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.