Author Topic: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?  (Read 5953 times)

SimplyMarvie

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Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« on: June 18, 2016, 01:12:25 PM »
I know very, very little about cars and happen to be a woman who looks far younger than her age, ergo I always feel like I am getting scammed, lied to or patronized when we need car repairs. In an ideal world, I would love to be able to do basic maintenance myself, but I'd be happy just becoming educated enough to know when I'm being taken for a ride when some nice man tells me that my car's right-handed flibbertygibbet is rusting.

I'm a very visual and hands on learner, so a text-heavy book is probably not the best option, but I don't have access to a community college or similar to take a class. Any good hints on where to start?

slowsynapse

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2016, 01:25:17 PM »
I went from near zero car knowledge to learning quite a bit over a year or two.  I found online forums specific to my car and it helped to explain so many things.  I have used car specific forums for a couple of different cars.  Also, there are lots of great You-tube videos if you have specific issues.  Even if you don't do your own fixes, they can really help so you have an idea of what is/could be wrong when you do have an issue.

pjleonhardt

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2016, 09:15:18 AM »
Hey! Welcome to the world of DIY Car Repair. I started just a couple of years ago, myself, and still have a lot to learn; but here are the basics that I've done between me and my wife's cars:

- Oil Changes (Oil & Filter)
- Spark Plug changes
- Battery Terminal Cleaning
- Air Filter / Cabin Filter change out
- Disc Brake replacement
- Rear Differential Oil Change out
- Transmission Oil Change out

I haven't done any of the bigger things (suspension, shocks, etc...) but I am planning on doing some of the 5 yr items on my car next year (Serpentine Belt, Fuel filter, etc).

The best way I have found is:
1) Find a forum for the specific car. Some cars have great DIY communities around them and some people post step-by-step instructions of various maintenance items
2) Buy a maintenance book. I got mine on e-bay (pdf) for ~$10. Instructions on how to do just about everything, including torque specs.
3) YouTube! Just about everything I've done, I've been able to find a video online of my (or similar) car. This is my go-to and I'll watch 3-4 different videos before I go tackle a job. (This helps beyond cars too... Definitely helped me for garage door repairs as well!)

Be patient. Take your time, and expect it to take you 2-3 times as long as you think it should the first time you do it.

SoccerLounge

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2016, 10:35:38 AM »
Second the advice about 2-3 times longer.

This is the other thing you really, really need to know about car repair:

Almost nothing ever comes off easily, goes on easily, comes out of place easily or goes back in place easily, even if the service manual says it should!!

Once you've made peace with the fact that muttering "fuck, fuck stupid thing, just come OFF, fuck, gaah..." is going to be in your future, you're set. ;) I truly believe this factor is the actual reason many mechanically-inclined folks end up taking their cars to shops.

retiringearly

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2016, 10:42:56 AM »
I am a big believer in following the owner's manual maintenance schedule religiously.  Find another mechanic if they try to get you to deviate from it.

Making Cookies

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2016, 12:41:05 PM »
Find a local friend who can coach you a little. Some of this stuff is dead simple if you can have someone show you and answer the simple questions that a new DIY mechanic comes up with. I've watched alot of YouTube videos that were excellent. Unfortunately a few of them omitted details that they assumed you'd know. A it of experience and you'd know they omitted something too.

You can watch several YouTube videos on the same topic and usually somebody will include the details.

ketchup

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2016, 12:53:54 PM »
Second the advice about 2-3 times longer.

This is the other thing you really, really need to know about car repair:

Almost nothing ever comes off easily, goes on easily, comes out of place easily or goes back in place easily, even if the service manual says it should!!

Once you've made peace with the fact that muttering "fuck, fuck stupid thing, just come OFF, fuck, gaah..." is going to be in your future, you're set. ;) I truly believe this factor is the actual reason many mechanically-inclined folks end up taking their cars to shops.
This.  Especially if your cars are at all rusty or old, or both.  90% of the time it goes on easier than it came off, unless we're talking about re-mating an engine and transmission...

