Car Self-Maintenance

JayR

Woodpecker
A live streamer I listen to once claimed that his 2019 Ford Explorer won't allow him to change the battery himself. That is, if you do it, the vehicle's main computer disables the engine until the dealer enters some kind of reset code.

Not sure if that's true or a common thing in newer vehicles, but it sounds plausible with how things are going in society in general.
It is becoming more common -- take a wrench to your own car to do routine maintenance and suddenly the warranty is void. "Right to repair" legislation has been introduced to address this problem, but I'm not current on where it stands. I would never buy a car that was subject to this policy -- just one more thing to check into before buying a car.
 
The only thing I would stay away from is the brakes. Brakes are the easiest repair on cars, but get one small thing wrong and you’ll have a very long day.

Make sure your parts are thoroughly cleaned (use gas and a paint brush to clean metal parts)

I used to feel the same way about brakes until the day I bit the bullet and watched a YouTube video on how to do it for my vehicle (a large American SUV). Replacing the pads & rotors basically involves removing 4 bolts. That's it. I ordered the parts and got it done. Granted, my accumulated years of wrenching experience probably helped along the way with the detail work and how-to, but technically it was not very challenging. The biggest challenge is overcoming a lot of the dirt and corrosion that can accumulate in those areas.

For cleaning, I have recently become a fan of brake cleaner in a spray can, and not just for brake parts. It blasts a shower of solvent which removes oil, grease and dirt and dries quickly.
 

kel

Pelican
This has been true with BMW's since around 2008. Car companies used to be cool but are just like Apple now, this is why I stuck with older cars, some of which you can work on yourself. But I just found out my 98 Merc needs all kinds of computer gizmos to just get rid of an airbag light..

Same way that laptops nowadays are basically indivisible units that you can't upgrade or replace broken parts on yourself, you have to send it back to the company for repair or just buy a new one.

I've been looking for an old Jeep or other kind of truck (or maybe just a car) mostly because I just like the look. Older cars - I don't even mean 60s Mustangs or anything, even just cheap family cars from the 80s - have such a more distinctive look than almost anything I've seen put out recently.

The thought of buying an older car like that is a little intimidating though. I'm a generally handy guy and am sure I can figure my way around a car just like I've done with other mechanical things in my life despite not having the experience, but parts and such can be expensive as I understand it. Replacing a bolt is one thing, but if I need to get a specific part that needs to be fabricated or whatever I might be in trouble.
 

JayR

Woodpecker
I used to feel the same way about brakes until the day I bit the bullet and watched a YouTube video on how to do it for my vehicle (a large American SUV). Replacing the pads & rotors basically involves removing 4 bolts. That's it. I ordered the parts and got it done. Granted, my accumulated years of wrenching experience probably helped along the way with the detail work and how-to, but technically it was not very challenging. The biggest challenge is overcoming a lot of the dirt and corrosion that can accumulate in those areas.

For cleaning, I have recently become a fan of brake cleaner in a spray can, and not just for brake parts. It blasts a shower of solvent which removes oil, grease and dirt and dries quickly.
Replacing modern brake pads is not all that hard, but like any project it is best to watch a few videos or read through reputable DIY instructions and determine if you've got all the tools (and confidence) you need before diving in. Don't forget to smear a blob of that anti-squeal goop on the outside of the pad before installation. A ketchup-packet size container of that stuff sometimes comes in the box with the new pads.

Replacing the brake fluid can be a bit tricky -- unless you have special speed-bleeder valves already installed on the calipers, or a fluid extractor to suck out all the old fluid from above at the reservoir, you need an extra person to pump the pedal while you open and close the valve on the caliper, making sure to not allow air into the system.

As mentioned, stubborn fasteners are often the biggest challenge on brake projects as they are subjected to large variations of heat and cold -- and a lot of road dirt -- over time, causing them to stick. There are also some brake projects -- like resurfacing worn or warped rotors -- that are just not possible without special equipment the typical weekend warrior mechanic won't have access to.
 
As mentioned, stubborn fasteners are often the biggest challenge on brake projects as they are subjected to large variations of heat and cold -- and a lot of road dirt -- over time, causing them to stick. There are also some brake projects -- like resurfacing worn or warped rotors -- that are just not possible without special equipment the typical weekend warrior mechanic won't have access to.

I've always struggled with successfully bleeding brakes on my bikes, so I try to stay away from that.

As for the rotors, in the good old days the shop would just grind down the rotor surface to a nice smooth surface and reinstall. Now, the rotors are made so cheaply that by the time the pads are worn, you pretty much have to replace the rotors: only the top layer of metal in the rotors is tempered to be very hard; it wears off and then your new pads are essentially digging into much softer metal, with the result that you wear through both much more quickly.

You can buy a tool to compress the brake pistons back in order to fit the new, thicker pads. On the rear brakes on my vehicle I discovered that you had to screw the pistons back in, using either special part #12345 or by judicious use of a set of slip-joint pliers.
 

Moolooman

Sparrow
Disconnecting batteries in modern cars is another area I’d stay clear off. There’s often no need to do it, and you’ll either get a bunch of electrical problems or the car just locks you out.

