Car Self-Maintenance

My car’s got a few things needing to be fixed, and I decided to stop relying on mechanics for this kind of thing. I bought my first set of tools with all the basics, plus a cordless 20V drill, and one of those Dummy books about car repair. I think it’s going to be fun and rewarding to learn how to do this myself. Anything you more experienced guys can help with in terms of warnings or tips for newbies? I don’t want to break the parts of my car that are still functioning and this is my only one.
 
Often times you can search YouTube for something like "water pump replacement 2013 Honda Accord" or whatever car and repair you need to do and watch someone break it down step by step.
Don't just watch one video. Watch 3 different videos for "water pump replacement 2013 Honda Accord" - there are good and there are not so good.

Tools suggestions: liquid wrench or similar spray/liquid. Good set of sockets, in 3/8" and 1/2". Breaker bar and torque wrench. Portable workshop light so you can see what you're doing.
 

JayR

Woodpecker
In addition to YouTube clips, a Haynes, Chilton, or Bentley repair guide for your specific make and model will be a great help. If there is not a manual available for your car, you might be able to find the manufacturer's service manual (the one the mechanic at the dealership uses) on eBay.

Oh, and never get under a car lifted with only a jack -- be safe and invest in a good set of jack stands or wheel ramps.
 
Don't just watch one video. Watch 3 different videos for "water pump replacement 2013 Honda Accord" - there are good and there are not so good.

Tools suggestions: liquid wrench or similar spray/liquid. Good set of sockets, in 3/8" and 1/2". Breaker bar and torque wrench. Portable workshop light so you can see what you're doing.

To add to the list: WD40, some silicone spray lube, brake cleaner (good for degreasing and cleaning); a multitester for electrical; good slip-joint pliers.

Recently I've been getting my parts from RockAuto.com; great prices and rapid delivery, massive selection. Easy stuff like air filters are a fraction of the price you'd pay at a dealer or garage and are very simple to install.
 

EndlessGravity

Kingfisher
Pay attention to what cars you buy in the future. You may have been in the habit of looking at repair costs beforehand but now you also want to be aware of how challenging regular repairs can be to do too.

Case in point: I have a foreign made car that I don't even bother working on. I probably could but with all the computers and other random things jammed in there... just not worth it. However, I have an American made classic car that's very easy to work with. Parts are very cheap too and don't need anything special. I actually enjoying working on it.

Might want to also become familiar with any after-market parts for your car. Example: the radiators for my car have gotten progressively worse and break every year and a half because of the materials and process they're using. A radiator of all things. However, after-market is just a bit more and will never break.

You didn't mention your vehicle but there's often forums for major brands/models. Join one and learn what goes wrong most often in your car. Can also be a big help troubleshooting weirder things.
 
Thanks for the replies and info. I have a Toyota Corolla that’s about ten years old. Right now it needs an oil change, a new headlight, and some kind of plastic casing broke off near the front and is hanging down from the underside of the car.
 

MtnMan

Woodpecker
Only one way to learn, jump right in and learn. If you plan on doing more work in the future, buy good quality tools as you need them. For a while, each job will likely require a tool purchase, but at some point you will have a good tool collection. Good tools are one of the few things I have NEVER regretted purchasing. I have always done my own car repair and have built several custom cars. I have no formal training, and i wasn't raised by a mechanic. Working on cars requires real determination at times, and projects can sometimes take 10x more work than you thought originally. I really enjoy the ability to keep up my own cars and fix them as soon as they break in my own garage at home. Its certainly not for everyone, but anyone can do it these days with the internet, some decent tools and lots of perseverance.
 
Just did my first check of fluid levels and the engine air filter. I had trouble getting the filter cover back on properly and had to go to YouTube to realize I wasn’t wiggling it all the way back in before trying to clip it shut. All the fluid levels look solid except the (empty) Washer Fluid container, so unless that’s considered a major issue I don’t know why the Maintenance Required light is on. It was fun to screw up the air filter cover and figure out how to fix it though.
 

JayR

Woodpecker
Just did my first check of fluid levels and the engine air filter. I had trouble getting the filter cover back on properly and had to go to YouTube to realize I wasn’t wiggling it all the way back in before trying to clip it shut. All the fluid levels look solid except the (empty) Washer Fluid container, so unless that’s considered a major issue I don’t know why the Maintenance Required light is on. It was fun to screw up the air filter cover and figure out how to fix it though.
You need an OBD II scan tool to find out why the Check Engine light is on. You can get one for about $25 from Rock Auto, or you can go to any Autozone or car repair shop and they'll do the scan for you in the parking lot.
 
