smoothes out the ride. It’s that simple-and that important. Things can go wrong, however, making the ride rough or steering difficult or dangerous. In either of those cases, it’s time to repair. Many types of steering and suspension systems have been used to control cars. Until recently, most cars used pitman-arm steering, which passed the steering wheel’s rotation to a lever (pitman arm) that moved side to side. Many of today’s cars rely on rackand-pinion steering, which uses meshed gears to control steering. Older cars use mechanical suspension that relies on springs and shock absorbers, but newer cars use hydraulic cylinders called struts. All these components are covered in this article. Whether you do these repairs yourself or have them done for you, understanding what’s involved will make you a more savvy car owner. With proper care, your car’s steering system should give you 80,000 to 100,000 miles of smooth turns.

Steering Repairs

Why Won’t My Car Turn Where I Want It To?

Here are some guidelines for troubleshooting steering and suspension systems. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what all the terms mean; they are covered later in this article.

  • If your car’s power steering growls when you try to tum, first check the power steering booster fluid level. Then, if necessary, repair the power steering unit.
  • If your car makes a high-pitched squeal, check the drivebelt on the powersteering unit for slippage.
  • If your car shimmies, check tire pressure and inspect the tires to make sure they are all the same size and aren’t damaged. Then check for worn tierod ends and lower balljoints in the steering system. That should control your car’s urge to dance down the street.
  • If it’s difficult to steer your older car, lubricate the steering system’s zerk fittings to see whether that solves the problem before replacing parts.
  • If your car leans hard on comers, check the stabilizer and struts for loose parts and wear.

Stopping Arguments Between Your Wheels

All right you wheels, let’s get some cooperation going. It has to hurt if the left wheel always wants to go right, and the right wheel always wants to go left. Teamwork! Grab your car care toolbox , Chances are you don’t have the tools and equipment in your garage to accurately align your car’s wheels. You’ll probably take it to a specialist who can do the job for you. Even so, understanding why and how wheels are aligned can help you better understand your car and help keep you from getting ripped off. And it will motivate you to keep them aligned. You can also check tire wear to discover whether your car’s wheels are aligned properly. Wheel alignment is necessary to keep the four wheels traveling in the same direction. You don’t want the right wheel going straight ahead and the left one trying to make a tum. Think how quickly you would trip if your feet didn’t aim in the same direction. Front wheels must be moved to steer, so they must be aligned. Rear wheels on cars built since about 1980 also may require alignment. Most cars need wheel alignment every 30,000 to 60,000 miles. That’s a lot less often than your kid’s braces need realigning. Maybe you’ve heard the terms toe in and toe out regarding wheel alignment. No, it’s not a dance. The toe is the front edge of the wheel. Toe in means that the front edges of the two wheels are a little closer to each other than the heels or backs of the wheels. Toe out means the front edges are farther apart than the back edges.

Caster is the tilt of the steering connection to the wheel. Camber is the inward or outward tilt of the wheel’s top. The point to wheel alignment is that each car was designed to operate best with specific alignment tolerances. If the wheel alignment isn’t within its tolerance, tires wear unevenly, the car can be harder to steer, and stress can be put on steering components, making them unsafe and causing fuel mileage to suffer. Sounds expensive. Front-wheel-drive cars have different wheel-alignment specifications than rearwheel-drive cars. The same is true of front-engine and rear-engine cars. Your car’s owner’s manual and service manual will give the manufacturer’s wheel-alignment specs. Alignment is an adjustment to keep parts in the correct relative position, such as the alignment of a car’s wheel and suspension system.

Steering Repairs 1

Here are some tests you can make to ensure that your car’s wheels are aligned properly:

  • Run your hand over the tire tread from the outer edge to the center and then to the inner edge. The surface should feel equally smooth in both directions. If the surface is rougher moving from the inner edge to the center, the wheel may have too much toe out. If the surface is rougher moving from the center to the outer edge, the wheel may have too much toe in.
  • Wear on the outside edge of tires usually means that the camber isn’t set properly. >- Wear on both inside and outside edges of tires usually means that the tire is underinflated.
  • Wear in the center of tires usually means that the tire is overinflated.

Suspension and Your Car

Your car’s suspension system includes a shock absorber, a stabilizer bar, leaf springs, a suspension arm, and/or MacPherson struts.

These parts wear out with use and need to be replaced. Here’s the lowdown on what each of them does:

  • Shock absorber: A tranquilizer; alternatively, a mechanical cylinder that dampens a wheel’s up-and-down movement caused by bumps in the road.
  • Coil spring: A circular steel spring used to minimize up-and-down motion.
  • Leaf spring: A group of flat steel springs used to minimize up-and-down motion. >- MacPherson strut: A Scottish dance; alternatively, a component of most front- wheel-drive cars that combines the coil spring and shock absorber into one unit; named for an engineer at Ford in England-really!
  • Stabilizer bar: A tavern with seat belts on the bar stools; alternatively, a bar linking the suspension systems on two wheels (front or rear) to stabilize steering or turning.
  • Independent suspension: A suspension system that allows two wheels on the same axle to move independently of each other.

How often do the parts in your suspension system need to be replaced? Older cars may need new parts every 25,000 miles, but newer cars could go as many as 100,000 miles before needing parts replacement. Much depends on the car’s design as well as how it is driven. Heavy loads and rough roads wear down suspension parts faster. Because wear to suspension parts is gradual, you might not notice how far components have deteriorated. Steering becomes more difficult. The car doesn’t corner as smoothly. Lots of passengers or heavy packages make the car sag more than it did. You can replace parts as recommended by the manufacturer, or you can test and visually inspect them using your car’s service manual.

To replace suspension parts, follow these steps:

  1. Find out what suspension parts your car has. A stabilizer bar buffers side-to-side motion. Shock absorbers and coil springs dampen up-and-down motion. A strut combines the shock absorber and coil spring. Front-wheel-drive cars have suspension arms on the rear wheels.
  2. Jack up the car and place safety stands under the wheels.
  3. Cars with independent front suspension have a stabilizer bar. Stabilizer bars don’t wear out; the rubber mountings, called bushings, do. The stabilizer bar and bushings are bolted to the underside of the vehicle between the right and left wheel suspension systems. Replace the bushings by removing the brackets holding the bar in place, removing the bushings, and replacing them. Stabilizer bar bushings are sold in sets at larger auto parts retailers.
  4. Shock absorbers are installed inside the coil spring at each wheel. Shock absorbers can be replaced by removing the bolts at the top and bottom that connect them to the suspension system. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions because shock absorbers and springs are under tension and can injure you if they are not removed properly.
  5. Struts are shock absorbers integrated into the coil spring. Remove the fasteners at the top and bottom that connect them to the suspension system. Your car’s service manual or an aftermarket manual tells you exactly how. Don’t try to disassemble a strut. Replace it as a unit.
  6. Many cars have upper and lower suspension arms that allow the wheels to move up and down independently of each other. These arms typically don’t need replacement, but the rubber bushings on which they are mounted do. To replace them, first locate and inspect them using the service manual. Most require that you loosen and remove a bolt on which the bushing is mounted.
  7. Tell at least two people on the street about your experiences repairing your car’s suspension system until tears come to their eyes.

Steering Repairs 2

The Steering Committee

A steering system (see the figure showing steering systems) uses a steering gear and rods to transfer the turning of the steering wheel to the front wheels. Steering gears usually last as long as the car, but some of the connecting components need replacement along the way. Also refer to your car’s service manual for specific information on fixing your car’s steering problems. As always, make sure you install safety stands under your car before working there. Refer to your car’s service manual for specific information on making repairs to the steering system.

