Author Topic: How can I learn to maintain my car?  (Read 15987 times)

ENL

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How can I learn to maintain my car?
« on: May 12, 2015, 01:47:35 PM »
My husband and I both know next to nothing about car repair and maintenance.  I'm not even entirely sure about WHAT we need to do to keep our cars in good shape (as opposed to stuff that is just a waste of money for a junky car), let alone how to do some of those things ourselves.

What advice would you give to us if we wanted to start learning how to take care of our cars ourselves?  Any resources you can recommend?  I plan to start soon by having someone teach me how to change the oil, and by checking my tire pressure more frequently.  Not sure how to proceed after that.

Jaxx

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2015, 02:47:06 PM »
I recommend getting a haynes manual for your car. Tt covers all the basic repairs / changes and, if you'd ever want to, it explains how you can take your car apart and rebuild it, too.

Trirod

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2015, 02:56:16 PM »
I have Haynes manuals for my cars but rarely use them.  Usually you are better with a model specific forum from the internet - there are people on these forums who can give very detailed step-by-step instructions to almost any job you would want to tackle. And if you get stuck you can ask for help.

Oil changes are a good place to start, as are other filter changes and brake jobs.  You will need a set of tools - Harbor Freight is a good place to get started with these - you can probably get most everything you would need for under a couple of hundred dollars (floor jack, jack stands, socket set, wrench set, screwdrivers etc.).

None of it is rocket science, but it's like anything else in that the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

ketchup

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2015, 03:38:22 PM »
First, since you say you don't know what you need to do to maintain your car, look in the owner's manual (get one if you don't have one) at the scheduled maintenance chart (fluid changes, filter changes, spark plugs, belts, etc).  If you don't know when any of it was done last, do all of it.  It'll be a great learning experience, and it'll give your car a nice "reset" so every major wear item and fluid is new.   Unless you have a weird car (usually European), parts should be cheap and you'll mostly pay with time, which will reward you with satisfaction and knowledge.

You mention having a "junky" car.  Most would probably consider both of my cars "junky."  They're not worth more than $2k combined, have their share of brown, or uh, "rust coloration" and neither were made this century.  I don't maintain them any less than I would if they were "nice" cars.  If you treat a "junky" car like it's a junky car, it'll bite you in the butt eventually, leading everyone to berate you for driving a "junky" car and getting screwed.  If you're nice to a "junky" car, that scrapheap can last you years and tens of thousands of miles to the bewilderment of those around you (I find great pleasure in this).

With the what-to-do in hand, look online for the how-to-do in make/model-specific forum or YouTube channel that has people on it that know your car inside and out.  Chances are, there will be tutorials for most of the basics of any reasonably common car.  You could then also purchase a factory service manual (can usually be found online anywhere from $40-100 depending on the car) that will lay out everything (it's what the mechanics at the dealers use for reference).  Ask any "car guys" you know for help.  They tend to enjoy explaining things.

Buy tools as you go, as you need them.  Don't get some giant 54,361-in-1 set for $19.95. If you're unsure whether it's warranted to get the pricier "good version" of a weird tool, buy the el cheapo Harbor-Freight one, and if you use it enough to break it or get annoyed at how awful it is, replace it with a quality one (anything with a lifetime warranty is a good bet); otherwise just hold onto the cheapy tool.  Quality tools will last forever, and save you money equally as long.

TreeTired

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2015, 03:44:58 PM »
Quote
None of it is rocket science, but it's like anything else in that the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Actually, some of it is incredible complex.   My engine light came on on a 97 Lexus ES300 with 186k miles.   I took it to Advance Auto and they read the code for me.  The code indicated a fault in the emissions control system and the diangostic procedure for identifying the exact source of the problem is very complicated!   I have a Lexus service manual and a Haynes manual (for a Toyota Camry which is essentially the same car).


But yes,  fluid, brakes, and a lot of stuff is fairly straightforward.   I remember having a heck of a time changing the headlamp on this car!!!   And I couldn't for the life of me change the oil filter (which screws DOWN on the engine)  without spilling oil all over the place and making a mess.   I asked the dealer if there was a trick to it, and he told me that's why they pay them to do it. 
« Last Edit: May 12, 2015, 03:47:12 PM by TreeTired »

Joggernot

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2015, 04:19:30 PM »
You've gotten good advice here.  When I bought my car, new, 15 years ago I also bought the shop manuals for the car at the outrageous dealer price.  It has paid for itself several times.  The owner's manual tells you what and when; the manuals tell you how and what tools to use.  If it says you need a special tool that you don't have and probably won't need again for 5 years (e.g., "puller"), go to an auto store (e.g., AutoZone, O'Reilly's) and they will loan you the tool.  Just buy the parts from them as well, to be courteous and fair.

Fluid changes and filter replacements alone have paid for the manuals several times over.

FrugalKube

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2015, 10:47:06 PM »
Oh great thread! I've changed my air filter and done some other small stuff (bulbs, battery, etc) I really should learn how to change my own oil.

