single biggest impediment to doing DIY work on a late-model car
is the space issue getting at the engine, being able
to reach the part that needs attention. If you cant get your
hands or a tool on it, you cant fix or replace
Some late model
cars are better in this respect than others but all of them
are pretty bad, relative to the old stuff old stuff
being the cars of the pre-1980s era. Back then, most cars were rear-drive
and so had their engines mounted longitudinally facing forward,
with the transmission bolted to the back of the engine. The transmission,
in turn, fed the power to the back wheels and a separate axle assembly
via a long driveshaft. This spread out the components that made
up the cars drivetrain allowing for more room under
the hood. Cars were also generally larger and
many had larger engine compartments. It made working on them physically
easier and also less intimidating.
More on this
in a moment.
cars, in contrast, are front-wheel-drive or based on a FWD layout.
Their engines are typically mounted transversely that
is, sideways. This can make it a challenge to get at or even
see the other side of V-6 engines, which have one cylinder
bank crammed up against the firewall.
in the relative handful of RWD cars still being made, whats
called packaging in the lingo of the car business is
much tighter than it used to be. The automakers use every inch of
available space. There is very little daylight on either side of
the engine. When you open the hood, you see a mass of wires and
brackets and components all snugged up together thick as thieves.
You look at
it and wonder: How did they ever get all that in there? Well, the
answer often is: They put the engine in first and built the
car around the engine. Some late model cars had their engines
put in from below, as they moved down the assembly line.
All of this
can make getting at even routine maintenance items such as drive
belts, spark plugs, coolant hoses and so on a knuckle-busting, extra
frustrating job. It can also put the kibosh on even thinking
about doing DIY work. You pop the hood, look at all that
and say, forget it.
take it to the man.
let the fear keep you from proceeding.
I think part
of the reason people in my generation (Generation X) and those before
us took more to working on cars than todays generation is
because when my generation was in high school, working on cars seemed
simpler. You popped the hood and there it was, the engine.
You could see it and get at it. For a kid just learning the
ropes, it didnt take all that much courage to spin off the
wingnut that held the top of the air cleaner in place and take a
look at the filter. Or buy a cheap socket set and remove a spark
plug. After all, it was right there. Anyone could do it.
And so, we
did. We learned more as we got better at it but taking that
first step made all the difference.
In most new
cars, there is an air box typically held in place
by several complicated-looking screws or snaps. Sometimes you have
to take off a plastic engine cover just to get at that. Its
intimidating if you havent done it before and dont
know where to start.
Which is probably
why many people never start.
the rest of the article
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2012 Eric Peters
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