Steering systems are typically repaired following these steps:

  1. Inspect, adjust, and, if necessary, replace tie-rod ends. Tie rods connect the wheels to the steering unit. The ends of these rods must be free to move with the movement of the steering system. They wear out. If they are worn or damaged, replace the tie-rod ends with ones from an auto parts retailer. Mark the exact location of the old ones so that the new ones can be installed in the same position and require little or no adjustment.
  2. Check, adjust, and, if necessary, replace the steering gear unit. Many steering gear systems offer adjustments that can be made with a wrench and screwdriver while following instructions in the service manual. If replacement is needed, the steering wheel and column may need to be removed first. Each car is different, so check the manual for specific instructions.
  3. Test the repaired steering system by driving to some friends’ houses to tell them all about your repair experiences. It helps if they’re trying to watch a big football game.

When the Steering Needs a Boost : Some cars have a booster that uses hydraulics to make turning the steering wheel easier. Most power steering booster systems use a pump turned by the engine’s crankshaft to circulate the hydraulic oil or fluid.

Steering Repairs

To repair power steering systems, follow these steps:

  1. Check the power steering hoses for leaks or damage. A small leak can slowly drain the system of hydraulic oil and make turning the steering wheel difficult. Find the steering gear box (near the end of the steering column) and the power steering pump (on the front of the engine, driven by a belt). Locate the hoses running between the two units and check them for leaks and loose fittings. Replace them as needed with identical replacement parts.
  2. If the power steering pump leaks or is noisy and must be repaired, loosen the bracket that maintains belt pressure, remove the drivebelt, siphon fluid from the reservoir, and then remove the pump and reservoir. Have the unit rebuilt or replaced and reinstall it.
  3. If power steering fluid must be replaced or the reservoir is dry and fluid must be refilled, make sure you remove air from the brake system. Otherwise, air in the brake lines can make braking more difficult. Check your car’s manual for specific instructions. In many cases, air can be removed from the power steering system by running the engine to operate the pump, removing the reservoir cap, and then turning the steering wheel fully to the left and then to the right a few times. Remember to replace the reservoir cap.

Transmission Repairs

A transmission uses gears to transmit the engine’s power to the wheels. A manual transmission lets the driver select the gears, and an automatic transmission selects gears based on the car’s speed and weight. So what can you do if the transmission decides not to transmit? You can repair it yourself or knowledgeably have it repaired for you. This article offers basic instructions on repairing manual and automatic transmission systems, drivelines, and differentials. Refer to the car’s service manual or an aftermarket manual for specific instructions on repairing your car’s transmission (but you knew that). Technically, most front-wheel-drive cars don’t have transmissions. They have transaxles. A transaxle combines the transmission and differential into one unit. So, as you read this article, translate transmission to transaxle if you have one. Otherwise, whistle silently. Do me a favor? Work safely! Please don’t try working on your car’s transmission or related parts without first safely jacking up the car and installing safety stands. Or use a heavy-duty ramp. Place blocks on the ground behind other tires to keep the car from rolling. I really don’t like sending get well cards to readers. It’s Test Timet Get your pencil out.

Transmission Repairs

Here are some tips for troubleshooting troublesome transmissions:

  • If the car won’t go into any gear, trace the shifting linkage from the steering column or floor to the transmission. It might simply be loose.
  • If your car’s clutch doesn’t operate smoothly, check to see whether it has a booster that requires hydraulic fluid. It’s located near the power brake booster and probably uses the same fluid. Check the car’s owner’s manual or service manual.
  • If your car has a manual transmission and the engine sounds like it’s speeding up when it really isn’t (especially on a hill), the clutch might be slipping and need adjustment or replacement.
  • If you hear rattling from your car’s transmission, first make sure it has lubrication. Then look for loose mounting bolts.
  • If the clutch pedal stays on the floor, check for a broken release bearing or fork.
  • If you hear a knocking noise at low speeds or during turns, check the constant velocity (CV) joints.

Shifting for Yourself

Manual transmissions (see the first figure) that have been regularly serviced might not need repair for 100,000 miles or more. And when they do, most mechanics and doit-yourselfers replace the transmission as a unit. They don’t tear the transmission apart and start replacing components. They leave that up to specialists. So if your car’s manual transmission needs repair, you simply remove it from the car and reinstall a new or rebuilt unit. The job requires bigger tools, but it isn’t particularly difficult-in most cases. The disclaimer is offered because some automotive designers have the transmission wedged into the car so deep that the engine and transmission must be removed together and then separated. Nice of them! Fortunately, most manual transmission problems aren’t caused by the transmission, but by the linkage and switches attached to it. The linkage translates the movement of the gearshift to the movement of the appropriate gears within the tranny (what transmissions let friends call them). Manual transmissions have one, two, or three levers on the side that slide the appropriate gears around inside. Adjusting the linkage can solve many manual transmission problems.If the service manual says the problem is the overdrive unit, check to see whether your car’s overdrive is mounted in or on the transmission case. Some overdrives are external and can be replaced without removing the entire tranny.

Transmission Repairs 1

A manual transmission is typically repaired following these steps:

  1. Locate and identify your car’s manual transmission and linkage. It’s behind the engine and below the firewall on rear-wheel-drive cars and either to the right or left of the engine on front-wheel-drive cars. Identify the transmission and check it against instructions in the service manual.
  2. Adjust the shifting linkage. The linkage is composed of rods or cables between the shifter and transmission. Typically, the linkage is adjusted by moving adjustment nuts on a linkage rod or at the end of the linkage cable. If instructions aren’t available, some staring and thinking will probably tell you what the adjustments do. Move-or have someone move-the shift linkage slowly through the gears to help you figure out what’s needed. In many cases, a bent rod or a loose nut suggests an easy solution. (Note: Studying the transmission is another term for taking a nap.)
  3. If adjusting the linkage doesn’t solve the problem, consider replacing the transmission. On many cars, this means disconnecting the driveshaft at a U-joint or CV joint (described at the end of this page) and removing bolts that hold the front of the transmission to the bellhousing. Remove all linkage and drain the lubricant from the transmission first. The transmission must be slid away from the engine to remove it from the clutch. Depending on the weight of the transmission, you might need help or a jack to safely lower the unit after it’s unbolted. Your car’s service manual will probably tell you the transmission’s weight.
  4. If necessary, replace the old transmission with a new or rebuilt unit. Of course, make sure it’s an exact replacement and that the bolt holes are in the same position so that it easily remounts. Check this even if you had your old transmission rebuilt because the shop might have replaced the case or given you the wrong unit. It can happen!
  5. As needed, reinstall and adjust the linkage, and then check the transmission for lubricant. Test the transmission for correct operation. If you’re getting tired of ice cream runs (and runny ice cream), go for pizza. Hold the anchovies on my half.

Transmission Repairs 2]

Clutch Repair

The engine and transmission work together with the help of the clutch. A clutch connects and disconnects an engine and manual transmission. It does so by friction, pressing the clutch plate against the engine’s spinning flywheel. When you push down on the clutch pedal, you are forcing the clutch release bearing and fork to release the clutch plate from the pressure plate’s clamping force against the flywheel. That disconnects the transmission from the engine. You then move the gear shifter to select the next gear and release the clutch pedal to reconnect the transmission to the engine.
If you’ve performed clutch adjustments described in your car’s service manual and it still doesn’t work smoothly, consider replacing the clutch.
So what can go wrong with the clutch system? The linkage can be out of adjustment because of wear. The bearing or clutch plate (also called a friction plate) can be worn out, or other components can be damaged. Some clutch systems use a hydraulic booster to make engaging and disengaging the clutch easier on the driver. The clutch booster works similarly to a power brake booster. If your car has a clutch booster, refer to the service manual for more specifics.