We've got a 2008 Focus Coupe and a 2008 Kia Sorento. I'd love a truck but that's not very Mustachian when both cars have been paid off for a few years. We'll keep driving what we have.

Syonyk

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2015, 11:51:54 PM »
My husband and I both know next to nothing about car repair and maintenance.  I'm not even entirely sure about WHAT we need to do to keep our cars in good shape (as opposed to stuff that is just a waste of money for a junky car), let alone how to do some of those things ourselves.

What advice would you give to us if we wanted to start learning how to take care of our cars ourselves?  Any resources you can recommend?  I plan to start soon by having someone teach me how to change the oil, and by checking my tire pressure more frequently.  Not sure how to proceed after that.

What car do you drive, and what do you know of it's history?  I'm going to assume 90s or early 2000s and fuel injected, just because that's a pretty safe assumption right now.

The biggest thing is to just start doing it.  Cars are a large collection of simple mechanical systems connected together.  No single system is that complicated (and, if it is, it's probably computerized, and probably tells you exactly what's wrong).

The first thing you'll need is a basic set of tools.  A "50 part socket set" or something should be fine.  Buy specialized tools/goofy sockets/etc as you need them.  As noted by someone else, you can usually rent the truly weird stuff, but you shouldn't need any of that for basic auto maintenance.

A work lamp is also nice.  You can go oldschool with an incandescent bulb on a drop cord, or you can get a fancy battery powered, magnetic, bendy, LED work light.  A bright LED flashlight can also be useful for finding things in the engine bay.

As far as resources go, buy a Chilton's or Haynes manual that suits your car.  Your local auto shop should have them.  Otherwise, use eBay or Amazon.  The next place to look is YouTube.  It turns out there are literally thousands of videos on YouTube of people showing how to do car maintenance.  Find videos that refer to your model year and start watching.  Some of them are really very good.

Beyond that... seriously, just dive in.  Watch a video, read the steps in the manual, and go at it.

If you have a friend who works on cars, it's very useful to have them around for the first few jobs.  The vast majority of car guys out there can be bribed easily with a six pack of moderate to decent quality beer and the promise of not having to do any actual work.  Occasionally, they may request pizza or a sandwich while they're at it for a long project.  Feed them.  I have no idea what car gals prefer...

If you don't know any car people... good luck? :/  They're harder and harder to find lately, it seems.  I'm not really sure why.  I guess modern cars being more reliable means you can safely ignore them a lot longer?

You sort of imply that your car hasn't had much maintenance done on it recently.  An entirely incomplete list of things you might want to do on such a vehicle is below.  It's a few hundred in parts (total) and a good number of hours of labor, but it resets the timer, as it were, on a lot of wear items.

- Change the oil and the oil filter.
- Change the air filter for the engine.
- Change the spark plugs.  If the car has over 150k miles, change the spark plug wires.  If you have a distributor, change the cap and rotor.
- Check your brake pad wear.  If any of the pads are badly worn, replace them.
- Change your oxygen sensor.  This ranges from "easy" to "truly a pain in the @$$," but often pays off in fuel savings later.  If you have a fancy wideband sensor (that costs $150 instead of $20), you might not need to do this, but if it's a cheap O2 sensor (single wire type), replace it.
- Bleed your brakes.  It's a bit messy, but brake fluid absorbs water, and can corrode your brake calipers.
- Adjust your rear drum brakes, if they need adjustment.  This went out of style in the late 80s, and was replaced with "auto-adjusting" systems that never work.

And then pretty much go from there.  When you find yourself rebuilding engines, you've arrived.

If your car is newer than 1996, it has OBDII support (OnBoard Diagnostics).  This, combined with a code reader, means that if your car has a check engine light, it will literally tell you what it's unhappy with.  You can get the codes read at most auto shops, you can buy a reader yourself, or, my favorite, you can buy a bluetooth OBDII dongle and use an Android phone or tablet to read codes, reset codes, monitor operating parameters, etc.

Anyway, hopefully that helps a little bit.

Joggernot

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #8 on: May 13, 2015, 07:25:45 AM »
- Change the spark plugs.  If the car has over 150k miles, change the spark plug wires.  If you have a distributor, change the cap and rotor.
At 270,000+ miles I haven't changed the wires yet.  Looks like a good day to do this!

zolotiyeruki

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #9 on: May 13, 2015, 07:39:17 AM »
Yes, I'll agree that there is a ton of good advice in this thread.  I do (almost) all my own work, up to and including timing belt changes, so I'll just add a few thoughts:

