Auto Repair for the beginner

    This site is aimed at car owners who want to know more about their cars and save on servicing expenses and perhaps get some enjoyment from their tinkering.


    The art of auto repair is a progressive learning experience. The best way to start is at the maintenance level. Monitoring and changing the oil levels, antifreeze and general fluid inspections. Washing and cleaning the vehicle (detailing), is an art, on its own. The next level would be checking and replacing worn, cracked hoses, belts and light bulbs. As you gain confidence, you can progress into more complicated procedures.

    As you progress in your learning experience, read up on some high school physics. Some basic and working knowledge of fluid, gas, electrical and magnetism would help in diagnosing the systems. Help out your friends, local handyman or mechanic will give you some “hands- on” experience. Reading about the system designs, will help with the hands on, to put it all together.

    Some repairs are easy and some are complicated. If you do not understand a particular repair, take the car to a pro or pick up a good manual that is more specific to your vehicle.

    If you own the vehicle, the best repair is a proper maintained schedule. Bad maintained vehicles can produce problems that could have been avoided, with regular maintence. Dirty oil or antifreeze can plug passage ways, increase wear on system components. Cracked or damage vacuum lines can simulate all kinds of failures.

    Besides information on making repairs, I have included advice on shopping for professional car repairs. Such advice should enable you to avoid incompetent and overly expensive shops.

    Everyone who works around cars should be aware of certain hazards. Among these is the danger of improperly used or ungrounded electrical tools. Some liquids that you may use are flammable or explosive. A car that is lifted off the ground becomes a potential hazard, for anyone underneath. Working in an enclosed area with a running engine exposes you to deadly exhaust fumes. The moving parts of a running engine can catch and tear anything — including flesh and bones. I will list some of the safety procedures on my pages on Shop Safety.

    I have tried to anticipate these and other risks that are implicit in auto repairs and warn you about them. But the responsibility for safety is yours. Repairing a car is probably a lot safer than driving one— but even so, be careful.

    Most important, if you lack confidence in performing a safety-related repair, such as a brake job, ask a pro for advice, or let him do it.

    I have developed a page to demonstrate a repair operation on a vehicle that an insurance company sold at a auction as a write off. I will go through the paces and problems in such a repair. This is not like TV body work, it takes time and money, so bear with me as I progress. Got to Project Neon, and follow me through it, as time goes by.

    As you gain experience in fixing your car, you will be able to catch safety problems before they become dangerous. Most communities in North America require a vehicle to pass a safety inspection before it is registered or insured. I have included a basic Safety Sheet on this site as a guide to what to look for. It might differ from your area but it’s a start. By going through the sheet you can check what is needed and do some of the repairs yourself and save a few dollars.

    Repairing your own car is bound to save you money, as well as give you satisfaction. For any car that’s beyond its warranty it will eat up about $250 a year in repairs — and some will need even more. The money you save can be considerable. How much you save depends on how much you can do. Happily, you don’t need to know a great deal about your car. You can learn by doing. I have included a Trouble Shooting Guide on this site, to help diagnose some possible problems. If I missed anything just e-mail me and I will add to it, as required.


    Getting Professional Help


    If your car requires major repairs —a job such as valve reconditioning, transmission overhaul, or collision repair — you probably will have to shop around for a reputable garage.

    Make it a practice to deal with established shops, never with someone who drops by your house. The longer the firm has been in business, the better. Affiliation with a national organization may or may not be a good sign. Some new car dealers, for example, do excellent work; others concentrate on selling cars and let their service departments slide.

    If the problem is in a specialized system, you can try a shop that specially deals with that system. You will save some money by cutting out the middle mans percentage. For example: A Dealer will sent your transmission out to a Transmission shop for repair and bill you a percentage of the repair, for their service.




    Good mechanics may be found in all types of service establishments, large and small, national chains and independent shops, all-around shops and specialized ones.

    Membership in a national organization that send their mechanics to service schools to learn new methods of car repair are good bets. That costs the shop money, and you pay for it, but you benefit through speedy, competent work. Often, diplomas from service schools, are displayed prominently in the shop.

    Getting good service once at a shop does not always mean you will get good service next time. Often, top and bottom-level mechanics work in the same shop. Keep your eyes open. The top man is the one all the others consul,t on problems. Ask for that man to work on your car.



    These will vary, depending on how long the repair takes and on the cost of necessary parts. Labor is charged for in three ways: by the estimate, by the hour, and by the job.