Hofstadter's Law: it always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hoftstadter's Law.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #7 on: June 21, 2016, 08:54:36 AM »
Agreed with all the excellent advice already given.  It's also good to ease into it.  Start with easy stuff, and work your way up.  Only do the work if it's scheduled or it actually needs fixing.  The repair manuals from the manufacturer are excellent, and the cheaper manuals (Haynes/Chilton) are viable for the most part.

Super easy, no tools required:
--filling windshield washer fluid
--change wiper blades
--change air filter (might need a screwdriver)
--check oil, brake, and transmission fluid levels and condition
--check (and if necessary, fix) tire pressure (ok, this one requires a tool)

Still pretty simple, a few tools are needed:
--change a tire
--change the oil
--change transmission fluid
--flush coolant

Easy, but a good next step:
--Brake pads

Once you've gone as far as replacing brake pads, you'll have most of the tools and skills to tackle most normal maintenance and repair.

MrsDinero

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #8 on: June 21, 2016, 10:11:41 AM »
I know very, very little about cars and happen to be a woman who looks far younger than her age, ergo I always feel like I am getting scammed, lied to or patronized when we need car repairs. In an ideal world, I would love to be able to do basic maintenance myself, but I'd be happy just becoming educated enough to know when I'm being taken for a ride when some nice man tells me that my car's right-handed flibbertygibbet is rusting.

I'm a very visual and hands on learner, so a text-heavy book is probably not the best option, but I don't have access to a community college or similar to take a class. Any good hints on where to start?

UGH!  I'm lucky to have finally married someone who knows a bit about cars and engines, but this was one of the things I hated about being a woman and taking my car to the shop.  I understand what certain parts of the engine do, however I cannot point them out to you.

A couple of things I always do is

1) learn the recommended maintenance schedule

2) look up what the most common problems are with my particular car

3) develop a good poker face, you don't want to look unsure or confused.

4) always challenge their recommendation and prices.  Whenever they would tell me what is wrong and how much it would cost,  I would always ask if they were sure that is what the problem was and how they arrived at that "particular problem".  Also with every single estimate was met with "that is higher than what it should be to fix the problem you described" they would almost immediately come down on their price.

JLee

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #9 on: June 21, 2016, 10:29:13 AM »
You can learn an immense amount from the internet.  Check out fuzzy's story on Anandtech:
http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2153449
http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2156092

He's basically self/internet-taught and learned an incredible amount over the last few years.

SoccerLounge

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #10 on: June 21, 2016, 03:52:43 PM »
One of the things I like about the frugal person's way of car ownership - unglamorous car, owned for a very long time / til it does - is that you can engage in some 'Bubba' repairs. By that I don't mean the kind that sacrifice safety for convenience, but rather the kind that are about a hundred times easier if you don't care about a small visual or other 'that'd be nice' detail that people obsessed with keeping cars new and reselling them might. An excellent example from my last car was making a replacement hood prop out of an inexpensive piece of metal rod. No, it wasn't Original Equipment!!!, but the function was identical and nobody even saw it when the hood wasn't up. (On the other hand, I don't necessarily advocate things like trying to fix a broken transmission with JB Weld... ;)

zolotiyeruki

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #11 on: June 21, 2016, 08:31:07 PM »
The windshield fluid tank on my car has been held in place with a bit of rope for the last 13 years.  Does that count?

MissNancyPryor

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #12 on: June 21, 2016, 08:36:18 PM »
You can get a Chilton's manual for most cars.  There is nothing like thumbing through an actual book with pictures and exploded parts diagrams, you can write notes in the margins and tuck in receipts and things like that too.   

SimplyMarvie

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #13 on: June 22, 2016, 12:33:33 PM »
Thanks, everyone. I'm taking copious notes, and am off to find appropriate forums -- especially since my A/C just went out, and it's miserable hot here, so I'm going to have to get it fixed as opposed to increasing my badassity. A black car with black upholstery parked in the sun for 8 hours when it's pushing 100 is probably a public health hazard. I doubt I can fix it myself, but at least I'll have a good idea about whether I'm getting snowed by the mechanic or not.