1) start simple, with oil and air filter changes and checking fluid levels and tire wear.  The next step up is probably brake pad replacement and fluid flushes (transmission, radiator, power steering, brakes).  If you can replace brake pads, you've pretty much got all the skills you need to work on cars!
2) Tools to get:
----a set of combination wrenches (box wrench at one end, open-ended at the other) in SAE or metric, depending on your car
----a *good quality* socket and ratchet set.  Get ratchets with the "72-point" or "5 degree" label
----Liquid Wrench and anti-seize compound.  For loosening seized nuts and making sure they don't seize in the future, respectively.
----a trouble light, or work light. I have one of those old-style "bulb in a cage" kind with a hook on top, and it's super helpful
----a drip pan, set of funnels, and rags.  Used oil and transmission fluid can be recycled, funnels help keep things clean, and rags help when things get dirty.  Autozone frequently runs a special where you can get all of these for a very low price
----jack stands, plus (optionally, but highly recommended) a trolley jack.  The spare tire jack in the car can be used in a pinch, but the trolley jack is faster, easier, safer, and more reliable.
----a 16" piece of 2x4, for whacking wrenches/ratchets with to loosen bolts. Seriously.  I guess a dead blow hammer would serve the same purpose.
----a pair of wheel chocks, to keep the car from moving when you're jacking it up.
3)  If you're careful and follow the manual, it's actually pretty hard to mess things up.
4)  The owner's manual will tell you what maintenance to do and when.  Follow it.

Syonyk

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #10 on: May 13, 2015, 09:08:22 AM »
- Change the spark plugs.  If the car has over 150k miles, change the spark plug wires.  If you have a distributor, change the cap and rotor.
At 270,000+ miles I haven't changed the wires yet.  Looks like a good day to do this!

It might be worth doing. :)

It depends on the car, but plug wires are one of my "new to me vehicle" replacement items.

Of course, most newer cars are coil on plug, so it's not an issue.

HipGnosis

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #11 on: May 13, 2015, 09:29:15 AM »
Quote
None of it is rocket science, but it's like anything else in that the more you practice, the easier it becomes.

Actually, some of it is incredible complex.   My engine light came on on a 97 Lexus ES300 with 186k miles.   I took it to Advance Auto and they read the code for me.  The code indicated a fault in the emissions control system and the diangostic procedure for identifying the exact source of the problem is very complicated!   I have a Lexus service manual and a Haynes manual (for a Toyota Camry which is essentially the same car).
But that's NOT 'maintenance'.

Syonyk

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #12 on: May 13, 2015, 09:44:38 AM »
Maintenance, repairs... Pretty much the same thing.

HipGnosis

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #13 on: May 13, 2015, 10:05:01 AM »
Find a website / forum for your brand of car.
When you look in your manual for service intervals (how often you do what for maintenance) note that 70-85% of 'normal' driving is what the mfgs. call 'severe duty' (different mfgs might have slightly different terms).
YouTube has videos of most all the maintenance on most all vehicles.  But I prefer step by step instructions that I copy, paste, highlight the important details and save and put a link to it on my vehicle log file.
I also put the tools I need for ea maintenance process; socket size to drain oil, if I need an extension, oil filter wrench size, etc. in my steps files.
You can often save money buy buying filters etc. online.  RockAuto seems to have EVERYTHING.  Amazon has most everything for maintenance.   I always buy 2 at time.
You will need rags, and a place / way to store the dirty ones.   I keep a couple old jackets for 'dirty work'.
I use a padded area rug when I'm working on the ground - esp. nice in winter.
You may need a container (or 2) to take the used oil to the recycler (most auto-parts take it). 
Clay kitty litter will absorb spilt oil.  If you can't find it, auto part stores sell oil-dry or oil-absorbent (much more expensive).  Sprinkle it on the spill, tamp it down with your shoe and give it a day or two. Then sweep it up.
After changing oil, I suggest you learn (in no particular order); air filter, rotate tires, check brake pads, change sparkplugs, change plug wires (if applicable), PVC valve, change wiper blades, check anti-freeze, check brake fluid, change fuel filter (if applicable).
Part of my maintenance is to be aware of my mpg.  Not every tank, but every once in a while.  If it goes down, I check plugs and wires ages.
If you plan to have your car a long time, there is a maintenance step I never see or hear; armor-all (used as a generic term here) your weatherstripping once a year.  Around doors, windows and trunk.


BlueMR2

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #14 on: May 17, 2015, 08:49:50 AM »
You've gotten good advice here.  When I bought my car, new, 15 years ago I also bought the shop manuals for the car at the outrageous dealer price.  It has paid for itself several times. 

I have roughly $1000 in factory shop manuals here for my cars.  Best money I ever spent, they've paid for themselves easily.  I also have aftermarket manuals, but they rarely get touched.  Factory manuals are FAR superior IMO!

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #15 on: May 17, 2015, 02:45:17 PM »
With some hunting, PDF versions of many shop manuals and technical service bulletins are available online. Copyright issues are present depending on the source, so keep that in mind. Many of the vehicle-specific websites have useful information mixed in with long threads of people recycling useless (and sometimes wrong) information. If pulling from a thread I consider any solution proposed there to be an "idea" that I work to confirm elsewhere. They are commonly useful for step by step guides to common things and quirks for specific makes/models.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #16 on: May 17, 2015, 07:03:23 PM »
You may also have access to online versions of the manuals through your public library.  I know I do, although I haven't used it yet..

