More DIY Don’t Do’s… Learned the Hard Way
Maybe you are
thinking about doing some of the upkeep your car needs yourself.
Its a great way to save some money and can be very
satisfying, too. But its important to know what youre
doing and do the job the right way, with proper tools
and proper procedures. Hurting yourself or hurting your car
will quickly turn you off to the idea of DIY maintenance.
Here are a
few tips to help keep it fun and keep you (and your car)
from becoming one of the walking wounded:
grind or drill without wearing eye protection
nothing like a metal shaving in the cornea to focus ones attention
on the true value of a $5 pair of safety goggles. Wear them whenever
you are working with power tools especially grinders and
saws or lying on your back underneath the car fiddling with
something above you. Gravity just loves to drop loosened crud directly
into your eyes. Its no fun, son and it can cause permanent
for the job
A classic mistake
born of cheapness or laziness. Using wrong-sized or too short/too-long
tools can and will cause skinned knuckles and much frustration.
The upside is you will probably have busted whatever you were working
on, too. To prevent the pain and ruined parts figure
out before you get to work what tools youll need to do the
job youre thinking of undertaking. For example, installing
brake shoes requires special tools to seat the springs that hold
the friction materials to the backing plate; without them, youre
stuck with pliers and vise-grips neither of which works especially
well even if you have them (and you probably dont).
necessarily have to buy the full monte NASCAR mechanics tool
set to do a job. In fact, many auto parts stores will let you rent
or even borrow for free some specialized tools (such as gear pullers,
etc.) that you may only need to do this one job and which
you may not need to use again for years. This is much more cost-effective
than buying a tool you may only need to use every 10 years or so.
Your car is
a mini-electricity plant, with its very own generating system (the
alternator) and power amplification tower (the primary and secondary
ignition circuits). The coil turns the 12 volts ginned-up by the
battery and alternator into 30,000-50,000 volts to fire the spark
plugs. It wont kill you because the amperage is low but the
jolt will definitely get your attention if you are foolish enough
to stick your fingers where they shouldnt go. The more serious
danger is that youll accidentally short/fry-out your wiring
harness while trying to install something. To avoid this disaster,
always disconnect the negative cable at the battery (ground) before
doing anything that invloves your cars wiring/elctrical system.
Reconnect the negative cable when youre done working and you
should be ok.
on the subject of electricity: Jump-starting any late model computer-controlled
car can be a risky thing. The power surges/spikes that occur can
damage sensitive electronic components. Be sure you exactly follow
the specific procedures recommended in your vehicles owner
manual. Dont connect the cables in any way except the way
and in the order recommended by the owners manual.
The safest thing to do in the event of a dead battery is remove
it, have it recharged or replaced and then go about your business.
A few hours hassle is worth it if it means you skate by $1,800
worth of damage to your multiplexed wonder wagon.
When some part
doesnt seem to want to go where its supposed to, its
easy to get angry and start pushing and twisting and hammering.
Dont do it! If something isnt happening the way the
repair book says it should, step back, grab a beer (or coffee, whatever)
and ponder it for awhile. Itll come to you. Examples
include bolts that wont turn in (caused by dirty threads),
press fit components that arent budging (likely
needs some light Lithium grease or Vaseline or removal of slight
surface rust with emory cloth/light sandpaper) that kind
of thing. Force that nut and youll strip the threads
or (much worse) snap the stud off in the hole. Bang on something
thats supposed to pop in pretty smoothly (wheel bearing races,
steering wheels) and you can cause seriously expensive damage.
Watch how you
handle knives and razor blades. A locking blade (preferably
housed in a scraper) is the safest way to avoid arterial bleeding
and a trip to the emergency room. This is just common sense but
its amazing how many of us only get it after we hurt ourselves
Want lung cancer?
Diminished mental capacity? How about kids with flippers? Then dont
spray paint (even if its in cans) work on brakes or sand anything,
etc. without wearing a face mask/breather that will keep dangerous
particles and vapors from getting into your lungs and from there
to your bloodstream. You can buy disposable-type masks for less
than $10 a pack at Sears. A good filtered respirator face/mask with
replaceable filters costs about $50. Much cheaper than an oxygen
Gas is not
If you need
to check whether a hose is clogged dont stick one end in your
mouth and inhale. Use a mechanical siphon/vacuum pump and
your stomach will be happier.
improvise or ignore a procedure because it doesnt seem
important. It usually is. For example, adhering to such things as
bolt-tightening sequences on cylinder heads and looking up the torque
values (how tight a bolt should be) rather than simply strong-arming
stuff into place. On newer cars with lots of aluminum parts its
especially important to not over-tighten bolts. That includes wheel
lug nuts, otherwise you risk warping the disc brake rotors. Do that
once and face the bill and youll never do it
has you flummoxed, maybe someone else has a better idea. Online,
you can scout Forums and bulletin boards (for the make/model vehicle
youre working on). Often, someone else has dealt with the
same issue youre dealing with and figured it out. Even
better, you may know someone who knows cars. Give them a call. People
at auto parts stores can be helpful, too. Just confirm they know
what theyre talking about before you actually do anything.
and most important of all:
here is beginning a complicated project Sunday afternoon, not taking
into account that the car must be operational come Monday morning
to get you to the office. Before you know it, the clock on the wall
says 11:30 and and youre hip deep in grease and just discovered
you need a part you dont have to get the car running again.
Always budget sufficient time to do the repair carefully and correctly;
to get what you need and to deal with the unexpected, which
if you work on cars long enough you will learn to expect.
If you dont get finished as the deadline draws near, relax.
Theres always a ride to be bummed from friends or family
and failing that, a taxi.
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
[send him mail] is an automotive
columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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