To repair a clutch system, follow these steps:

  1. Adjust the clutch linkage to see whether that solves the problem. The adjustment is located between the clutch pedal and the clutch fork that does most of the work. The linkage may be a rod or a cable. Follow the service manual for specifics. In most cases, the linkage is adjusted until the pedal free play (the movement of the clutch pedal before the clutch bearing moves) is liz or 3/4 inch. The adjustment is made by turning the adjustment nut until freeplay is correct and then tightening a locking nut to make sure it doesn’t change.
  2. If adjustment doesn’t solve the problem, you might need to replace some clutch components. To disassemble the clutch, first disconnect the driveshaft at a U-joint or a CV-joint, disconnect the shift linkage, remove the bolts holding the front of the transmission to the bellhousing, slide the transmission away from the bellhousing, and then remove the bellhousing to expose the clutch components. Whew!
  3. Replace clutch components as needed. Typically, the only parts replaced during a clutch repair are the clutch release bearing, the pilot bearing, and the clutch plate. They can be purchased at larger auto parts stores or through the dealer’s parts department. On many cars, remove the fork and bearing, the clutch pressure plate, the clutch plate, and then the pilot bearing. Cussing is discouraged because clutches are notoriously sensitive.
  4. Reinstall the clutch components in the reverse order in which you installed them, making sure that the bearing and linkage are lubricated. Keep lubricants off the clutch plate or they won’t get the traction needed to rotate. Finally, adjust the clutch (as described in step 1).

Transmission Repairs 3

What Your Converter Converts

Manual transmissions have manual clutches, so automatic transmissions should have automatic clutches. Good guess. They do! They are called by assorted names, most commonly torque converter or just plain converter. Like an automatic transmission, the converter is hydraulic and complicated. If your car’s service manual suggests that the converter be replaced, don’t try rebuilding it yourself. Replace it as a unit, typically at the same time the automatic transmission is replaced.

A converter is typically replaced following these steps:

  1. Disconnect the driveshaft at a U-joint or CV joint, remove bolts holding the front of the transmission to the engine, slide the transmission away from the converter, and then remove the converter from the engine.
  2. If necessary, replace the old converter with a new or rebuilt unit. Reinstall and adjust the linkage, and then check the transmission for lubricant.
  3. Test the converter with a visitation to your favorite fast food franchise or the zoo.

Separating Good Joints from Bad Joints

The joints on a driveline (the shaft and joints that connect the transmission with the differential) serve the same purpose as those on your body: They increase flexibility.
Rear-wheel-drive cars need a driveline from 3 to 6 feet long to deliver power from the transmission to the differential and rear axle. They use U-joints to compensate for flex in the driveline.
Front-wheel-drive cars have short drivelines, but they must be more flexible than those in rear-wheel-drive cars. Front-wheel-drive cars use CV joints.
With proper lubrication and maintenance, U-joints last 60,000 to 80,000 miles or more. CV joints, used in frontwheel-drive cars, typically last about 40,000 to 60,000 miles. However, if they get noisy or make a clunking sound as you put the car in gear, it may be time to replace them. Technically, when you replace a U-joint, you are replacing only the bearing unit at the middle of it, an X-shaped part called the trunnion. CV joints have a Y-shaped part called the tri-pot assembly, which serves as the joint.

To replace U-joints, follow these steps:

  1. Test U-joints for looseness. Under the car, identify the U-joints on the car’s driveline. They are at the joint between the transmission and the driveline (front), maybe somewhere along the drive line (intermediate), and at the end of the driveline where it attaches to the differential (rear). Some cars have double U-joints, two-in-one. With the car in neutral and the parking brake on, turn the driveline back and forth by hand. A clunking sound or lots of movement, called play, in the joint means that the U-joints should be checked and, if necessary, replaced.
  2. To replace the universal joint, first use chalk, tape, or the end of a nail to mark the current position of each component in the driveline, making reassembly easier. After it’s loosened, the drive line will fall, so have one hand on it or tie a sling around it and to the frame to keep it from falling. Remove the bolts on the center or yoke. Use a large screwdriver to carefully push the two halves apart.
  3. Remove the clips holding the X-shaped trunnion in the yoke. Be careful not to remove any of the four caps on the ends of the trunnion because they contain small bearings.
  4. Depending on your car, you might need to replace other U-joints. Follow the same instructions. The front U-joint is typically attached to the transmission through a sliding shaft called the slip yoke and may need a seal removed first. If so, place a pan under the seal to catch transmission fluid or lubricant. The rear U-joint is attached to the differential through a sliding pinion shaft.
  5. Reinstall the driveline.

To replace CV joints, follow these steps:

  1. Test the CV joints by listening for front-end clicking noises as the car turns or for vibrations as the car accelerates. The CV joints are located between the transaxle unit and the front wheels. Inspect the CV joint’s rubber cover called a boot. If the boot is damaged but the CV joint isn’t making noise, replace the boot. If the CV joint is noisy, replace the entire unit.
  2. On most front-wheel-drive cars, the CV joint is replaced as a unit. Follow instructions in the service manual for removing and replacing CV joints. Typically, this means removing the drive axle and then removing the boot clamp and boot to access the CV joint. Parts to the CV joint include the housing, internal tri-pot assembly with roller bearings, and the boot. Replace any part that shows damage or wear.
  3. Reinstall the CV joint on the drive axle. Then reinstall the drive axle on your car.

Rear End Problems

The differential (illustrated in the next figure) on a rear-wheel-drive car is pretty simple. The end of the driveline is attached to a pinion gear. The pinion gear turns a larger ring gear that, in turn, passes power to gears within the differential case. It’s these differential case gears that decide which wheel gets how much of the power. So what? Let me tell you. The rear wheels must rotate at different speeds during turns. The outside wheel in a turn travels farther than the one on the inside of the turn. The differential tries to give wheels the power they need in turns, which means you can navigate the turn accurately and safely. How do you know when your car’s differential needs repair? If you noticed bits of metal in the bottom of the differential when you last lubricated it, the gears are wearing out. Jack the rear end of the car up and rotate the wheels one direction and then the other, listening for clanking sounds. If you hear them, the differential may be ready for replacement-or at least a closer look.

To replace a differential, follow these steps:

  1. To inspect the differential gears, place a pan under the differential to catch lubricant. Then remove bolts on the rear side of the differential case. When the case is open, lubricant flows out of it. Carefully touch the lubricant and the bottom of the case with your fingers or a magnet to check for small metal bits that indicate worn gears. Visually inspect the gears for wear, broken teeth, or other damage.
  2. If repair is necessary, refer to your car’s service manual or an aftermarket manual for instructions. Some differentials are quite easy to repair by replacing one or more gears. Limited slip or other differentials are more complex. In many cases, the axle or at least the wheels must be removed to replace differential gears.
  3. Reinstall the differential and test it.

Your rear end problems should be resolved-or at least your car’s rear end problems should be resolved.