    When a service manager gives you an estimate on labor, he bases it on the number of hours that such a repair normally takes. He looks up the job in a book called a flat-rate manual, which catalogs every conceivable kind of repair and tells how long it takes a properly equipped mechanic to perform it, in hours and tenths. The service manager then multiplies that time by the shop’s hourly rate. For instance, if removing and replacing an engine is supposed to take 4.4 hours according to the flat-rate manual and your shop rate of $70 an hour, your charge for labour totals $308.

    If you are given a firm estimate, that is what you pay, whether the mechanic takes one hour or 10 hours to do the job. The flat-rate method of pricing labor is preferable for the customer in three situations:


    • When dealing with an unknown shop;
    • On old cars with corroded fasteners.
    • With problem-laden jobs, such as engine overhaul or muffler replacement;


    When you pay for labor strictly by the hour, you get no firm estimate—though a ballpark figure may be cited if you ask. The mechanic does the job and keeps a record of time. If a job happens to take, say 3.5 hours, you pay $245 labor. But if the mechanic runs into trouble and needs 6.5 hours for the same job, you pay $455.

    Per-hour billing is better if you know the mechanic is sharp. A good mechanic can almost always beat the flat-rates, especially on common work such as engine replacement and valve jobs. The per-hour method also works in your favor in terms of quality work. The mechanic knows he will be paid for all the time he spends, so he takes the time to be thorough.

    When paying for labor by the job, you know all ordinary costs in advance. Common work—brake relining, wheel alignment, engine overhaul, smog valve inspection — have established prices in many shops. The garage owner knows from past experience how much parts and labor will cost. Though you probably would pay less by the hour, it is hard to get such repairs priced, any other way. Suppose, for example, that you get regular alignments (as you should) and your car’s front wheels are aimed pretty close to where they should be. One quick adjustment may put them right. But you probably will have to pay the same as the owner of a car that needs alot more adjustments.




    When your car is repaired by a garage, the shop owner gets all parts at discounts of 20 to 50 percent. Shops consider it their right to charge you full list price for parts, and they resent customers who furnish their own parts. The shops profits on auto parts, permit them to stock an ample supply of common parts. This means you do not have to wait for delivery or for someone to be sent for parts that are not stocked. If you supply the parts yourself, you might supply the wrong part, which in turn, slow done the job and create other problems associated with the repair. If the garage supplies the part, its their problem. For more information on dealing with parts go to the parts link.


    Doing It Yourself


    The money you save by repairing your car in your own garage, then, comes from two sources: labor charges and the shop owner’s profit on parts. To ensure this dual savings, be careful when you set about to order replacement components.

    Basic Home Tools

    The basic home tools is all that you can afford. A good starting point would be a set of sockets with a ratchet and extensions. A good start would be a kit that includes deep and shallow sockets‚ adapters and two different ratchet drives. In many of the modern cars a 1/4 in. drive would do, but when you get into the heaver repairs as in suspensions you would need 3/8 or 1/2 in drives to get the required torques needed.

    The next purchase would be a good set of screw drivers. You could probably get away with a kit that includes a handle and multiple bits. Make sure that they include a good variety of phillips and torx’s bits ( most used in automotive). Some special handle/bit combinations are also useful: stubby’s (short handle and shank)‚ long handle and shank etc.

    Another good addition to your tool box would a decent set of wrenches. Basic sets includes 3/8 to 7/8th’s inches or 8mm to 19mm. They come in long handle and stubby’s. In a more advance tool box would include some ratcheting wrenches and specialty wrenches.

    socket set in a kit Having a common tool kit in a case is becoming a norm for the back yarder. Different makes and models determine what they include. This one has many of the basics that you would need to get you started. Usually they come in standard and metric versions‚ so know what you would primary need .

    It has the basic socket sets you’ll need. Both, deep and shallow sockets, a small set of wrenches and a few screw driver bits with a driver. It will not replace a full set of tools but it’s a good start. It also comes in handy getting your own parts at a wrecker. I found out the hard way that you will still need to take along a few other tools get the job done.

    wrenches in a set Having a good variety of wrenches is a must in a tool box. As you advance in your collection of tools you will need both long and short sets of combination wrenches. It’s a good idea to have both metric and standard sets. With parts supplied from all around the world its good to having both.

    Specialty wrenches is a good addition to your kit if you have a tendency to stick to one type of repair or manufacturer. Many can be made out of old‚ cheap wrenches you have hanging around

    screwdriver set This is a good starter set of screw driver and bits Hand to have around home as well as you mechanical tool box. It has all the bits you would need, from phillips to torx.

    It doesn’t replace the standard screw drivers but an addition. To replace all the bits with standard screw drivers would be cost prohibited. It would be good to have some of the basic ones in the standard formats‚ like the phillips and flat heads depending what you use the most.

    pliers Here’s another common set of tools needed in an average tool box. It has most of the common pliers you would need. You can buy them individually as you need them but some times they are cheaper to buy them in a set like this one.