FIRE me

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #17 on: May 23, 2015, 08:01:12 PM »
My husband and I both know next to nothing about car repair and maintenance.  I'm not even entirely sure about WHAT we need to do to keep our cars in good shape (as opposed to stuff that is just a waste of money for a junky car), let alone how to do some of those things ourselves.

What advice would you give to us if we wanted to start learning how to take care of our cars ourselves? 

Already lots of good advice here. I have two more suggestions that might be helpful.

First, if you have friends that maintain and repair their own vehicles, offer to help them on their next maintenance or repair job. You'll learn it the easy way, by doing it right, instead of by trying it on your own and maybe making a mistake. After your free help, they may even offer to help when it is your car than needs fixing.

Second, if you are doing anything more complicated than changing the oil, take pictures before and as you remove parts. You wouldn't believe how helpful that can be when experiencing difficulty with reassembly.

bzzzt

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #18 on: May 23, 2015, 08:29:13 PM »
Second, if you are doing anything more complicated than changing the oil, take pictures before and as you remove parts. You wouldn't believe how helpful that can be when experiencing difficulty with reassembly.

Another tip is that if you're doing something that's the same on both sides (brakes, suspension, etc) is to only take one side apart at a time. After you become proficient, it may be faster, but it's saved me a few times when I was taking something apart for the first time.

anks

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #19 on: May 26, 2015, 07:10:13 AM »
YouTube is a phenomenal source of information for car maintenance how-to. Just search the problem with your make / model and you will find plenty of instructional videos. I am a visual learner and I find manuals full of text a bit tough to follow. Forums for your specific make / model / year are also extremely helpful for answering specific questions.

As for tools, a good mechanics tool kit is a must. Sears is always having sales on Craftsman tool kits. Craftsman has a lifetime warranty, so it is hard to argue with that quality. This is the tool kit my dad gave me as a graduation gift, and it has paid for itself many times over. Cheaper options would be this one or this one, but as you go smaller in tool kit size you are more likely to find yourself having to run to the hardware store mid repair to get a tool.

Good luck!

otter

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #20 on: May 28, 2015, 10:29:26 AM »
Start small.

If you have friends who maintain their own cars, it's enough to just ask them if you can watch and ask them questions, and have them explain what they're doing, how, and why. If they let you do stuff with guidance, great.

Know where and how to check all fluids, and how often to check and replace them. Check tire pressures every fillup or two.

Take lots of photos, especially of what things look like before you take them apart, so you know how they're supposed to go back together.

YouTube!

Service manuals - you may be able to find online PDFs.

If you have a Japanese car, you can probably disassemble half the car using a ratchet set with 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm and 21mm sockets. Cleaner/deegreaser, PB Blaster and anti-seize, a pry bar and/or breaker bar. If you have a German car that is vaguely recent, you'll need some Torx bits. If you have an older American car, you'll need English sockets.

sabertooth3

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #21 on: May 28, 2015, 11:19:26 AM »
Just want to second (or third?) YouTube. I'd never done my own car maintenance before and with the help of YouTube, I've changed my wiper blades, engine air filter, cabin air filter, and sparkplugs. You can do it!

zolotiyeruki

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #22 on: May 28, 2015, 10:23:17 PM »

If you have a Japanese car, you can probably disassemble half the car using a ratchet set with 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm and 21mm sockets. Cleaner/deegreaser, PB Blaster and anti-seize, a pry bar and/or breaker bar. If you have a German car that is vaguely recent, you'll need some Torx bits. If you have an older American car, you'll need English sockets.
Having owned 4 different Japanese cars (a Civic, two Odysseys, and a Corolla), I can vouch for the comment about the socket sizes.

HipGnosis

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #23 on: May 29, 2015, 11:53:51 AM »
I have a narrow piece of orange duct tape on my 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm and 21mm sockets and wrenches to make finding them easiest.
Misc. tips;
Lay parts in order that you take them off; the first pieces off go farthest away as they'll be last to go back on.
I put bolts or nuts back where they came from (loosely) when ever possible, or keep them with the part they came off with.
Egg cartons are good for holding small parts.   Quilted paper towels are good for very small parts - the quilts keep things from rolling off.
Hand cleaner (lava, go-jo, etc.) is a solvent. Here's how you use it;  Start water flowing.  Put the cleaner on your hand(s) and rub your hands together (and wrists as necc).  Wait...  about 10 seconds for the solvent to dissolve the grease.  Put your hands under the running water to rinse.  I usually wash with dish soap after that.

ENL

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #24 on: June 03, 2015, 01:42:04 PM »
Sorry for the delay getting back to this thread.  We just had a baby so it has been difficult to find a time when I have both hands available to type.  I have been reading all the responses, though, and they have all been very helpful.

I picked up a couple of Haynes manuals for the cars we own and I bought an engine air filter for my car since I was told mine was dirty the last time our oil was changed.  I'm finding that I can't find parts for one of the cars very easily on Amazon, so I would appreciate any recommendations on brick and mortar stores that I can get basic stuff (like oil filters) from without being overcharged.