One of the things I like about the frugal person's way of car ownership - unglamorous car, owned for a very long time / til it does - is that you can engage in some 'Bubba' repairs. By that I don't mean the kind that sacrifice safety for convenience, but rather the kind that are about a hundred times easier if you don't care about a small visual or other 'that'd be nice' detail that people obsessed with keeping cars new and reselling them might. An excellent example from my last car was making a replacement hood prop out of an inexpensive piece of metal rod. No, it wasn't Original Equipment!!!, but the function was identical and nobody even saw it when the hood wasn't up. (On the other hand, I don't necessarily advocate things like trying to fix a broken transmission with JB Weld... ;)

I love this. My current car isn't unglamorous but it is ancient and already has a couple of 'bubba repairs' on it -- my friend bought it at auction for $500, repainted it and fixed it up and sold it to me for what he had into it when he left town. It's an ancient, fussy, creaking beast of a thing with it's own personality, but I love it beyond words. I'd gladly drive it until it croaks, but will probably have to leave it for someone else when my assignment here ends. Which is a pity since it's in great shape and has astoundingly low miles for it's age.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #14 on: June 22, 2016, 12:46:37 PM »
Thanks, everyone. I'm taking copious notes, and am off to find appropriate forums -- especially since my A/C just went out, and it's miserable hot here, so I'm going to have to get it fixed as opposed to increasing my badassity. A black car with black upholstery parked in the sun for 8 hours when it's pushing 100 is probably a public health hazard. I doubt I can fix it myself, but at least I'll have a good idea about whether I'm getting snowed by the mechanic or not.

Oddly enough, replacing the A/C compressor was, IIRC, the second car repair I took on, after changing the oil.  It was...challenging, but I got it all put back together and working.  Cost me $450 for the parts, compared to the $1k the shop was quoting me.

JLee

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #15 on: June 22, 2016, 12:47:46 PM »
If it's any consolation, doing A/C repair properly requires specialty tools for system evacuation, vacuum testing, and refilling (A/C systems should be recharged by weight, not by pressure or "until it's full").  That's one thing I will have a shop do, and I will rebuild my own engine. :)

Thanks, everyone. I'm taking copious notes, and am off to find appropriate forums -- especially since my A/C just went out, and it's miserable hot here, so I'm going to have to get it fixed as opposed to increasing my badassity. A black car with black upholstery parked in the sun for 8 hours when it's pushing 100 is probably a public health hazard. I doubt I can fix it myself, but at least I'll have a good idea about whether I'm getting snowed by the mechanic or not.

Oddly enough, replacing the A/C compressor was, IIRC, the second car repair I took on, after changing the oil.  It was...challenging, but I got it all put back together and working.  Cost me $450 for the parts, compared to the $1k the shop was quoting me.

Did you bring it to a shop to have it vacuumed and refilled?

SimplyMarvie

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #16 on: June 22, 2016, 12:51:32 PM »
If it's any consolation, doing A/C repair properly requires specialty tools for system evacuation, vacuum testing, and refilling (A/C systems should be recharged by weight, not by pressure or "until it's full").  That's one thing I will have a shop do, and I will rebuild my own engine. :)

I don't think it's the compressor, though. It's not blowing air at all, rather than just not blowing cold. Still doing research as to what it could be but it looks like electrical (ugh! good luck I live somewhere that labor is cheap...) or a belt...?

JLee

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #17 on: June 22, 2016, 01:18:24 PM »
If it's any consolation, doing A/C repair properly requires specialty tools for system evacuation, vacuum testing, and refilling (A/C systems should be recharged by weight, not by pressure or "until it's full").  That's one thing I will have a shop do, and I will rebuild my own engine. :)

I don't think it's the compressor, though. It's not blowing air at all, rather than just not blowing cold. Still doing research as to what it could be but it looks like electrical (ugh! good luck I live somewhere that labor is cheap...) or a belt...?