Cooling and Lubrication System Repairs

Most modern cars have a pressurized engine-cooling system that uses a thermostat to control the flow of coolant throughout the engine. The thermostat stops coolant from flowing until the engine is warm and then regulates the coolant temperature.Why is the cooling system pressurized? Because the boiling point of a pressurized liquid is higher than that of a nonpressurized one. So the engine can safely operate at higher temperatures without boiling over. Unfortunately, a pressurized system means that all parts, including hoses, must be strong enough to withstand the higher pressure.The procedures in this article are typical for most modern cars. Refer to the manufacturer’s manual or an aftermarket service manual for specific instructions and details.As with other repairs, grab your handy-dandy car care toolbox. I’ll let you know if there’s anything special you need to make the repairs in this article.

Cooling and Lubrication

What to Do with a Hot Car

Relax-I’m not going to tell you how to get rid of a stolen car, but your car may occasionally get too hot in other ways.

To make life somewhat easier, here are a few guidelines for troubleshooting cooling and lubrication systems:

  • If your car always seems to run hot, first look for debris blocking the front of the radiator. Also check the seal on the radiator cap, test the radiator hoses, and then consider replacing the thermostat or water pump.
  • If your car warms up slowly, the thermostat may be stuck open.
  • If you must remove the radiator from your car to have it rebuilt, consider buying a replacement unit instead. It might be cheaper.
  • Check the sides of the engine block for signs of coolant leaking through round metal parts called freeze plugs or core plugs. Refer to the service manual for instructions on replacing core plugs.

If you car’s heater doesn’t work after not being used for a while, find the heater under the hood or dashboard and check to see if the hose to it has a spigot or valve that’s closed.

If Your Car Is Radiating Too Much Heat … chances are you don’t have the specialty tools needed to repair your car’s radiator. If it needs repair, the best you can do is remove it and reinstall it. Radiators for most modem cars are a commodity; you can order a new one through an auto parts store and pick it up on Tuesday. The price is cheaper if you bring your old radiator in for an exchange. Until you do, most auto parts stores or radiator shops require a deposit called a core charge.

Cooling and Lubrication 1

To remove and reinstall a radiator, follow these steps:

  1. Drain the car’s cooling system, If the coolant is relatively new and clean, save and reuse it. Some coolants can be poisonous to your pets.
  2. If your car is equipped with an automatic transaxle, disconnect the coolant lines from the radiator.
  3. Loosen the hose clamps on the radiator and detach the hoses. Some hose clamps require you to unscrew them; others require you to use a special pair of pliers to squeeze the wires until the clamp opens.
  4. Remove the engine cooling fan if it’s attached to the radiator.
  5. Loosen and remove the bolts holding the radiator to its frame.
  6. Look around for any other components that are attached to the radiator and remove them. Mark their locations and sources to make reinstallation easier.
  7. Lift the radiator from the frame, being careful not to spill coolant or to damage paint. Drain any coolant left in the radiator before taking it to the radiator shop or auto parts store.
  8. Reinstall the radiator in the reverse order in which you took it out.
  9. Refill the system with coolant, a SO/SO mixture of water and antifreeze.
  10. Start the engine. As it’s warming up, look for leaks.
  11. To adequately test the new radiator, drive to an ice cream parlor at least 25 miles away, park and check for leaks, and then go in and order while the system is cooling. When you system is cool, check it again, get a quart to go, and drive home. Warning: Rocky Road is a bad omen!

When Your Water Pump Doesn’t

The water pump’s job is to pump coolant through the engine and radiator. A water pump is actually a pretty simple part. A belt wrapped around the crankshaft pulley also turns the water pump shaft. Inside the pump, the shaft has a bunch (technical mechanic’s term) of blades. As the shaft rotates, the blades go around, moving the coolant forward. Pretty slick! The most common problem with a water pump is that the shaft wears out. On newer cars, there’s a sealed bearing on the shaft. On older cars, the water pump has a zerk or lubrication fitting that needs a shot of grease once in a while. A water pump that is going out tells everyone so, making lots of racket and leaking coolant all over the place. It’s a pretty effective warning system.

To replace a water pump, follow these steps:

  1. When the engine is cool, drain the cooling system. If the coolant is relatively new and clean, save and reuse it.
  2. Remove the drivebelts and, if necessary, the timing belt.
  3. Remove any other parts attached to the water pump.
  4. Remove the bolts holding the water pump in place. If one bolt is longer than others, make sure you remember which hole it’s from. Clean away any gasket or O-ring material on the housing or engine block.
  5. Install a new gasket and/or O-ring.
  6. Install the replacement water pump. Hand-tighten all bolts and then use a torque wrench to tighten them to the manufacturer’s specifications.
  7. Reinstall all parts removed to get to the water pump.
  8. Refill the system with coolant.
  9. Adjust the drivebelt tension.
  10. Just kidding. There’s no step 10. You’re finished.

Cooling and Lubrication 3

Turning Up the Heat

A car’s heater simply circulates some of the hot coolant from the engine through a device that looks like a small radiator and then blows the resulting warm air to heat the interior of the car (see the figure illustrating this process). By this description, you can identify the main parts of a car’s heater: the heater core (radiator), blower motor (fan), and hoses. The first step to repairing a car’s heating system is to describe the problem (“Doctor, it hurts when … “). This helps define the solution. If the heater is leaking coolant into the car’s interior, for example, you know that replacing the blower motor is probably not the solution. Chances are the problem involves a hose or the heater core. Knowing that makes your repair job easier. Common sense will probably dictate the cure. Coolant leaking into the passenger compartment suggests there’s a leak in the heater or an attached hose. If you don’t hear the motor or feel air movement with the heater switch on, the blower should be checked.The second step is to apply the easiest solution first. In the example, check and, if needed, replace the heater hose or clamps before replacing the heater core. Cars really do make sense. Just don’t take their advice on money matters.

A car’s heater can be repaired following these steps:

  1. Inspect the heater system for blockages and broken parts. Make sure the heater hoses are in good condition. If your car has a summer valve on the engine block (which lets you shut off circulation to the heater core), make sure the valve is open.
  2. If necessary, check the blower circuit and motor. If the blower motor isn’t operating, check the fuse and all switches and wire connections. Some blower motors also have resistors that can bum out and need replacement; you can check them with an ohmmeter.
  3. If the blower motor needs to be replaced, follow the instructions in the service manual for doing so. In some cases, the dashboard must be partially disassembled. In all cases, you must first drain the cooling system.
  4. If the heater core needs to be replaced, again, follow the instructions in your car’s service manual. There are just too many ways of doing so to cover them all here. The heater core is typically found in a housing unit under the dashboard or in the engine compartment against the firewall. Disconnect, disassemble, replace, and assemble.
  5. To test your car’s heater, repeat the earlier procedure for purchasing ice cream. If it melts before you get back home, the heater works fine.

You Own an Oil Pump

Unfortunately, you probably don’t own an oil well under your oil pump. Your oil pump, like mine, is probably in your car. Your car’s lubrication system is simple. Oil held in the oil pan is pumped through the engine’s oil passages. The oil pump does the work. If it doesn’t, you’ve got a problem. Without lubricating oil, your car’s engine soon becomes expensive scrap metal. So it’s important to replace an oil pump that doesn’t work as it should before the engine is damaged.

Car Oil Pump

So where the heck’s the oil pump?