We should be fine with tools for the most part.  We already have quite a few good quality tools, since we have received them as gifts over the years from my mechanically-inclined father.  I mostly need to pick up tools and parts specific to auto repair.

You mention having a "junky" car.  Most would probably consider both of my cars "junky."  They're not worth more than $2k combined, have their share of brown, or uh, "rust coloration" and neither were made this century.  I don't maintain them any less than I would if they were "nice" cars.  If you treat a "junky" car like it's a junky car, it'll bite you in the butt eventually, leading everyone to berate you for driving a "junky" car and getting screwed.  If you're nice to a "junky" car, that scrapheap can last you years and tens of thousands of miles to the bewilderment of those around you (I find great pleasure in this).

Is this also true for maintaining the body of the car?  For example, I am unsure if I should repair some minor scratches in my paint (from swiping another car in a parking lot while backing out) to avoid getting rust later. Currently the car has no rust on it.  Same with washing to cars.  I know you need to do it at least occasionally to get the salt (in winter) and dirt off of it.  At what point does this change from a cosmetic issue to a functional one?

Ask any "car guys" you know for help.  They tend to enjoy explaining things.

If you have friends who maintain their own cars, it's enough to just ask them if you can watch and ask them questions, and have them explain what they're doing, how, and why. If they let you do stuff with guidance, great.

Unfortunately the only people I know who have this kind of knowledge are: [1] My dad, who doesn't want to teach me these things because "my husband should be doing it" (and he won't teach my husband either because he is pissed that he doesn't already know how) and [2] a cousin-in-law who we don't know very well.  We might be able to twist the arm of one of them to help us once with something, but it would be difficult.

What car do you drive, and what do you know of it's history?  I'm going to assume 90s or early 2000s and fuel injected, just because that's a pretty safe assumption right now.

I actually drive a pretty nice car, a 2009 Chevy Impala.  It used to belong to my father who drove it when he had to travel for work, so it has a high mileage, but most of those are highway.  He kept it up pretty well, as far as I know.  I received it from him about a year and a half ago.

My husband drives our junkier car, a 2005 Pontiac Vibe.  If it seems like that wouldn't be old enough to be considered a junker, keep in mind that it has a LOT of miles on it, has been in two accidents, and has a whole host of quirky issues.  We picked it up cheap from a mechanic we knew at a time when we desperately needed a car and had very little cash in our emergency fund.  A customer of the mechanic had brought it to him after an accident and asked him to fix it up but later couldn't pay.  So he made them sign over the title to him and then sold it to us.  It was likely not kept up very well, considering.  That was about three years ago.

ENL

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #25 on: June 03, 2015, 01:46:34 PM »
Additional question:

The following are things that need to be immediately looked at on the cars.  Which would you recommend we try to do ourselves right now vs take to a mechanic?  Keep in mind that as of right now we have NO experience with fixing anything on the cars.

Impala
-Engine air filter needs to be changed (according to mechanic at a quick lube)
-Brakes are getting soft (brake pads need to be inspected and possibly replaced?)

Vibe
-Battery is leaking (according to mechanic at a quick lube) and should be replaced.

ketchup

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #26 on: June 03, 2015, 01:59:18 PM »
RockAuto.com is a great place to find random parts (for pretty much every car ever) that places like Amazon don't have.  For brick-and-mortar stores, Autozone can be decent (although some stuff there is overpriced).  We have a Farm and Fleet near us that I've found to be quite reasonable, but they don't have as good a selection as a place like Autozone if your parts are trickier to find.

Air filter is usually a 10-minute job without having to do anything scary.  I'd start with that.  Don't trust the quick lube guy implicitly though, as they tend to upcharge air filter replacements and the like. (They're not making money on $18 oil changes.)  Either way though, it can't hurt, it's cheap, and it's easy.  It should be in your Haynes manual.

Battery is also pretty simple.  Disconnect terminals, unbolt the old one, clean the area up if you need to, plop in the new one, bolt it in, reconnect the terminals.  Model-specific directions should also be in your Haynes manual.

Brake pads are something I would have someone to help walk you through it the first time.  It's not super complicated, but not incredibly intuitive the first time.  At minimum watch a video of your specific car.  The second time will be easy.

If your minor paint scratches hit bare metal, I would definitely fix that sooner rather than later.  You can get a paint repair kit online pretty cheaply ($~25 shipped) matched to your specific model's color, sand it down, clean it, primer, basecoat, clearcoat, done.  I've used automotivetouchup.com and paintscratch.com before (both also have directions for everything so it's all laid out).  It probably won't look 100% perfect, but it'll certainly look a lot better than bare metal peeking through.

ENL

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #27 on: June 03, 2015, 02:23:30 PM »
Don't trust the quick lube guy implicitly though, as they tend to upcharge air filter replacements and the like. (They're not making money on $18 oil changes.) 