Honestly, the dealer is never going to know if you’ve changed a water pump oil filter, you just won’t be able to reset the service light, but a glowing service light is preferable over an engine with a bad oil filter.

A guy needs to have this knowledge for when times are tough. You can save A LOT of money by mentally going into ‘economy mode’ and learning there’s normally three ways to get something done. Expensive, cheap, super economy mode cheap.

As an aside, unless you’re into racing, you probably won’t want to mess with newer cars though. Even then just rip your engine out and replace it with a crate LS motor. What I mean is developing stock engines for race cars is very expensive and they’re unreliable, just do an LS swap.
 
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A few people have mentioned bleeding brakes. The only reason to bleed brakes is if the calipers or drum cylinders are changed or if all the fluid needs to be replaced. Personally, I think that some shops over do it on what they suggest for change intervals. You can buy a gizmo to check for moisture content and test strips (cut in half lengthwise and use them twice) to check for corrosion. Do not have experience on how long fluid should last--I have had it in 15+ years in a car with ABS brakes and no issues at all. That is probably too long, lately I will test every year then change out every 10 years. Just my opinion.

Brake fluid attracts moisture, so it is always recommended to only use sealed cans.

I use a hand operated vacuum pump by Lisle for bleeding. A bit of silicone grease on the connector, tighten it down with a zip tie if needed, and it does a good job, albeit not real fast to swap out a car's worth of fluid. There is a variation that hooks up to an air compressor to suction it out via a venturi valve, and I am thinking about getting one of them. If the tool costs less than having it done at the shop once or twice, I will buy the tool. It is 10 times easier to bleed brakes if you get a good wrench for that purpose--a nice long handled closed ended wrench.

The risk in bleeding brakes is air getting into the ABS system and not getting out. So long as everything is done right that should not happen, but some of the better ODBC units have a function for brake bleeding that will work out any air that gets in.
 

Tex Cruise

Kingfisher
I always used to do brakes the old-fashioned way, with another person to pump the pedal, but recently I got a "One Man Brake Bleeder".
I'm sure I don't need to explain to you just how sexist and misogynist this piece of equipment is, however, it does make the process unbelievably easy. Crack the bleeder and connect the clear plastic hose, then pump pedal until there are no bubbles in the hose, or if changing fluid, pump pedal until new fluid comes through. Really couldn't be simpler and easier. Plastic cup catches all excess fluid too.
 

DeWoken

Sparrow
I've done a few things on my car but I'm not that handy. I did a couple oil changes recently, driving up plastic Rhino Ramps which worked okay. Without access to a paved parking area I had to make a platform out of plywood for each of them. It helps to have a spotter when driving up ramps. Even with the tedious clean up there is a feeling of satisfaction once the job is complete. I have some difficulty reading the dipstick, though (here's where a digital sensor would be nice).

If I'm not mistaken brake pads can produce very toxic dust. They might have stopped using asbestos, though.

Here are a couple of tips from Scotty Kilmer #WiseBoomer.
Here’s What Happens if You Don’t Change the Fuel Filter in Your Car
I might buy one of these:
The Future of Oil Changes - New Invention
 

Moolooman

Sparrow
Do your best to not inhale brake dust. No asbestos any more, but wear a respirator anyway, can’t hurt.

If you’re going attempt brake work though, just make sure you are laser focused and know exactly what you are doing and use the correct tools correctly. Brakes aren’t a tinkerer DIY job, it’s serious stuff.
 
Alright, I’ve also filled up the coolant and washer fluid, gotten the Maintenance light off, and have all the tools I think are necessary for my first oil change. I got a book specifically for my car, plus there’s a guy in my building who is apparently a master of all things mechanical and electrical who has offered to help teach me the ropes.
 
Alright, I’ve also filled up the coolant and washer fluid, gotten the Maintenance light off, and have all the tools I think are necessary for my first oil change. I got a book specifically for my car, plus there’s a guy in my building who is apparently a master of all things mechanical and electrical who has offered to help teach me the ropes.

I change the oil in my own cars as well as many others a summer long ago spent working at a garage. It can be messy depending on where the oil filter is, as when you take the filter out often oil will spill out from that area. If you are lucky, it will spill right into the pan you are using to catch the oil. If you are not so lucky, it will hit various parts of the car -- the exhaust pipe, parts of the suspension, etc. Think about finding a reasonably stout sheet of plastic you can wedge in there for a make-shift funnel to divert a gush of oil away from your car and into the pan. Could be an old bleach bottle you cut into a sheet.

Generally best to change oil after the car has been driven a bit so the oil is warmed up so it will flow. Use a proper-fitting closed-end wrench to get the drain plug out--do not bugger it up with Vise-Grips or a Crescent wrench. When replacing the plug put on a new washer if the car uses one or at least use the old one if it looks to be in good shape. THREAD IT IN BY HAND, and use the wrench just to snug it. The plug just keeps the oil in--it is not some sort of structural bolt and it just needs to be tightened by the wrench by hand. Some shops torque it down a ridiculous amount, which risks damage to the pan while also making it harder to remove later.