Good question! On some cars, the oil pump is located on the side of the engine. On others, it’s in the oil pan (see the figure showing the lubrication system). After the oil pump is found and removed, you can repair it using a rebuild kit available from a parts store, or you can buy a new or rebuilt one.And why would you need to replace an oil pump? Because the car’s idiot light or oil gauge says oil pressure is low, suggesting that the pump isn’t working efficiently. Your car’s owner’s manual will tell you what normal operating pressure should be.

An oil pump is typically replaced following these steps:

  1. Check the service manual to locate the oil pump.
  2. If the oil pump is in the oil pan, drain the oil, remove the pan and its gasket, and then remove the pump. If the oil pump is mounted on the side of the engine block, remove the bolts holding the pump in place, and then remove the pump.
  3. Rebuild, repair, or replace the oil pump by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Replace the oil pump in the reverse order in which you removed it. If oil was drained from the oil pan, clean out any built-up sludge in the bottom of the pan, replace the gasket, and reinstall the oil pan.

You’re ready to begin pumping oil again. Well, at least your car is.

Fuel System Repairs

Where would your car be without a fuel system? Stranded! And so would you. Before you find yourself in this situation, you might want to learn how repairs are done to an automotive fuel system. If not, at least read this article before you hire a mechanic to do the needed (or unneeded) repairs. You might decide to do it yourself. Or you might want to make sure the mechanic doesn’t treat you like a complete idiot. Your car’s fuel system is based on either a carburetor or a fuel-injection system. One or the other. Which one? If your car was built in the past 10 years, chances are it uses a fuel-injection system. If it was built more than 10 years ago, it probably uses a carburetor. The car’s owner’s manual and certainly its service manual can tell you which one you have. In this article, you also learn about repairs to fuel pumps, fuel tanks, and fuel lines (see the figure illustrating the fuel system components). All internal combustion engine cars have these parts.

Are You Starving Your Car?

This article offers solutions to many common fuel system problems. Here are some additional tips:

  • Are you sure that your car has gas? If you don’t trust the fuel gauge, carefully lower one end of a cotton rope through the fuel filler pipe to test the depth of the fuel in the tank. A clean stick is better if it will negotiate all the turns in the filler pipe.

Fuel System 3

  • If your car’s engine starts okay but dies when you put it in gear, the carburetor (if it has one) might need the fast idle speed adjusted.
  • If your car seems starved for fuel, remove the air filter. If the engine then runs smoothly, replace the air filter with a new one. If the engine still does not run smoothly, use a vacuum tester to test the fuel pump and fuel lines as covered later in this article.
  • A vacuum leak in a fuel-injection system, intake manifold, or vacuum line can cause all sorts of weird problems. Check vacuum hoses for leaks before repairing other parts.
  • If your car runs erratically or even not at all, check the fuel filter; if it’s clogged, replace it.
  • If your car sounds like a diesel engine when going uphill, buy a higher octane fuel or add an octane booster to your fuel tank (see your friendly auto parts retailer).
  • If your car is difficult to start but finally does so, check the automatic choke as described in this page..

Painless Carburetor Surgery

The carburetor has been a vital part of a car’s power system since cars first drank, or guzzled, gas. The carburetor mixes fuel with air and sends it (through the intake manifold) to the engine cylinders for burning. A carburetor is a mechanical device; it’s not electronically controlled. That means it’s subject to wear. Small jets get clogged with junk from the fuel tank. The float inside the carburetor’s bowl or reservoir wears out or breaks. But, most often, poor fuel and too many gas additives take their toll on the carburetor, requiring that it be replaced. How can you tell? Troubleshooting tests can help determine the source of the problem. If it’s the carburetor, keep reading.

You have options. Sometimes, all your car needs is an adjustment or two. Because your carburetor is a mechanical device, you can rebuild it for less money than it costs to buy a rebuilt or new one. Or you can whip out your wallet and plunk your money down for a new one, but before you do, make sure you’ve considered the other options. Is rebuilding a carburetor difficult? Not particularly. In fact, the most difficult part may be selecting the right parts from the carburetor rebuild kit. These kits, available at auto parts stores for nearly all carburetors, are typically sold for more than one carburetor model. That means you’re going to have some parts left over when you’re done (leftovers are okay in this case). Instructions in these kits are generic, too. One solution to this problem is to stay away from the low-price leaders at automotive superstores. If you’re going to rebuild your car’s carburetor, get a kit from the dealer’s parts department or the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). It costs more, but it saves you time-and time is money.

Fuel System

A carburetor is replaced following these steps:

  1. Open your car’s hood and look for the carburetor. In most cars, it’s beneath a round metal part called the air-filter housing. Disconnect the large hose leading into the air-filter housing (if there is one) and remove the nut on top of the housing. Disconnect any other parts and hoses needed to remove the air-filter housing.
  2. You should now be able to see the carburetor. Disconnect the throttle linkage and the fuel line to the carburetor. You’ll probably need the car’s service manual as a reference so that you don’t remove the wrong parts. Remember, the carb cops are watching you!
  3. Remove the carburetor. For most cars, this means first removing the two or four nuts at the edges where the carburetor sits atop the intake manifold.
  4. Remove the gasket between the carburetor and intake manifold. If the gasket lifts off easily, you’re done. If it’s stuck, you must scrape it off. To do so, first plug the holes on the manifold with rags so that bits of gasket don’t fall in, making life more difficult. Then use a putty knife or other flat edge to remove all gasket material. (Don’t forget to remove the rag from the manifold holes when you’re done!)
  5. Buy or rebuild the carburetor. You can buy a new or rebuilt unit or you can rebuild it yourself with a carburetor kit. In general, rebuilding a carburetor means taking it apart, soaking parts in a carburetor cleaner, reassembling the parts, and adjusting them following the instructions in the kit.
  6. Install the new or rebuilt carburetor in the reverse order of how you took it out. Install the new gasket, the new carb, attach lines and linkage, a new air-filter housing gasket, and then the old housing.
  7. Finally, adjust the carburetor (if the manufacturer has provisions for adjustment) following instructions in the car’s service manual..

Don’t Choke Your Car to Death

A choke has a strangle-hold on the carburetor. Pretty graphic, huh? The choke limits the amount of air going into the carburetor. Why? Because as a car starts, it needs a richer (more fuel, less air) mixture than when it’s tooling along the highway. The automatic choke system knows that the car’s engine isn’t warm enough yet (because it’s measuring the temperature of the exhaust gas), so it uses a butterfly valve to keep some of the air from flowing into the carburetor. A butterfly valve is a shaft with a “wing” on each side that chokes or blocks air flow through the carburetor’s throat when the shaft is turned. This butterfly doesn’t fly, however, and it isn’t very pretty. How do you know whether your car’s carburetor choke isn’t working? Common sense. Is your car “cold-blooded” and difficult to keep running the first time it’s started? Among other things, the automatic choke might not be working automatically. Some cars get help from a vacuum or electric assistant that reduces excessive choking. Sounds gruesome, doesn’t it? If your car sends out black exhaust smoke when it starts, the automatic choke’s assistant is probably not working.