Oh yes.  That is exactly why I mentioned the source of the information; because I don't trust it.  Also the reason that I haven't been behind the wheel in an oil change place since I got married and part of the reason I want to learn this stuff.  I look like a meek little woman so I always get a long list of "issues" when I go in myself.  I once had a mechanic try to tell me I had a brake light out when I KNOW it had just been changed.  I asked him to get in the car and apply the brakes while stood behind it to see and magically the light started working again. 

otter

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #28 on: June 03, 2015, 02:43:22 PM »
Additional question:

The following are things that need to be immediately looked at on the cars.  Which would you recommend we try to do ourselves right now vs take to a mechanic?  Keep in mind that as of right now we have NO experience with fixing anything on the cars.

Impala
-Engine air filter needs to be changed (according to mechanic at a quick lube)
-Brakes are getting soft (brake pads need to be inspected and possibly replaced?)

Vibe
-Battery is leaking (according to mechanic at a quick lube) and should be replaced.

The air filter and battery are jobs that I'm pretty confident that you can easily do yourself. The brakes should be taken to a mechanic. You might have worn pads, or you might have old fluid. Either way, replacing pads or replacing and bleeding fluid are beyond your current abilities.

ketchup

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #29 on: June 03, 2015, 02:48:01 PM »
Don't trust the quick lube guy implicitly though, as they tend to upcharge air filter replacements and the like. (They're not making money on $18 oil changes.) 

Oh yes.  That is exactly why I mentioned the source of the information; because I don't trust it.  Also the reason that I haven't been behind the wheel in an oil change place since I got married and part of the reason I want to learn this stuff.  I look like a meek little woman so I always get a long list of "issues" when I go in myself.  I once had a mechanic try to tell me I had a brake light out when I KNOW it had just been changed.  I asked him to get in the car and apply the brakes while stood behind it to see and magically the light started working again.
I can relate to that.

My dad took his car to get its oil changed, and was told his serpentine belt needed to be changed.  He later inspected it and thought it looked fine, but was paranoid so he replaced it anyway (himself).  He took the car back to the same place a few months later for another oil change.  They told him he needed a new serpentine belt.  He was livid.  He has not returned.

I was once offered an upgrade to a "premium battery" in my mom's car for $200 (and my battery was just fine, replaced within the year).  What.

My car's brake idiot light came on a few years back and it was cold outside so I took advantage of a place's "free brake check."  Big mistake.  The guy gave me this big scary explanation about how everything was shot and unsafe and I needed new rear brake shoes, cylinders, and drums to the tune of ~$700.  I looked at it myself that night and there were COBWEBS over the parts I had to remove to even look at the brakes.  He hasn't even actually looked at anything.  The drums were perfect, the cylinders were perfect, and the shoes were "needing replacement soon but not that bad; replace when warmer outside."  Some mechanics are just scum.

Just another reason to do it yourself, or at least learn enough to know when you're being taken for a ride.  And always say no to refilling the blinker fluid and polishing the muffler bearings.

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #30 on: June 03, 2015, 02:59:20 PM »
 If you buy a battery at Autozone (and probably others too) they might even just replace it for you as part of the purchase- if you go this route, watch them and see the steps so you can do it next time.

Changing a battery could be a good "first car fix" job as it is pretty easy on most cars and does not take that long. Other than the loosening of bolts and making sure you don't make a connection between the terminals, the only thing to keep in mind is to take the black cable off first and put it back on last. The black wire connects to the frame, so if it attached and you touch metal on the car at the same time as the "hot" part of the red post things can get spicy pretty quickly. With the black wire disconnected, you can touch the red post all you like and be safe. A terminal brush can be a good idea to clean up the leads for a good connection.

civil

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #31 on: June 04, 2015, 03:11:04 PM »
If you buy a battery at Autozone (and probably others too) they might even just replace it for you as part of the purchase- if you go this route, watch them and see the steps so you can do it next time.


Ask first! The place to go around here is Walmart. They charge less than Autozone and will install the battery for "free" (built into the price). When I've bought things from Autozone, no install. They will MAYBE give me a wrench if I ask, and they won't do that without holding my driver's license as collateral.

ENL

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #32 on: June 04, 2015, 03:52:05 PM »
Installed a new engine air filter on the Impala today!  It was simple enough in theory but actually kind of difficult and time-consuming due to lack of space to get the filter in and out.  Everything looked good by the time I was done, but the paranoid part of me is worried that I didn't put it in quite right.  One of my neighbors was watching me from his porch while I was under the hood which upped the stress level. (I think he was waiting to come to my rescue if I started to seem unsure of what I was doing.)

The old filter also didn't look very dirty to me, but I replaced it anyway since I had the new filter right there and I don't know how long it has been since it has been changed.


Syonyk

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #33 on: June 04, 2015, 04:12:34 PM »
The old filter also didn't look very dirty to me, but I replaced it anyway since I had the new filter right there and I don't know how long it has been since it has been changed.

Nothing at all wrong with "zero timing" components.  If I get a new-to-me vehicle, oil, filters, oxygen sensor, and spark plugs are usually on my short list.  Sometimes I won't replace something if it's in really good shape, but starting with the core bits in good shape is nice, and then you know when it was last replaced.