    There are many you will need to buy separately, like a long handled needle nose or a variety of crescent wrench sizes etc. Spatiality pliers are common for different repair types

    taps Tap and Die set, not a common tool to have at home, but is a valuable to have when you are working with damaged bolts and nuts. It’s good to have to fix cross threaded bolts when new ones are not available. They are great for cleaning up dirty‚ damaged or rusted threads.

    They come in metric and standard thread patterns. You con get different handle combinations as well. They are invaluable when making your own tools or metal based projects.

    flare Flaring tool. Not as common as yester year but does come in handy at times. It is becoming popular to buy ready made lines with fittings at your local parts store‚ but there are times when you need one for a special job that you can’t buy. This tool will be very helpful when you are more into custom building and repair jobs.
    easy Commonly known as an Easy-Out set. At times not so easy. When you run into trouble with broken bolts‚ this tool is usually the first one you may turn to. Drilling a hole in the middle of the stud left from the bolt you put one of these in to screw it out with a little help from some oil. It is easier said than done but worth a try.
    bat tester Another not common tool to have is a battery and load tester. It’s a great tool to have if you are under the hood often. It measures the voltage of the battery as well puts a load on it to see it’s capacity while starting. It’s a real time saver if you run into alot of repairs involving the battery.

    A simple VOM meter will do in checking voltage and draw but if you want to check the battery under duress conditions this is a valuable tool.

    hammers A good set of hammers is a must for your tool box. If it doesn’t fit, use a bigger hammer, although is just a expression it does, at times, do the job. There are rubber, brass, plastic hammers, all have their purposes in the trade but the most common would be the ball peen hammers of different weights.

    There are cross peen, sledge hammers usually of the heavy class range and don’t forget the huge selection of body hammers available.

    pullers Pullers ! A selection of these are a necessity when you go more into engine work. Although there are some simpler ones for windshield wiper arms or battery post pullers. These you would buy as you need them. There are all kinds depending on the job you are doing.
    oil wrenches Oil filter wrenches is a must for home mechanic. There are many configurations of these things. The two on the left is some common ones, There are ones that comes with a strap and web designs. At times a screw driver through the filter is the only means of getting them off
    drills Air driven tools is a must for a serious technician, they speed up the work considerably. Drills with an 1/2 ” chuck is common although a 3/8″ chuck models is cheaper. Air chisels is a must for exhaust work and body work. There are numerous types pf bits depending on what you are working on.
    air tools Air (impacts) ratchets is another must for serious technicians. They come with 1/4″ and up drives depending on the heaviness of the work you are doing. The 1/4″ drill is becoming very common as the vehicles are getting smaller but the 3/8″ drive is a good compromise if you could only afford one.
    grease Grease gun also comes in a variety of sizes and designs. Some comes with air assist. On most cars of today the joints are usually sealed. Sometimes grease nipples can be added and then greased or there’s a needle like attachment for the guns to puncture the casings.
    torqe The torque wrenches is another tool that comes in different drive styles. Invaluable in engine repair.
    antifreeze An Antifeeze tester, a must for the winter climates.
    term A Thermometer’ a must tool for working with the cooling system and air conditioning. A cooking thermometer might due but one like this one is more precise for automotive needs.
    strap A great all purpose tool, I call a strap wrench. It can double for an oil filter or hold pulley’s while taking off nuts etc.
    memory saver This is a very handy tool to have in your tool box. There are many variations of it but I’ll use this one as an example.

    With all the electronics in a vehicle this is a necessary tool. In many of the repairs being done, it would be necessary to disconnect the battery but you do not want to lose all the settings in the modules or radio setting or codes.

    With this particular unit you should leave the battery cables connected to save power in your 9v battery until needed.

    When using the 9v battery

    1. Switch off the vehicle’s ignition and all accessories (i.e. radio and interior light). Note: certain vehicles must have the ignition switch in the “auxiliary” position to power the cigarette lighter (check the vehicle manufacturer’s hand book).
    2. Open the battery cover on the Memory Saver and install a 9V battery (with a know charge level). Replace the battery cover.
    3. Two green indicators should now be illuminated on the Memory Saver— this indicates that it is connected correctly.
    4. Now press and hold the red button on the Memory Saver while inserting it into the cigarette lighter adapter. Keeping the button depressed : one green indicator should glow — this indicates that it is connected correctly.
    5. Release the red button. If the two indicators are green — this indicates a good connection.
    6. The vehicle’s own l2V DC battery can now be disconnected. The SOS Electronic Memory will supply enough voltage to maintain vehicles electronic programming.
    7. Once the vehicle’s battery has been reconnected, press and hold the red button while removing the Memory Saver.