An automatic choke is replaced following these steps:

  1. Find the automatic choke. On some cars, it’s located on the side of the carburetor; on others, it’s mounted nearby on the manifold. Unfortunately, some systems have choke parts under the carburetor. Follow the instructions for digging your way down to the carburetor by removing the air-filter housing.
  2. Using your car’s service manual, figure out what type of automatic choking system it has and where the components are located. Without starting the car and while the engine is cold, put your ear near the carburetor while your lovely assistant presses the gas pedal. You should see and hear the choke butterfly valve move. If it doesn’t, try moving the butterfly by hand and checking the attached parts for smooth movement. If something seems stuck, try to free it. The cause is often a loose connection or something in the way.
  3. Depending on the type of choke system, you can use a carburetor choke cleaner spray to clean and free up mechanical parts. Don’t spray any electronic parts with this stuff. How can you tell the difference? If in doubt, wires leading to a part identify it as electrical.
  4. If your automatic choke system’s thermostat needs an adjustment, follow the service manual’s instructions for adjusting it. In most cases, you loosen the choke cover and turn it to the next index mark on the cover’s body, and then retighten the screws. If the thermostat doesn’t respond to adjustment, it’s probably broken and needs replacement.
  5. To replace an automatic choke system component, identify and remove the defective component, and then take it to a full parts house for an exact replacement. Some choke systems are an integral part of the carburetor and cannot be replaced easily. In this case, you’re stuck with buying a new or rebuilt carburetor.
  6. To adequately test your car’s rebuilt carburetor, start the car and drive it by your favorite mechanic’s garage, honking.

Automatic Choke Cable

Fuel-Injection Repairs

Fuel-injection systems are more efficient and more trouble-free than carburetion systems. Even so, they may need periodic repair or replacement. Most cars built since 1986 use fuel injection rather than carburetion. Some cars used it even before that. The two most common types of fuel-injection systems today are throttle-body and multiport. There will be a quiz later, so pay attention-and drop that spitball! A throttle-body fuel-injection system is similar to a carburetor, except that the amount of fuel is controlled electronically rather than mechanically. The fuel/air mixture is then distributed by the intake manifold to the cylinders. A multipart fuel-injection system electronically controls the distribution of fuel through one or more fuel rails (like pipes) to each cylinder’s fuel injector. Multiport fuel injection (MPFI) is also called multipart injection, port fuel injection, and other creative names. Same thing. Still awake?

So what can go wrong with a fuel-injection system? The system is controlled by the electronic control module (ECM) or the computer, which makes all the major decisions. So if the ECM is damaged, problems begin showing up in components it controls, including the fuel-injection system. Fortunately, these things don’t fail very often, especially on newer systems in which the design bugs have been worked out. Unfortunately, when they do go awry, they go extremely awry-and Einstein can’t fix them. The solution then is to have a qualified and honest mechanic (I knew one once, but he died-broke!) test and replace as needed. How can you tell if your car’s fuel-injection system is sick? That’s a toughie. Much depends on the type of fuel-injection system your car has, and whether other causes have been ruled out. Your car’s service manual is the best source for specific ailments and cures, but to understand them, let’s look at typical fuel-injection system repairs.

Fuel-injection systems are complex. Tackle repair at your own risk. They can be repaired successfully by mechanically inclined car owners with a good service manual and the right tools. Really they can. Plan on spending some time scratching your head, however. A well-written service manual with lots of illustrations specific to your car’s engine really makes the job easier. Fuel injectors should last about 50,000 miles, and other parts in the system should last about twice as long.

Fuel-injection systems are repaired following these steps:

  1. Relieve pressure in (depressurize) the fuel system. Fuel-injection systems are pressurized, so working on the fuel system requires that you first relieve system pressure. Your car’s service manual or an aftermarket manual shows you how. Typically, you remove the filler cap on the fuel tank and then loosen the specified pressure reliever (a bolt or fitting).
  2. Follow manufacturer’s directions for testing and repairing or replacing components. Typical components include the air intake system, throttle body, fuel rail (MPFI), fuel pressure regulator, fuel injectors, and electronic control module. Sometimes you can fix a system simply by tracing down all the wires and hoses, attaching those that have worked themselves free or are damaged. Sometimes not.
  3. If you are able to repair your car’s fuel-injection system within a reasonable time and cost, try not to act smug.

Fuel Tank and Fuel Line Repairs

A fuel tank is simply a reservoir for your car’s fuel. Fuel tanks typically hold from 10 to 20 gallons of fuel, depending on the car’s fuel efficiency. (My 40-year-old Continental has a 25-gallon fuel tank, accurately suggesting a low number of miles to the gallon. My Honda acts very smug about its small tank and efficient mileage.) Cars are designed to travel 300 to 400 miles before running out of gas. Unfortunately, human bladders are smaller and need more frequent pit stops. What can go wrong with fuel tanks and fuel lines? They can spring a leak. A small point of rust can become a hole in a few years. If the hole is in a tank or line housing fuel, the fuel can leak out and cause more problems than just low fuel efficiency. If you find puddles of fuel under your car, you know that the tank or line needs repair. Do it before the leak becomes a fire hazard. The best insurance against such leaks is a full undercoating of the underside of your car to minimize rust. Depending on the size of your car, undercoating can cost about $25 in materials plus your labor, or about $100 to $150 if a shop does it for you. Make sure a rust inhibitor is applied first.

Fuel System

Fuel tanks and fuel lines can be repaired following these steps:

  1. Visually inspect your car’s fuel tank and fuel lines, looking for small wet spots. Touch the spot with a finger and then sniff it to see whether the liquid is gasoline. If so, look for other leaks and repair or replace the part as needed.
  2. To repair a fuel tank, purchase and apply an internal or external fuel tank sealer. Internal sealers are poured into the fuel; external sealers are applied to the holes on the outside of the tank. Internal sealers find and seal all holes, seen and unseen, but might not be recommended by the car’s manufacturer because they can clog a system. External sealers are easy to apply, but can’t ensure that unseen holes are sealed.
  3. To replace a fuel tank on a fuel-injected car, first depressurize it, as described previously. This isn’t necessary on a carbureted car. Then drain or siphon the fuel from the tank into one or more large gas cans. Detach the fuel tank from the inlet pipe and the output fuel line. Find and remove the straps or hangers that attach the fuel tank to the car. Carefully lower the tank to the ground and remove it from underneath the car. Replace it with a new or rebuilt replacement tank. Don’t try to make one fit that doesn’t.
  4. To repair a fuel line, first determine whether the entire line or only one spot needs replacement. A damaged line can be repaired, but a rusted fuel line will soon spring another hole and should be replaced. A rubber fuel line that has developed a leak is probably old and needs to be replaced entirely. If your car is fuel-injected, depressurize the fuel system before working on it. Larger auto parts stores have fuel lines cut to length and bent for many newer cars. Otherwise, you might need to buy a straight fuel line along with some bending and flaring tools to make it fit your car.
  5. Realize that, once done with this job, you’re a better person for the experience…

Fuel Pump Repair

Fuel pumps use suction to pull fuel from the tank and deliver it to the carburetor or fuel-injection system. Older cars used mechanical fuel pumps that were operated by

the engine’s camshaft. Newer cars use electromechanical or solid state fuel pumps. An electromechanical pump uses electricity to power the mechanical suction diaphragm. Solid state fuel pumps rely on electronics to do the job and have no mechanical parts. One more time: If your car has a fuel-injection system, make sure you depressurize the fuel system before working on it. See the instructions provided earlier in this article.