Roots&Wings

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #34 on: June 05, 2015, 05:57:09 AM »
Installed a new engine air filter on the Impala today! 

Way to go!!!

I also have zero experience with cars, but replaced my cabin air filter (for the inside air, different from engine air filter) for $6 in materials and a 2-minute youtube video when the dealer wanted to charge $55. Sounds like the battery and engine air filter when the time comes for replacement could be doable for newbies also. Great tips in this thread!

ketchup

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #35 on: June 05, 2015, 09:20:40 AM »
Good for you!  Good luck with the battery next!

Maseroni

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #36 on: June 09, 2015, 12:31:36 PM »
Here's some of the things I have learned since taking over the maintenance of our two cars (02 Accord & 08 Mazda 5) over the last couple of years.  I'm not a mechanic, but I guess I might be described as mechanically inclined!

1. Budget 3-4 times more time than the guys in the youtube videos say.  This won't always be the case, but often you need time to step back and rethink.

2. When you reach an impasse, take a break.  Often the solution will come to you, but you need to step away from the frustration first in order to see it.

3. When approaching a repair, get creative.  Provided safety is first, there is often more than one way to repair a item.  Think outside the box... when you get to this point, you'll know what I mean.

4. Buy a OBDII code reader.  It doesn't have to be an expensive version, as you can always google the codes to find out what they are.  This tool alone has saved us thousands. 

5. I can highly recommend Eric the Car Guy's website and videos.  The forum on his website is excellent and the folks there can help you with your specific car.  His videos can be good, but as he is a former Honda/Acura technician, his videos tend to be centered around those makes, as well as other Asian model vehicles.  There are some good generic videos however.

Best of luck, stick with it, take your time and be prepared to feel both humbled and incredibly proud of yourself!

vegasdude

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #37 on: June 10, 2015, 02:22:16 AM »
Additional question:

The following are things that need to be immediately looked at on the cars.  Which would you recommend we try to do ourselves right now vs take to a mechanic?  Keep in mind that as of right now we have NO experience with fixing anything on the cars.

Impala
-Engine air filter needs to be changed (according to mechanic at a quick lube)
-Brakes are getting soft (brake pads need to be inspected and possibly replaced?)

Vibe
-Battery is leaking (according to mechanic at a quick lube) and should be replaced.

Sounds like you did the air filter already. IMO Engine air filters are replaced way more often than necessary because it takes only 1-5 minutes to change it and mechanics mark up the price on the filter and charge labor.

"Soft" feeling brakes could mean there is air in the system. Instead of feeling firm, the brake pedal gives to too little pressure and the car does not stop as fast. Brakes may need to be bled. That's not a mechanical problem and requires no parts. If the pedal sinks slowly all the way to the floor when pressed, that could mean more serious problems, like a bad master cylinder.

The amount of the brake material left on the pads should not affect the feel of the brake pedal much, unless they wear all the way to the metal, which is bad.

Or did "soft" brakes mean something else?

Leaking car battery? Doubtful unless the battery suffered some serious impact (or rolled). You could check the water level in each cell. If it's low add distilled water up to the fill line. Most newer car batteries won't need much water in their lifetime. Corrosion around the battery posts is not caused by leaking. It's normal to see but it should be cleaned off with a wire brush.

Youtube is a great resource for advice but there are some quacks out there.

MrMoneyMaxwell

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #38 on: August 18, 2015, 03:54:17 PM »
Older post, but thought I would chime in that Eric the Car Guy on Youtube is a pretty valuable resource (as stated by a previous poster). He's saved me some serious cash helping to diagnose and fix problems with mine and friend's cars.

2ndTimer

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #39 on: August 18, 2015, 06:10:40 PM »
This is a long shot but...if either of you is associated with the military in any way, they have a great system auto repair setup where you go to a fully stocked garage on base and experts talk you through the process for a very few bucks/hr.  Haven't been there in a while so can't tell you current pricing.

Roots&Wings

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #40 on: August 19, 2015, 06:23:20 AM »
Any tips on which of the following regular maintenance items might be suitable for someone with limited car experience?

- spark plugs
- automatic transmission fluid
- engine coolant
- brake fluid
- timing belt (I suspect no)

I've got the air filters down, and will do battery myself when needed. Thanks!

MrMoneyMaxwell

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #41 on: August 19, 2015, 06:28:42 AM »
Transmission fluid is pretty much identical to changing your oil. It doesn't need to be performed as frequently though.

BeerBeard

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #42 on: August 19, 2015, 07:03:50 AM »
If you don't know any car people... good luck? :/  They're harder and harder to find lately, it seems.  I'm not really sure why.  I guess modern cars being more reliable means you can safely ignore them a lot longer?

I suspect because torque specs are going higher and tolerances are getting smaller, new cars are getting harder to work on without buying high quality tools.

laughing_paddler

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #43 on: August 19, 2015, 07:30:36 AM »
Older post, but thought I would chime in that Eric the Car Guy on Youtube is a pretty valuable resource (as stated by a previous poster). He's saved me some serious cash helping to diagnose and fix problems with mine and friend's cars.

posting to follow, and to get the nerve up to do replace my serpentine belt (hyundai elantra). Watched a video the other night and it seemed straight-forward. thanks for all the links and for the question OP.

