What NOT To Do While Working On Your Car

Check out our resident Gearhead’s Top 3 Things to avoid doing while DIY’ing.

Car engine pictureIf you’re reading this article, let me first extend a warm welcome to a fellow Gearhead. Anyone who likes to get his or her hands dirty with DIY projects is alright in my book. But there’s a dark side to DIY, as we all know, and it’s the simple fact that things can go wrong.

Moreover, things will go wrong if you don’t have a method to your madness.

Now, I’m not here to insult your intelligence. Chances are, you’ve tackled some heavy projects already, and I imagine you’ve been successful. But even experts can learn new tricks, and that’s what I want to talk about today. Let’s consider three things you don’t want to do when you’re taking on a serious DIY challenge.

1. Don’t trust the Internet.

Remember, I’m talking about hardcore projects here. If you’re changing your spark plugs or brake pads or something simple like that, then by all means, consult your online forum of choice and follow the handy DIY guide. But for more invasive procedures, you’re playing with fire if you crowd-source the details. You’re already invested enough in your car’s well-being to be your own mechanic — why not act like a mechanic and get a dedicated shop manual for your car?

If you’re with me on that, you’ve got a couple options. The old-school approach is to track down a manual that you hold in your hands, whether you find it on eBay or through a third-party provider like Haynes or Chilton. If you just can’t stay away from your computer, Haynes has an online version that features color photos and wiring diagrams, videos and detailed troubleshooting procedures.  Have a look at http://www.haynes.com/onlinerepairmanuals/.

2. Don’t rely on memory – use your camera.

This one’s so simple that experienced DIY’ers might even find it a little insulting. “I don’t need no stinkin’ photos,” you might be thinking. “I’ve been wrenching on cars for years!” Hey, I hear you. So have I. But with the advent of smartphones that can take a nice sharp photo, you’d be crazy, in my humble opinion, not to use your phone’s camera to document the disassembly process step-by-step. Okay, not every step — some stuff you can do in your sleep if you’ve been DIY’ing long enough. But you know as well as I do that those shop-manual diagrams are inscrutable at times, and anyway, the job’s bound to be a lot easier if you can retrace your steps in full color. The point is to put everything back where you found it, and photos leave no doubt where things are supposed to go.

3. Don’t forget the “While you’re in there” stuff.

This is one that only DIY mechanics will embrace — because real mechanics want you to pay them to disassemble the same stuff as many times as possible! As a DIY’er, though, your time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it on taking things apart more than once. There’s a counterargument, of course, and it’s that the main point of DIY’ing is to save money, so why compromise your savings by replacing parts that aren’t broken? If that’s what you’re thinking, I hear you, and my answer is that you’ve just got to use your best judgment on a case-by-case basis.

I’ll give you an example: I did my lower ball joints recently, and while I had the control arms out, I thought about other parts in there that might merit the R&R treatment. You don’t want to use a spring compressor more often than you have to, right? Well, I realized each control arm had some rubber bushings in it that had probably never been changed, and new ones cost about 20 bucks for a whole kit. That’s what you call a no-brainer. On the flipside, whenever my engine cover’s off, I’ve got easy access to my mass airflow sensor (MAF), but that damn thing costs 400 bucks. Now you’ve got a no-brainer going the other way. So it’s a judgment call, like I said, but you should always be thinking about reasonably priced parts that can be replaced “while you’re in there.”

Let’s Talk

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about DIY’ing over the years, it’s that every experienced DIY’er has wisdom to contribute. What are some common mistakes that you’ve learned to avoid? Let’s hear it in the comments.

 

Editor’s note: After all that, one things’s for sure—what you should be doing is getting the parts you need fast and then back to those car projects. Advance Auto Parts can help: buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.

Comments

  1. I have a squeal under the hood I’m guessing serpentine belt slipping or needs replaced or water pump can anyone give me their guess?

  2. Dominic Italiano says:

    Box Your Bolts! Another great tip that I learned over the years, which has saved me countless hours when putting anything back together. Get a piece of cardboard or a whole box (that you can junk). As you take anything apart, stick all the bolts for that part in the cardboard, label what they are for, and circle around them. In cases, like a water pump for example, when the bolts are different lengths etc., draw a little pick to remind you what order they go in. Got nuts? No problem, just get a hand full of small nails to put them on, or a twist tie to hold them all together. No cardboard (<–seriously), use zip lock plastic bags to hold everything, or if you're better equipped use your magnetic parts bowl. All in all, the moral of the story is, keep your fasteners and parts organized and you won't be left frustrated, looking for the one bolt/nut your missing, or worse yet, thinking you're all done and have a few nuts and bolts left over. Do yourself this favor and you'll be thanking yourself you did.

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