To replace a fuel pump, follow these steps:

  1. First, find the dam thing. Your car’s fuel pump could be mounted on the side of the engine, somewhere in the engine compartment, near the fuel tank, or even inside the fuel tank. Your car’s service manual helps you pinpoint it.
  2. Test the fuel pump. Some fuel pumps can be tested without taking them off the car, but others must be removed (see step 3). To test the pump, you first need to remove the fuel lines from the pump. Before disconnecting the input line, find a way of blocking it so that fuel from the tank doesn’t spurt out. For a rubber input line, use Vise-Grip pliers to clamp the line. For a metal line, use a cap or a wad of putty to block flow after the input line is disconnected. Check input vacuum pressure with your finger or a vacuum gauge over the input. The car’s service manual tells you what the input vacuum should be, but your finger over the input can give you a good idea as to whether the fuel pump is working. Check the fuel pump output pressure and volume in the same way.
  3. To remove the fuel pump, remove the mounting bolts that attach it to the engine block, frame, or tank. Fuel pumps inside a fuel tank typically can be accessed through a cover underneath a back seat or a trunk mat. Disconnect any electrical wiring. Drain any gas in the fuel pump or bowl into a gas can. Remember: Smoking while you’re working on the fuel system can really be hazardous to your health and to those within a wide range of your location!
  4. Replace the fuel pump with one of the same output. Your car’s specifications tell you what pressure and volume the fuel pump should be able to produce.

Further Readings:

Starting and Ignition System Repairs

The starting and ignition systems are vital to your car. They both require electricity to operate. The ignition system is your car’s heartbeat. The starting system, then, must be the first cup of coffee in the morning. And we all know what some people are like if they don’t get their coffee fix! This article guides you through common repairs to starting and ignition systems. Reading over the instructions can help you decide whether you want to tackle the project yourself or hire someone to do it. Remember that although you don’t know as much about your car as a trained mechanic, you have a greater need to make sure the job is done right and at a reasonable cost. The repair procedures in this article are typical for most modern cars. Refer to the manufacturer’s manual or an aftermarket service manual for specific instructions and details for your car.

You Can’t Get ‘Em Up in the Morning

Here’s where the job of the starting system is like the task of your first cup of coffee. The starting system turns the engine quickly enough to enable it to start-at least, that’s what it does when it operates properly. Components of the starting system include the battery, the starter motor, the starter solenoid, and all the wires that connect these parts. How does the starter system work? As you turn the ignition key to the start position, an electric signal runs along the wire to the starter solenoid. The solenoid is told to deliver electricity from the battery to the starter motor. It does so until the ignition key is released from the start position. The end of the starter motor has a small gear that meshes with the teeth around the edge of the engine flywheel. The gear rotates the flywheel. At the same time, the ignition system is delivering a spark and the fuel system is supplying a fuel/air mixture to the engine. The engine starts .. .in theory, and if everything is in good working condition. If the engine doesn’t start, the cause could be one of many things, including the starter or solenoid. Before you consider repairing the starter, however, check one more thing: the interlock. An interlock stops something from happening if all conditions are not met.

Starting  System

Most cars now have an interlock that must be operated before the signal to start is sent to the solenoid. The interlock on cars with manual transmissions requires that the clutch pedal be pushed in before the car is allowed to start. On automatic transmissions, the interlock requires that the gear selector be in the park or neutral position. So, before you begin to repair your car’s starter or solenoid, find and test the interlock, fuses, and battery. Finding the interlock may be the operative term here because some are mounted near the clutch pedal, and others are in the steering column or mounted near the starter. Testing an interlock means using an ohmmeter to see whether the circuit is open or closed (read the ohmmeter’s instructions) when it’s activated.

One more tip before we (that’s like the nurse asking how we feel today) get our hands dirty: Have someone turn the ignition key to the start position. If, standing near the engine, you hear the solenoid click, it’s working. If you don’t, it’s not working, assuming that you’ve already checked the battery and any starter system fuses. A starter motor should give your car 75,000 to 100,000 miles of trouble-free service-and more with proper maintenance.

Troubleshooting Electrical Problems

Here are some guidelines for troubleshooting starting and ignition systems:

  • Make sure the automatic transmission is in the correct gear or that the clutch on a manual transmission is fully depressed (or at least morose).
  • If your car won’t even make a noise when you try to start it, first check the battery terminal connections. Then look for other loose connections in the starting and ignition systems.

If your car won’t start, causes may be a discharged battery, loose or broken wires, a faulty starter or solenoid, or a faulty ignition switch or neutral interlock., Also Dirty battery connections can cause fuel-injection systems to hesitate or surge. Keep those connections clean!

Replacing Your Car’s Starter

To replace the starter motor and/or starter solenoid, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the negative or ground cable from the battery (see Chapter 9, “CAR Quarterly Check Up,” for tips on identifying cables).
  2. Find the starter. No, it doesn’t look like a coffee cup. It’s a round motor about three inches across located at one side or the other of the flywheel. The flywheel is located between the engine and transmission. The solenoid is probably mounted on the side of the starter. If not, trace the wire to the solenoid, which is probably mounted nearby on the firewall.
  3. Disconnect the battery cable and any other wires to the starter or solenoid.
  4. Remove the starter and solenoid. This usually means removing two bolts that mount the starter on the side of the engine or the bellhousing (clutch cover). The starter weighs a few pounds, so be careful not to drop it when the last bolt is loosened. If the solenoid is not attached to the starter, remove it from the firewall.
  5. Repair or replace the starter and solenoid. Unless you have the equipment and knowledge to repair or rebuild a starter (it’s a specialty, so I’m assuming you don’t), buy a replacement at an auto parts store or automotive electrical shop. A helpful counterperson at either place should be able to test your starter and solenoid before you buy a replacement.
  6. Reinstall the starter and solenoid. Tighten and check all connections before trying to use the starter.

Starter Solenoid

Diagnosing and Treating Ignition Ills

An automotive ignition system has a pretty simple job: to supply a spark to the engine at the time it’s most needed. To do so on today’s fuel-efficient cars requires nothing short of a computer, however. That’s why cars have become so difficult for the owner to repair. Fortunately, the technology has stabilized somewhat and the newest cars at least have some logic to them.

In addition, cars are using more modularized systems. No one, not even mechanics, repairs ignition systems. They replace components that test bad. So can you. Using a simple volt-ohmmeter (VOM) and the car’s service manual, you can probably track down and solve many ignition system problems, saving yourself many dollars.

What Makes Them Go?” high-voltage electricity comes from the ignition coil, and is passed to the appropriate cylinder by the distributor. All distributors, in both older and newer cars, are driven by the engine’s camshaft. The distributor is advanced or retarded as engine speed changes by electronics (newer cars) or a vacuum/mechanical advance system (older cars). Computerized ignition systems also sense and respond to changes in engine speed, coolant temperature, throttle, vacuum pressure, and, seemingly, the manufacturer’s daily stock value.

Switching Switches

The ignition switch in a car used to be a simple, three-position switch: Off, On, and Start. Today, it’s become more complex, as so many other automotive components have. The ignition switch is now linked to sensors, anti-theft devices, interlocks, and the bank where you have your car loan. Fortunately, failure of an ignition switch typically is traced to a loose wire. That’s something you can fix-if you can find it.

Ignition System Repairs

To repair an ignition switch and wiring, follow these steps:

  1. Find an electrical schematic for your car’s ignition system. It’s usually printed in the car’s service manual or in an aftermarket service manual. If not, you might have to order one through the dealer. The schematic tells you what’s in the ignition wiring system, such as interlocks and sensors, besides the switch. It might also identify their locations.
  2. Visually trace and inspect the ignition switch and wiring for loose wires, burn marks, or other damage. Reconnect or replace as needed.
  3. Use an ohmmeter to test continuity of the ignition switch and wiring. Replace defective parts as needed.

It’s Coiled, But Is It Ready to Bite?

