A Prep Course for the First-Time, DIY Mechanic

August 14, 2012 / by / 0 Comment

The recent economic downturn has prompted many to seek creative and unexpected ways to save money. From composting and homemade cleaners to skipping vacations and even reusing coffee grounds; you might have stretched every extra dollar to the point of tearing, but still you don’t have enough money to get by. Basic car maintenance—including oil changes, tire rotations and windshield wiper replacement—is possible without the intervention of a professional mechanic, even if you possess a limited knowledge of cars. Learn the ins and outs awaiting you once you enter the world of DIY car maintenance.

Safety First

Beyond saving money, or impressing your spouse and friends with vast knowledge of the inner workings of the modern four-stroke combustion engine, your first concern should be safety. Before you even think about popping the hood or even buffing the headlights, it’s important to learn about a few basic car safety do’s and don’ts.

  • Turn off the vehicle and allow it to cool down before opening the hood or performing any maintenance. You may notice your mechanic revving the engine while working on your vehicle, but remember he’s a licensed professional with far more knowledge than you.
  • Read your owner’s manual before performing any maintenance. This will provide you with a rudimentary knowledge of your car, and a few helpful hints that can prevent a disastrous mistake.
  • While you’re repairing or maintaining your vehicle, never allow small children to play inside or around the car.
  • Clean up after yourself. More specifically carefully and correctly dispose of any spilled fluids, including antifreeze, engine oil or even windshield wiper fluid.

Stocking Your Car Toolbox

If you don’t already possess a properly stocked garage, the initial expense may prove quite a shock. Just remember that this investment will pay for itself several times over, especially as you become more skilled in DIY car maintenance. Here are a few basics every homegrown mechanic needs:

  • Standard and Phillip’s head screwdrivers. You’ll need at least one of each, although having a few of each in several lengths will come in handy.
  • Wrenches. By far, a mechanic’s best friend is a complete, organized set of wrenches, both standard and metric.
  • Socket wrenches and ratchet handles. These are also a must, and you’ll once again require a set in both standard and metric.
  • Torque wrenches. These are specialized wrenches that allow you more precision, and prevent the dreaded over-tightening that can damage more delicate components.
  • Pliers. You can get away with owning a good pair of combination slip-joint pliers, but you’ll find a pair of needle nose pliers come in handy in tight spaces, or if you drop a bolt into a deep crevice.
  • Tool box. Never discount the need for a well-organized tool box. Don’t spend a small fortune on an expensive, standing tool chest. A standard, metal or plastic container will keep your tools safe and organized.

Finding Parts

Chain auto parts stores are popping up in small towns across America, providing you with a unique opportunity to not only find the part you’re after with greater ease, but also save a few bucks. With this availability comes competition, and it’s up to you as a homegrown mechanic to use this to your advantage. Never accept the first price quote, and instead call around to every auto parts store in your area to find the best price. It’s also a wise idea to choose a part that’s a little more expensive, but offers a longer warranty. If you can’t find the part you need in store, you can more than likely find a website that has the part in stock. Lastly, remember to take the advice offered up by the “expert” staff with a grain of salt. Chances are, many of the employees you’ll encounter won’t know a camshaft from a carburetor, and their advice can often prove more disastrous than helpful.

A Final Warning

It’s important to remember that cars are complicated, expensive pieces of machinery, and must be treated as such. If you’re uncomfortable or incapable of performing a repair, don’t hesitate to seek the assistance of a licensed, professional mechanic.

If you’re still lost, and interested in learning more about home car maintenance, consider attending an automotive repair course at your local community college. These classes are excellent ways to familiarize yourself with basic car care, which will help you save a surprising amount of money in the long run.

About the Author:

Jerry Greyson is a master mechanic and car enthusiast from Northern California.  He has been working on cars for 30 years and maintaining an auto blog since before blogging was cool.

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