BeerBeard

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #44 on: August 19, 2015, 07:35:45 AM »
Any tips on which of the following regular maintenance items might be suitable for someone with limited car experience?

- spark plugs
- automatic transmission fluid
- engine coolant
- brake fluid
- timing belt (I suspect no)

I've got the air filters down, and will do battery myself when needed. Thanks!

Spark plugs are pretty straightforward, you'll need a 3/8 socket wrench, an extension, and some spark plug sockets. Sometimes they are hard to get to, sometimes they are really hard to get to, taking off intake manifolds etc. But for most cars, especially 4 cyl, it's extremely easy. Youtube a video for your model just so there isn't anything unexpected.

Automatic transfluid is usually not terribly hard. You'll need to follow the drain and fill procedure and make sure you get the level right.  Some may tell you if it's past XXX miles not to change it, they'll base this on how the trans works with friction material. I'm not sure I buy into that theory. The topic gets pretty "heated" on a lot of automotive forums, even my father who has been a service manager for 20+ years told me not to change the fluid on my truck @ 150k without us knowing the service history. I usually fall into the "replace it" camp. One thing that's for sure, you don't need a transmission "Flush".

Engine coolant, another thing that just needs to be drained and refilled, not very hard! Make sure you know what fluid you got, some need to be mixed with water and some are ready to go right out of the jug. Again, youtube is a great resource for sometime like this.

Brake fluid, this can be tricky because you need to get all the air out of the lines after you replace the fluid, this is refereed to as bleeding your brakes. They make bleeder systems to help make this a one man job, I usually use an old can or jug though.  Some newer cars require a computer to activate a bleeder sequence. You can still bleed them manually but it can take a bit longer. Post your make/model for me detailed info, or check out youtube for a step by step.

Timing belts are typically not easy. NOt saying you can't do it, I just can't really give much more information than that without knowing what vehicle you have, some are much harder than others.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #45 on: August 19, 2015, 07:55:21 AM »
Any tips on which of the following regular maintenance items might be suitable for someone with limited car experience?

- spark plugs
- automatic transmission fluid
- engine coolant
- brake fluid
- timing belt (I suspect no)
All but the last one are just fine for anyone to do. 
A an addendum to BeerBeard's post, I would advise a set of extensions, because you may need to add/remove extensions as you insert/extract the spark plug socket.
Like MrMoneyMaxwell said, transmission fluid is just like doing your oil.
Antifreeze is even easier. Drain, fill, done.
Brake fluid is no big deal, but it's a bit more involved, and you need to be careful to keep air out of the lines.
Timing belts are a LOT of work (which is why mechanics charge $700-1000+ to do it). 

Roots&Wings

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #46 on: August 19, 2015, 10:56:20 AM »
Thanks BeerBeard, zolotiyeruki, and MrMoneyMaxwell! I have a 2004 Honda Accord v6, and keep a maintenance chart for when each item is due (by either time or mileage) per the Owner's Manual.

I'll check out more youtube videos for all except timing belt and brake fluid, which sound beyond me. I almost failed with the engine air filter which took 3 attempts and multiple youtube videos and visits to the Accordnet forum to figure out, and now working on learning some other easier ones :)

Syonyk

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #47 on: August 19, 2015, 11:46:37 AM »
I suspect because torque specs are going higher and tolerances are getting smaller, new cars are getting harder to work on without buying high quality tools.

A torque wrench is not particularly obscure... though finding the torque specs can be tough.  For a lot of stuff, a good feel for it suffices.

Antifreeze is even easier. Drain, fill, done.

Unless it's not.  An awful lot of Subarus have blown head gaskets because someone didn't follow the proper air bleeding procedures when replacing the coolant.  On most cars, it's easy.  On some, it's really, really tricky.

BeerBeard

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #48 on: August 19, 2015, 12:15:28 PM »
I suspect because torque specs are going higher and tolerances are getting smaller, new cars are getting harder to work on without buying high quality tools.

A torque wrench is not particularly obscure... though finding the torque specs can be tough.  For a lot of stuff, a good feel for it suffices.


I think you missed my point. Cars are being assembled by robots, bolts are getting tighter and the space to get to them is getting smaller, year by year.

otter

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Re: How can I learn to maintain my car?
« Reply #49 on: August 20, 2015, 04:59:46 PM »
I suspect because torque specs are going higher and tolerances are getting smaller, new cars are getting harder to work on without buying high quality tools.

A torque wrench is not particularly obscure... though finding the torque specs can be tough.  For a lot of stuff, a good feel for it suffices.


I think you missed my point. Cars are being assembled by robots, bolts are getting tighter and the space to get to them is getting smaller, year by year.

Why do you say that fastener torque (specific ones? in general?) is higher than it used to be?