The coil converts low voltage (12 volts) from the battery into high voltage (30,OOO-plus volts). It either works or doesn’t. There are two electrical circuits within a coil, and both must work. If they don’t, replace the coil as a unit.

To test and replace an ignition coil, follow these steps:

  1. Find the coil. On some cars, it’s installed in the distributor, which requires you to remove the distributor cap. In other cars, it’s mounted on the engine block or on the firewall. Coils located outside the distributor are typically cylindrical, with two small wires and one large one.
  2. Use an ohmmeter to test continuity. Your car’s service manual identifies the coil’s primary and secondary circuits. Measuring continuity across two points in a circuit shows whether the circuit is letting electricity pass through it (a closed circuit) or not (an open circuit). Verify that both coil circuits are not only closed, but also have the resistance (in ohms) recommended by the manufacturer.
  3. If the coil is defective, replace it, following instructions in the car’s service manual. If not, spend the money on sugar donuts.

Starting and Ignition System Repairs

Replacing Sensors and Control Modules and Distributors

There are many other electrical components in your car’s ignition system: sensors, a control module, and a distributor. Each can be tested using a volt-ohmmeter (VOM) and replaced as needed. It’s critical that you compare the test results to those from the car’s manufacturer.

To test and replace electronic ignition components, follow these steps:

  1. Locate your car’s distributor and electronic ignition, also called an ignition control module (ICM). The distributor operates from the camshaft, so it is mounted on the upper half of the engine. The ICM controls the ignition system and is mounted either within the distributor or nearby. Breaker-point ignitions are mechanically rather than electronically controlled.
  2. Remove the distributor cap or ICM cover as necessary. Inspect the unit for obvious problems, such as a cracked cap or rotor, loose wires, or debris. Clean or replace as needed.
  3. Following manufacturer’s recommendations, use an ohmmeter to test continuity for each component. Find and test sensors as well as the ignition control module.
  4. If necessary, remove and replace the distributor as a unit. Make sure you note the rotor’s exact position so that you can reinstall the new distributor with the rotor in the same position.
  5. Carefully document the steps required for easy reference at your next (and last) party.

Further Readings:


No, troubleshooting doesn’t mean shooting your car if it gives you trouble! Troubleshooting means finding and fixing the source of car trouble. You don’t necessarily have to fix the problem yourself-you can hire someone to do it-but you do need to know what the problem is. Why? So that you can demand, “Try that again?!” when the mechanic snickers, “A million dollars for a new muffler bearing.”
This article offers a number of proven tips for troubleshooting your car and getting it repaired at a reasonable cost. The remainder of this Website describes how specific repairs are done on unspecific cars.

How to Listen When Your Car Talks

So what kinds of noises might you hear as you merrily roll along?

  • Clicking
  • Squealing
  • Growling
  • Whistling
  • Thumping
  • Humming
  • Chirping
  • Rattling
  • Knocking


Knowing the type, location, and time of the sound often can help you pinpoint the problem. A growling sound from below the middle of the back seat when the car ismoving is probably caused by a problem in the differential (on a rear-wheel-drive car), for example. If you hear a sound from the engine when accelerating that sounds like a bunch of marbles banging around, the problem is probably pre-ignition caused by low octane fuel or incorrect engine timing. A siren from behind accompanied by flashing lights might mean you were driving too fast. Knowing what you now know about cars, you might be able to identify the source of the problem. If not, you can save money by accurately describing the sound, its source, and when you hear it to your mechanic. How about smells? What kinds of unusual odors emanate from a vehicle that operates on gas?

  • Burning oil
  • Burning plastic
  • Burning fabric
  • Burning putridity
  • Troubleshooting

The smell of burning oil can be something as simple as oil spilled on the engine’s exhaust manifold or as serious as engine piston rings failing. The smell of burning plastic can mean a problem with the electrical wiring or interior parts. Smells like burning day at the city dump are either that or the catalytic converter failing. A smell like a dirty diaper probably means the baby in the back seat needs a rest stop. To troubleshoot smells, first stop the car as soon as safely possible, and then tum off the ignition. Get out and walk around the car, sniffing to identify the location of the odor. After you identify the odor, you can decide whether it’s safe to go on or whether you should call for a tow truck. Your sense of touch can also playa part in troubleshooting. Descriptive terms follow:

  • As hot as a radiator cap
  • Colder than it usually is
  • Mushy, not firm like normal
  • Very smooth or very rough
  • As hard as the proverbial rock

Hot or cold, soft or hard-you’ve determined that its touch is not normal. That’s a start toward troubleshooting.

If Your Car Is in a Coma

So how can you troubleshoot a car that isn’t running? There’s nothing abnormal to see, smell, or touch. About all you can do is review what happened just before it stopped. An older car may show no symptoms of problems, but then stop running a week after a tune-up, for example. Knowing this, troubleshooting could lead to the distributor, where you discover that the wire on the new condenser had vibrated loose. No spark = no go. Most car parts that fail don’t just give up the ghost at a young age. They fail due to abuse or neglect. Reviewing the last few days or weeks of driving may offer a number of ideas on why your car quit. You might ignore a clunking sound in the engine, for example, until one day, both the engine and the car quit. A leaking battery may not be immediately discovered and cleaned up, and acid can eat through some wiring. A transmission that refuses to go into gear could have been acting up for a month. Handwriting on the wall-but you’re learning to interpret that handwriting and understand what to do about it.

Troubleshooting 2

Do Idiot Lights Have an IQ?

A gauge measures and numerically reports the status of something. Coolant temperature is 175°. Oil pressure is 40 psi. The speedometer is broken, officer.
A warning light gives you a yes or no answer. Coolant temperature okay? Off is yes and on is no. Oil pressure okay? Off is yes and on is no. Driving under the speed limit? Flashing light off is yes and on is no.
How can you be sure your car’s gauges are telling you the truth? Experience. Yes, you can test them, but driving your car gives you the experience to know which readings are normal and which aren’t. Gauges report trends.
How can you be sure your car’s warning lights are equally honest? Warning lights report status. You can make sure your warning lights work by watching the dashboard as you tum on the ignition. Most modem cars light all warning devices then to let you know that the bulbs work. Your car’s owner’s manual will tell you what the lights mean and whether they are tested as the ignition switch is moved.
Hold on. There is a point to this. The point is this: Whether you are dealing with gauges or lights, learn to read them. Make a habit of scanning your car’s dashboard on a regular basis. When starting your car, tum the ignition switch to the on position and watch the gauges and/or lights. With gauges, know what’s normal. If necessary, apply a piece of tape on gauges to clearly identify normal operating ranges (some gauges are as useless as warning lights).

Troubleshooting 3

Va Gonna Fix It or Pass the Buck?

Okay, you’ve identified the problem. Is the solution to replace a part or to repair it? With all the firmness I can muster, I respond: That depends. Read on. Repairing many car components requires tools you probably don’t have or want. Why buy a $2,000 tool to fix a $50 part? Okay, maybe you won Lotto America! Otherwise, don’t bother. The total cost of starter parts, for example, is greater than the cost of a rebuilt starter-as long as you give them your old starter in exchange so that it can be rebuilt. The same goes for engines, transmissions, and many other parts: Buy and replace them as a unit, making sure the new parts are the same model numbers as the old ones.An exception is any part that is difficult to replace. Just try to find a generator for a 1956 Continental Mark II! In such cases, take the old part to a specialized repair shop and give them joint custody of your wallet.