Jan 3, 2006

Car Tip 29 - DIY - Easy Stuff

DIY - Easy Stuff

Ok, so you want to work on your own car. Before you start let's look at what you will need to have before you open the hood.

* Your owners manual
* A flat area to work on your car with enough room to safely work on your car.
* Some clothing you don't mind getting dirty.
* Towels or rags to wipe your hands and various dipsticks.
* Shop light or flashlight to see into those dark places.

Checking Fluids:

Read you owners manual and look for a diagram of the engine. Most times there will be a diagram showing where to check all the major fluids. This should be your starting point. If your manual is lost in the glove box or you never had one, then ask your mechanic or a friend who knows cars to show you all the places to check.

There are 4 major levels to check on most cars.

* Engine oil - Usually towards the front of the engine and marked "OIL" Always check your oil level with the engine OFF. Remove the dipstick and wipe the oil off with the rag or towel then put the dipstick back into the hole. Now pull out and get a reading. You might have to hold the dipstick to the light to get a good reading as fresh oil can sometimes be hard to see. On the dipstick there will be two marks indicating a maximum and minimum level for the oil. Make it a habit of checking your oil every two weeks.

* Transmission fluid - If you have an automatic transmission then you will have a dipstick to check the fluid level. It is most commonly found towards the back of the engine compartment or towards the passenger side. You should find out how to check the fluid by looking at the owners manual or on the dipstick itself. Most cars have to be running with the transmission in park or neutral. Also the transmission should be warmed up to give a true reading. Make sure the car has been driven for a short distance to make sure everything is up to operating temperature. Checking the level is just like checking your oil, wipe off dipstick, replace, pull out again and check level. If you have a manual transmission there is no dipstick and to check the fluid level you must crawl under the car and remove a fill plug. I would have your mechanic check this for you once a year.

* Engine coolant - -- CAUTION -- Never open your radiator cap when the engine is hot ! The pressure in the system can send hot coolant splashing out on to you. Most cars have an overflow bottle which will have level markings. Keep the coolant between these markings. If you have to open the radiator, make sure the engine is cold.

* Power steering fluid - Your car uses oil to assist in steering the car. The fluid is usually checked at the pump, but can be away from the pump in a separate reservoir. Like the transmission, this fluid should also be checked when up to operating temperature. Most commonly the level is measured by a small dipstick attached to the cap of the reservoir.

* Brake fluid - On most newer cars you can check brake fluid level without removing the cap on the master cylinder. There will be level markings on the side of the plastic reservoir. If you have to remove the cover to check the fluid level, be careful not to spill any fluid on the surrounding paint. Brake fluid makes a nice paint remover :-)

* Windshield washer fluid - That's the magic blue liquid that squirts out of your hood. Most reservoirs have the level marked on the side but some newer cars have them buried underneath everything so you can not see. Just fill to the top, there is no harm in overfilling.
If you need to add any fluids to bring the levels up, a funnel is helpful to avoid spills. Keep track of how often you add oil, and transmission fluid. Frequent additions can point to leaks and engine wear.

Changing a tire:

It always happens at the worst times! You need to know how to change a tire even if you have an auto club membership. Depending on where you get a flat, there may not be a phone nearby to call a tow truck. Let's take is step by step and always remember to read your owners manual, there will be detailed instructions relating to your car there. I should mention also a few tips for getting to the side of the road safely if you have a blow-out on the road.

* Stay calm, do not panic
* Slowly take your foot off of the gas and let the vehicle coast to a stop.
* Do not make any sudden braking or steering actions.
* Put your flashers on to alert other drivers.

Now that you are safely off of the road.

Step 1: Make sure you are on firm level ground and away from traffic. If you are not, then try to drive to a better spot, but only if you can do it safely. Avoid going back onto the road and into traffic.

Step 2: Set your emergency brake and put the car in Park or 1st gear if you have a manual transmission. Make sure the engine is turned off.

Step 3: Locate the spare tire, jack, and lug wrench. These are usually located in the trunk underneath the carpet on cars. Trucks usually have the jack and lug wrench behind the seat or under the hood, with the spare tire under the bed.

Step 4: Typically there are instructions printed on the jack or somewhere near the storage compartment. Read these instructions, they will tell you where to jack the vehicle and any special steps you will need to take.

Step 5: First remove the hubcap or wheel cover. The lug wrench often has a flat end which you can use to pry off the cover. If not, a screwdriver will work just fine.

Step 6: Before you jack the car up you will want to break loose the lug nuts. The weight of the car will keep the wheel from spinning and allow you to apply more force to the nuts. You do not want to completely remove the lug nuts yet.... just break them loose.
Once the lug nut begins to move, STOP and move onto the next one. I often carry a small pipe which will fit over the lug wrench. This pipe can provide additional leverage and allow you to get those stubborn lug nuts off. Always remember righty tighty, lefty loosy. Turn the lug nuts left or counter clockwise to loosen.

Step 7: Now it's time to jack up the car. Make sure you know where the manufacturer has placed jacking points by reading the owners manual or the instructions near or on the jack. Most cars will have a reinforced lip where the jack can be placed. If you can not locate this, look for a solid portion of the frame to jack on. Make sure the jack is on firm level ground and start jacking. Take it slowly and only go as far as you need to get the wheel off.

Step 8: The wheel is off the ground and it's time to remove the lug nuts. Use the wrench or your fingers to remove the nuts. Slowly take the wheel off and set it to the side.

Step 9: Get the new wheel and put it on the car. Tighten the lug nuts as tight as you can without the wheel spinning. Don't worry about getting the nuts super tight as you will do the final tightening when the car is off of the jack.

Step 10: Let the car down off of the jack and get your lug wrench. Tighten the lug nuts in a star pattern if there are five nuts. Start with one lug nut and skip the next one until they are all tight. If you have 4 nuts, just tighten the opposite nut from where you started and then the remaining two in any order.
Step 11: Replace your wheel cover or hubcap and clean up the jack, lug wrench and blown tire. If your spare tire had air in it, you should be able to continue your journey.

Finally: Remember if you have a temporary spare tire (AKA doughnut) you can only drive a few miles to a service station and usually not over 50 MPH.

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