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.