    When using a automotive battery memory

    1. Switch off the vehicles ignition and all accessories (i.e.- radio, interior light,…). Note : certain vehicles must have the ignition switch in the “auxiliary” position to power the cigar lighter (check the vehicle manufacturer’s handbook).
    2. Connect red lead to the positive terminal and the black to the negative terminal of slave battery.
    3. Two green indicators should now be illuminated — this indicates that it is connected correctly.
    4. Now press and hold the red button on the Memory Saver while inserting it into the cigarette lighter adapter. Keeping the button depressed: one green indicator should glow — this indicates that it is connected correctly.
    5. Release the red button. If the two indicators are green — this indicates a good connection.
    6. The vehicle’s own 12V DC battery can now be disconnected. The SOS Electronic Memory will supply enough volt age to maintain vehicles electronic
    7. Once the vehicle’s battery has been reconnected, press and hold the red button while removing the Memory Saver.

    Do–It yourself- Guide

    Do it yourself can save you money but it can cost you big, if you make a mistake, in damaged parts or your safety. Not to mention your time.  Remember! Safety first. Sometimes, it’s cheaper just to go to a professional mechanic. Putting the equivalent of an entire auto-parts store’s inventory under the hood of your vehicle may not be the most cost-effective manner to approach a problem, and in some instances, it’s completely useless. If you are still insistent on doing it yourself, here are some guide lines to follow.

    Making a diagnosis: Know what you are fixing first. This is where many people and pros runs into trouble. It helps to know the basic operation principles for this. As with a motor, there are four basic systems, fuel, air, compression and ignition. There are many sub-systems to these as well.

    Many of the problems can be just simple ones that was just overlooked. Don’t laugh, it happens. As with the fuel system, do you have gas in the tank or it may be a clogged fuel filter? Burned out fuses is also a common failure. Is your battery up to snuff. Many problems are from a bad ground in the electrical system or broken wire. The point here is check the simple  first.

    Pulling parts off on a hunch, can get pretty expensive and frustrating. Getting a manual for your vehicle, would be a good first step. These manuals will walk you through most of the steps needed, to get the job done. You still need a working knowledge of the systems to work with the manuals.

    Tip: If you have a digital camera, take a few close ups on the parts you are taking apart. It might help you, to put things back together, later. It would also help match up used parts, if you can’t bring your old ones with you.

    Tip: Putting  smaller parts in  plastic baggies, so they do not get lost.

    Tip: Using a test light or a Vom meter should be limited to light sockets or higher power electrical systems. The computers, on the newer cars, runs on very low voltages. Crossing your test equipment with these systems can destroy them. It would be a good idea to familiar yourself with the proper use of the VOM or DVM. These meters are used more and more for diagnistic purposes. It would also be a good idea to invest into a OBD II code reader if you plan on working on cars for while.

    Use the proper tools: Use tools that fit. I have seen enough skinned knuckles from improper or worn out wrenches. Specialized tools can be rented or borrowed. Spark plug sockets is a good example of a tool you should have in your kit. They have rubber inside them to help grip and guide them. Although in a pinch you can get by with a standard socket. Having a code reader wouldn’t hurt either if you are serious.

    Tip: Tool maintenance is a high priority. Dirty or oily tools can cause slippage of your hand at the wrong time. Proper care, can keep your tools with you for life.

    Have a place to do it: Doing it in a parking lot at Sears is not a good idea. Having a well lit and covered area is ideal, preferably one you can tie up for awhile if things doesn’t go as planned. If you are working under the vehicle make sure it is well supported. Grass and mud is not a firm ground. Try cement. Many a mistake has happened with jack stands, on unstable footings. Your life is worth more than a cheap repair.

    Patience is the number one tool you need. Many projects have been botched because of impatience. Broken parts, cross threaded bolts, you name it. Your safety is a priority. Think, relax and watch out for that fan blade. With many of the systems operating via an electrical control, even a fan blade can start without the engine running.

    Put things back where you found them. Belt and fan guards are there for a reason. Shields are another important thing to put back on. They make a difference in air flow when needed. I have seen many vehicles with this type of stuff, obviously missing and it just made me crunch, thinking amateur. If they are too lazy to reinstall these, what else didn’t they do?

    When in doubt ask for help.  More heads are better than one. Where do you think the professionals learn? From each other. Ask your neighbor, local mechanic, radio talk show host. Check around.