The “Don’t Do” List

Fixing cars can be fun – or at least, satisfying (and money saving). Breaking your car – or yourself – is not fun.

Here’s how to avoid doing that:

* Don’t “fix” a problem until you know what the problem is –

A great mistake made by many is toguess that “x” is the problem when in fact it’s “y” (and maybe “z,” too). Then they begin to pull stuff apart – and throw stuff away – hoping that the new part they just bought and installed will fix the trouble.

Often, it doesn’t.

Now you’ve got the same problem – and less money in your pocket.

Here’s a for-instance: A friend of mine complained about his older pick-up sputtering and missing. He was going to jump the gun and start buying tune-up parts before he’d even checked to see whether any of the spark plugs were fouled, plug wires were bad – and so on. I suggested he slow down and eliminate all the potential problems before he began “fixing” stuff.

Turned out he had some water in his carbureted truck’s fuel lines/gas tank.

A $2 bottle of isopropyl alcohol (gas dryer) did the trick.

Lesson? Do not guess, young Jedi. Know. Diagnose the trouble before you start pulling parts – and buying new parts. Troubleshooting is a step-by-step, logical process of elimination. Once you’ve eliminated the various possibilities, you’ll be left with what must be the source of your trouble.

And now you can start pulling parts.

* Understand procedures before you proceed –

Even an oil change – perhaps the simplest DIY job there is – requires understanding how to properly raise and support a car; knowing how to go about accessing (and removing) the old filter, loosening/removing/re-installing the drain plug … and numerous “little things,” too. Like removing the fill cap on top of the engine to facilitate quick draining; knowingnot to change the oil when the engine is too hot… or too cold. To put some oil in the new filter before installing it. To check for pressure (and leaks!) as soon as you start the engine… and so on.

This is where a good factory shop manual for your vehicle can come in really handy. It will have detailed, step-by-step procedures – usually, with high quality pictures and diagrams accompanying the text. The less expensive generic manuals (e.g., Haynes and Chiltons) are ok, but usually lack the specificity and depth of factory manuals.

Tip:  You may be able to find the manual for your vehicle online (and much cheaper) in PDF form, or in CD-ROM form (also a lot less expensive than a hard copy manual).

Second tip: You can often find videos posted on YouTube and elsewhere literally showing you how it’s done. This can be extremely helpful. Just be aware that – like mechanics in the real world – cyberspace mechanics can get it wrong, too. But the visual – being able to observe someone else work on a car (or bike) like yours – will at minimum give you a better idea how it comes apart (and goes back together again)before you actually begin to take it apart.

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