Handy things to have:

-A pair of jack stands (as others have pointed out). Never work under a car only supported by a jack. And chock the wheels so the car won't slip.
-As others have said, you can go the auto parts store and they will scan your car, but it is handy to have your own.
-A catch pan for oil and transmission changes is good to have.
-A 12 volt circuit tester (probe on one end, and a long cord with an alligator clip on the other) is good for checking fuses. A simple volt meter is handy too.
-Disposable gloves so you don't get covered in used oil.
-Funnels for fluid. I have one for engine oil and one for ATF, both wrapped up in plastic to keep dust away between uses.
-A foot lbs torque wrench is really handy, especially for torquing lug nuts -- over-torqued lug nuts can cause vibration when putting on the brakes. And one of those lug wrenches in the form of a cross if you don't have an impact wrench.
-A dedicated wrench for bleeding brakes that fits your car if you will be working on brakes. And brake grease if you replace pads or discs.

Things to avoid / do:

-If you car is an automatic and is old enough to have a dip stick, do not over fill it. The difference between need to add, and added too much for automatic transmissions is one pint. My vehicles have drain plugs on their transmissions. I will save an empty milk jug and fill it up with 1 qt of water at a time then make a mark. Use the water for something else, then pour the ATF that drained out into the jug. That shows you how many quarts to add back.
-Some parts are better off OEM, and others not so much. Probably best to search on line for opinions. Same goes for fluids. For example, Hondas could not care less about what kind of DOT 3 brake fluid you use, and any oil of the right grade is OK, but you had better use their ATF, coolant, and power steering fluid or things will stop working right.
-Never put something in your oil that you need to shake up first. The only additive I would suggest, is If, and only if, you have sticky valves you can add Marvel Mystery oil and then drive a few miles before an oil change. It is just solvent but it has worked for me the only two times I used in the past 20 years. My daily driver has 230K miles and is 17 years old, I am the original owner, and only routine maintenance--I have never added anything to the oil.
-Just because the car is throwing a code, don't jump to the conclusion that the part most directly involved needs replacing. It could be something else. Research first. It may be a bad O2 sensor, and not the catalytic converter showing a code for poor catalytic converter function.
-When changing oil, read the owner's manual to see how much it takes. Change it when it is warmed up a bit (oil flows then) and remove the fill cap to help it drain faster. Make sure the old gasket came off the filter. Smear a little oil on the new gasket. I don't think a person needs a filter wrench to put a filter on, but they can be handy to get them off. Auto parts stores will recycle old oil for free.
-Just my opinion: change conventional oil 4X a year, and synthetic 3X a year for normal driving. I know you can go longer, but 1/4 or more of engine oil is the additive pack, and in my opinion the additives can wear down before a drop in viscosity. Also my opinion, the transmission is the weak link in a lot of cars these days--I would not go more than 60K miles without changing the fluid. If your car can be services by draining a few quarts and adding a few quarts, I would think about doing that once a year, every year.
-Watch for vacuum leaks. Had a Toyota a few years ago that, around seven years old, started having cracks on the vacuum lines. That can make it run rough.
-At 10 years I'd replace the accessory belt (a special wrench for that and some wire coat hangers will work--but draw a picture of how the belt is routed before removing it). Should be able to replace the radiator cap and PCV valve yourself. And have a mechanic replace the timing belt if it has one.
-Double check every nut and bolt that needs to be tightened that it really is tightened.
 
Thanks fam. Looks like I need to order a 10mm socket wrench in order to move the battery out of the way, which I need to do just to reach the headlight bulb that needs replacing. In a few days I’ll do my first real car operation once I’ve got the tool I need.
 

paninaro

Kingfisher
You need an OBD II scan tool to find out why the Check Engine light is on. You can get one for about $25 from Rock Auto, or you can go to any Autozone or car repair shop and they'll do the scan for you in the parking lot.

I was going to mention this also. Excellent tool to have -- lets you see what the trouble is and also get live diagnostic information. Some of them even have an app for your phone so you can easily check on the meaning of the codes it throws.
 
You can get a cool Bluetooth scan/diagnostic tool for 12 or 15 bucks on Amazon. Look up an ELM327 OBD2 scanner. There are several apps for android and apple. It will scan and provide real time engine data. Cool little tool.
 
Thanks fam. Looks like I need to order a 10mm socket wrench in order to move the battery out of the way, which I need to do just to reach the headlight bulb that needs replacing. In a few days I’ll do my first real car operation once I’ve got the tool I need.

When disconnecting batteries, remove the negative terminal first and connect it last. Some cars, after a battery is replaced the computer may throw a code for a while as it relearns the proper fuel trim. My 2003 Honda tells me the catalytic converter is bad for about a week after the battery is changed, then the code goes away. There are gizmo's to plug into the cigarette lighter to keep the computer (and stereo) memory alive, but for my car at least I have not found one that works.

For light bulbs, some people suggest putting some dialectic (non-conductive) grease in the wiring socket for the bulb before installation, so it will be easy to remove next time (so the bulb will not stick to the base over time, and generally prevent corrosion). Replaced a bulb last month that had been in the car for six or seven years--it had been installed without grease and it came out easy. But maybe in climates with a lot of corrosion it helps? Keep the glass part of the bulb clean when installing it. There will be some sort of plastic locking tab holding the bulb assembly and the socket on the end of the wire tougher. Might have to lift up on, or press down on the tab to remove the old one.
 
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