When changing filters, if this is the more common metal twist on variety, when taking the old one off make sure the rubber gasket came off with it. Put a bit of oil (new or old) on the gasket on the new one. If it goes on vertically, I prefer to mostly fill it with new oil first. The idea is that that avoids a slight gap in lubrication when it is started the first time thereafter. Other people think it is silly, but why not? An oil filter wrench, or a really big pair of Channel Lock pliers may be needed to get the old one off if a gorilla put it on. When replacing it, screw it down until the gasket makes contact plus one more turn.

Unless your oil fill cap is real easy to get to, get a funnel ahead of time. A funnel used with oil in a garage is a dust magnet--I store mine rolled up in a plastic trash bag.

The amount of oil to add should be in your owner's manual. All my cars have the amount of oil to use written on the plastic covers over the engines so I do not have to look it up each time. Add about 1/2 a quart less, then check it several minutes later and see if it needs more. The volume between the low and high marks on an oil dipstick is 1 quart. Keep an eye under the car for drips for a few days and check the oil level again the next day or after the first drive.

Get in the habit of double checking everything you did. Make sure the drain plug is tight, the filter is tight, the fill cap is secure, and the dip stick in place. It is easy to put in something by hand, take a phone call, then forget the rest of the step. I had "Pros" (back when I lived in apartments and was not in a position to do my own work) not tighten the drain plug all the way one time and not replace the fill cap another time. One reason to work on your own car: it is difficult to find anyone who can even do a good oil change.

Start saving old empty milk jugs or something similar that will hold a gallon or more to store used fuilds. Any auto parts store will normally take them and dispose of them properly for free. Also, oily rags wadded up have spontaneously combusted. Something about heat generated as the oil evaporates-a relative of mine melted a plastic tool box in the back of his truck that way. Do not wad up a bunch of oily towels and toss into a trashcan inside. Shops have metal cans with self-closing lids. I would put them in an outside trash can, and not wadded up.
 

Kona

Crow
Gold Member
Oil change successful. Had to get a bunch of new tools and accessories in order to make it work.

What constitutes a "bunch" of tools in your opinion?

I can't think of too many needed for that gig. A few wenches, a funnel, one of those catcher boxes if you're an upstanding citizen, that's about it?

What's next? We need the yota to make it through winter.

Aloha!
 
I had to get a new filter, a filter wrench (cup style, not loop style), a funnel, and a case to collect and later transport the oil. When I brought the used oil to the store to dump it, they sent me to the back, completely unsupervised, through rows and rows of parts, to the barrels. Seemed like bad security at the store if anyone with a can is allowed in the back like that but hey, maybe they’re a trusting bunch.

I’ll probably do tires next, learning what to check for and maybe removing one and replacing it. After that I’ll have all the basics down. When I asked the mechanic downstairs what he thought I should do next, he said “buy a new car.”
 

Kona

Crow
Gold Member
Seemed like bad security at the store if anyone with a can is allowed in the back like that but hey, maybe they’re a trusting bunch.

I’ll probably do tires next, learning what to check for and maybe removing one and replacing it. After that I’ll have all the basics down. When I asked the mechanic downstairs what he thought I should do next, he said “buy a new car.”

Imagine you had spilled the oil walking in the store. That's a cleanup nightmare and a forever oily floor.

If you mean taking the tires off the rims yourself, that's a little further into your maintenance journey my man. I can walk you through it with the same floor jack, a ratchet strap, and a sawzall, but maybe just take it somewhere. Those aren't expensive tires.

How about some spark plugs or some brake pads?

Or a dashboard hula girl? These are easy to install:



Aloha!
 

JayR

Woodpecker
Oil change successful. Had to get a bunch of new tools and accessories in order to make it work. The guy in my building helped walk me through it and also let me use his floor jack. Not sure if it's ultimately cheaper to change the oil myself or have an oil change done, but I'm glad that least I know how to do it now.
Congrats.

All the tools you bought for your virgin oil change were a one-time purchase. Perhaps you didn't save a lot of money over paying Jiffy-Lube this time, but you will come out way ahead after many oil changes.

Don't forget to note the date and mileage in your maintenance log so you know when you're due for the next one.
 
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Perhaps you didn't save a lot of money over paying Jiffy-Lube this time, but you will come out way ahead after many oil changes.
...

Had a Jiffy-Lube once tell me that my power steering fluid was OK. Which must have been in some philosophical sense, as the car did not have power steering.

I do not trust quick lube places, but even dealerships are not much better. Besides not tightening the drain plug all the way once, and not replacing the fill cap once, have also had such places not install the air filter cover properly. I do not like people messing with engine air filters as when they check them (to try to sell a new one) they are in a hurry and it is easy for them to put it back together wrong, or leave hoses disconnected.

Cabin air filters take five minutes to change if you have not had your coffee in a week and it takes three minutes to open the box the filter came in--just look it up online. Engine air filters may take just a bit of work if the engine compartment is crowded, but take your time and put it back together properly. I have a sheet of paper in the garage of what month to do what to the vehicles (and house), in this case based on past experience on how long it takes filters to get dirty, I just get a new one and change them by that schedule I never check them, put them back in, get a new one, then swap them.
 
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