Ah, so heat doesn't work either?    It may be as simple as the fuse for the blower motor.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #18 on: June 22, 2016, 03:07:17 PM »
If it's any consolation, doing A/C repair properly requires specialty tools for system evacuation, vacuum testing, and refilling (A/C systems should be recharged by weight, not by pressure or "until it's full").  That's one thing I will have a shop do, and I will rebuild my own engine. :)

Thanks, everyone. I'm taking copious notes, and am off to find appropriate forums -- especially since my A/C just went out, and it's miserable hot here, so I'm going to have to get it fixed as opposed to increasing my badassity. A black car with black upholstery parked in the sun for 8 hours when it's pushing 100 is probably a public health hazard. I doubt I can fix it myself, but at least I'll have a good idea about whether I'm getting snowed by the mechanic or not.

Oddly enough, replacing the A/C compressor was, IIRC, the second car repair I took on, after changing the oil.  It was...challenging, but I got it all put back together and working.  Cost me $450 for the parts, compared to the $1k the shop was quoting me.

Did you bring it to a shop to have it vacuumed and refilled?
I borrowed a vacuum pump and set of hoses from Autozone, along with a couple cans of refrigerant.  The refrigerant was only a few bucks, and the tool "rental" is free.  It's a simple process--attach the hoses to the vacuum pump, A/C lines, and refrigerant can, open one valve, vacuum out the whole system until it gets to -Xpsi, close the valve, open the other valve and let the system charge up to Ypsi, and you're done.

But if it's not blowing air at all, then it's a simpler electrical issue.

JLee

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #19 on: June 22, 2016, 03:17:45 PM »
If it's any consolation, doing A/C repair properly requires specialty tools for system evacuation, vacuum testing, and refilling (A/C systems should be recharged by weight, not by pressure or "until it's full").  That's one thing I will have a shop do, and I will rebuild my own engine. :)

Thanks, everyone. I'm taking copious notes, and am off to find appropriate forums -- especially since my A/C just went out, and it's miserable hot here, so I'm going to have to get it fixed as opposed to increasing my badassity. A black car with black upholstery parked in the sun for 8 hours when it's pushing 100 is probably a public health hazard. I doubt I can fix it myself, but at least I'll have a good idea about whether I'm getting snowed by the mechanic or not.

Oddly enough, replacing the A/C compressor was, IIRC, the second car repair I took on, after changing the oil.  It was...challenging, but I got it all put back together and working.  Cost me $450 for the parts, compared to the $1k the shop was quoting me.

Did you bring it to a shop to have it vacuumed and refilled?
I borrowed a vacuum pump and set of hoses from Autozone, along with a couple cans of refrigerant.  The refrigerant was only a few bucks, and the tool "rental" is free.  It's a simple process--attach the hoses to the vacuum pump, A/C lines, and refrigerant can, open one valve, vacuum out the whole system until it gets to -Xpsi, close the valve, open the other valve and let the system charge up to Ypsi, and you're done.

But if it's not blowing air at all, then it's a simpler electrical issue.

Technically an AC system should be filled by weight, not by pressure (and the refrigerant should be recovered when it's evacuated, not vented, though that has no impact on the operation of the system) - has it held up long-term?

And I agree, this looks like a much easier problem to work with.

zolotiyeruki

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #20 on: June 22, 2016, 05:50:54 PM »
If it's any consolation, doing A/C repair properly requires specialty tools for system evacuation, vacuum testing, and refilling (A/C systems should be recharged by weight, not by pressure or "until it's full").  That's one thing I will have a shop do, and I will rebuild my own engine. :)

Thanks, everyone. I'm taking copious notes, and am off to find appropriate forums -- especially since my A/C just went out, and it's miserable hot here, so I'm going to have to get it fixed as opposed to increasing my badassity. A black car with black upholstery parked in the sun for 8 hours when it's pushing 100 is probably a public health hazard. I doubt I can fix it myself, but at least I'll have a good idea about whether I'm getting snowed by the mechanic or not.

Oddly enough, replacing the A/C compressor was, IIRC, the second car repair I took on, after changing the oil.  It was...challenging, but I got it all put back together and working.  Cost me $450 for the parts, compared to the $1k the shop was quoting me.

Did you bring it to a shop to have it vacuumed and refilled?
I borrowed a vacuum pump and set of hoses from Autozone, along with a couple cans of refrigerant.  The refrigerant was only a few bucks, and the tool "rental" is free.  It's a simple process--attach the hoses to the vacuum pump, A/C lines, and refrigerant can, open one valve, vacuum out the whole system until it gets to -Xpsi, close the valve, open the other valve and let the system charge up to Ypsi, and you're done.

But if it's not blowing air at all, then it's a simpler electrical issue.

Technically an AC system should be filled by weight, not by pressure (and the refrigerant should be recovered when it's evacuated, not vented, though that has no impact on the operation of the system) - has it held up long-term?

And I agree, this looks like a much easier problem to work with.
this was 11 years ago, and I had the car for. ..3 years (not sure) after that. No issues

HipGnosis

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #21 on: June 23, 2016, 12:16:25 PM »
I am a big believer in following the owner's manual maintenance schedule religiously.  Find another mechanic if they try to get you to deviate from it.
I can't take the manual as gospel.   A mechanic knows that the manual was written by engineers, edited by bean counters and proofed by lawyers.   Sometimes (just sometimes) they are wrong. A GOOD mechanic knows when.

HipGnosis

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #22 on: June 23, 2016, 12:43:33 PM »
The best way to learn is to do.
But I'm the son of an auto mechanic (when he was young) who is the son of an auto service garage owner (his whole life).
Yes, internet and esp youtube are awesome.  But even they can be lacking - I always assume they did the actual 'fix' and then just do it 'again' with the camera on.  It's not exactly the same thing

Some things I've learned over the years that they don't show or tell;
You're going to get dirty - have cleaning supplies ready
  sub-note; hand degreasers are solvents, not soap. Put them on your hands w/o water, spread it around (as if you are washing your hands) and then give it a min to work before washing it off.  Laundry soap works as an alternative.  Can also be used to clean dirty parts and tools.
You're going to get your cloths dirty - don't toss all your old cloths.
You're going to need rags - I keep 4 by my tools; pretty clean, (just) dirty, oily, greasy
If you have to take off multiple parts;
  take pics before you start and as you go - can be a lifesaver during re-assembly
  lay the parts in the order you take them off
  For dealing with small parts; I keep an empty egg carton and paper towels w/ 'quilts'
If something could possibly go on more than one way; clean a 'line' on it's edge and on the part it goes onto, or mark them with a permanent marker - before you take the part off.
A thick carpet runner is nicer to lay on than pavement.  A carpet runner with rubber backing is nice on cold pavement and gravel.
Eye protection and mechanics gloves are really good ideas
Parts store workers aren't as knowledgeable as they use to be, but they have more info at their fingertips.
Some parts need a special tool to remove and/or install them.  Many parts stores will loan the tool(s) to you free if you buy the part from them - it's worth paying a bit more.
Some parts stores rent tools - Don't buy it if you're only going to use it once.

SimplyMarvie

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #23 on: June 24, 2016, 01:51:09 PM »
SimplyMarvie - what year, make and model of car do you own? Also, if you can provide the engine model/info, that would be great.

I habe access to AllData and I can try to help you pinpoint your electrical issue. 90% of the  time a blower that doesn't work is caused by a bad "blower resistor", also called a "final stage".

If you don't want to put the car info online, you can email me.

I have a 2005 BMW X5, European Specs, the 4.8is (I think? the other version is diesel and my car takes gas)

...And before I get facepunched for it, I live in Europe so it's actually cheaper to repair than my husband's beloved but impractical Honda. I also bought it cheap, it's in great shape, and it fits three car seats across the back.

SimplyMarvie

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Re: Best way to start learning about car maintenance?
« Reply #24 on: June 30, 2016, 11:38:38 AM »
Thank you so much for the tip! We've ordered the part, and we'll give it a shot ourselves -- worst case, I'll take the whole thing to the mechanic, but I do think that with a bit of help we can manage it. *crosses fingers*