Looking for a project to tackle with your newfound free time? Tired of forking over heaps of hard-earned cash for automotive repair jobs you could have just as easily done yourself? Then DIY auto repair might be for you.
While the average passenger vehicle is as complex as it’s ever been – even just popping the hood can be intimidating for some – the truth is, there are plenty of quick, simple procedures that even a rookie can handle. From fluid changes to thermostat replacements, brake jobs to simple electrical work, there are a number of DIY repairs that are well within the grasp of even the most casual of home mechanics. Provided, that is, you’re properly prepared for the job.
That’s why, with the help of our friends at eManualOnline, we’ve put together this handy guide to everything you’ll need to start tackling your first DIY car repair – from the tools you’ll need to helpful hints and advice.
Tips for Success
The most effective home mechanics plan ahead. That means securing a clean, uncluttered space to work in, mapping out each part of the process, and giving yourself plenty of time for the task at hand. That last point is important with any car, but especially older cars, where a badly corroded nut or bolt can really throw a wrench in the works, providing hours of unanticipated delays. So expect to run into unexpected delays. The last thing you want to do is rush through a repair.
In addition, take it from someone who knows: it’s easy to forget how things fit back together, especially when that means returning each screw, nut, bolt, and clip to its rightful place.
Pro tip: Take pictures before disassembly and every step of the way, then separate screws and bolts into labeled jars, dishes, or baggies depending on where they came from.
Finally, and most importantly, if any part of the process proves more involved and more frustrating than you’d anticipated, breathe, take a break, and then return to the repair with a clear head when you’re ready.
What You’ll Need
Basic Hand Tools
The most important items you’ll need in your arsenal are basic hand tools: a ratchet set, extensions, screwdrivers, pliers, Allen wrenches, and open-end/box wrenches. Most (but not all) fasteners used on the average car are of the hex cap variety, so a good mix of ratchet bit and wrench sizes will go a long way – but keep in mind that, depending on where your car was manufactured, you may have fasteners in either SAE or metric sizes.
Crazy as it sounds, it’s also good practice to keep a hammer handy, just in case you need a sudden burst of torque to break a stuck fastener loose. (As long as you remember what we said above about taking a break when frustrated…)
Jack and Jack Stands
Assuming you don’t have a two-post lift in your garage – few shadetree mechanics do – you’ll need some other means of getting your car up off the ground. Jacking your car is essential for any procedure that requires removal of one or more wheels, such as tire rotations and brake pad/rotor replacements, and it’s often necessary even for things that have nothing to do with the wheels, like oil changes.
Just keep in mind: a jack should never be used to elevate the car for an extended period; that’s what the stands are for. Be sure to follow all recommended procedures for lifting your car, and look up where the factory recommended jacking points are.
As an added precaution, always perform a “shake test” after you jack up your car to make sure it’s securely suspended, and remove your wheels and slide them underneath your car’s rocker panels so that if it does fall, it has somewhere else to land rather than on top of you.
You probably don’t spend much time thinking about how much torque you’re sending through the head of whatever bolt you’re cranking on, but in auto repair, it’s an essential thing to keep in mind. Each and every fastener has a specified torque rating, based on how much clamping force it’s supposed to provide, and you’d be wise to follow it.
That’s why torque wrenches exist. The most common sort you’ll see today is the “click” type, and it’s in every good DIY mechanic’s tool kit. It’s essentially a normal ratchet, except that it clicks loudly when you hit a selected torque threshold.
Depending on the job you’re looking to tackle, you may have to pick up a few specialty tools – implements designed with a narrow purpose in mind.
These may include (but are not limited to):
- A brake piston compressor set, for compressing the pistons on your brake calipers for pad and rotor replacement.
- A brake pressure bleeder, for pressurizing the brake fluid and facilitating one-man brake and hydraulic clutch bleeding.
- A ball joint separator, for driving tie rod and control arm ball joints out of the wheel knuckle.
- A bearing puller set, for safely removing bearings for replacement.
You might also look at some unique driver bits, like a good set of torx and triple-square bits – especially if you have a Volkswagen Group product.
Of course, no DIY auto repair would get anywhere without proper instruction. Every car is different, with unique packaging, equipment, and quirks, so the fact your Uncle Jim was easily able to replace the rear drums on his ‘67 Mustang and bleed the system has little bearing on his ability to help you with your 2019 Honda’s modern ABS disc brakes.
That’s where eManualOnline comes in. Founded in 2005, eManualOnline is home to well over 1 million repair and service manuals covering cars, trucks, SUVs, motorbikes, ATVs, construction equipment – you name it. Best of all, when you purchase from eManualOnline, you’re immediately taken to a download page, giving you instant access, and the manual is yours for life – not a 12-month subscription like those other guys.
eManualOnline provides industry standard software used by dealerships and professional mechanics around the world and the company’s line of digital manuals cover vehicles from over 100 different makes, with repair manuals, service schedules, maintenance manuals, wiring diagrams, and diagnostics for manufacturers like Audi, BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Mercedes, Nissan, Volkswagon, Volvo and more.
Consulting a repair manual can give you all the information you need to keep your car running smoothly, from quick-and-easy jobs like changing the air filter to more complex repairs like a total engine overhaul. Simply put, they’re an invaluable resource, and one that can empower even the greenest of rookie home mechanics to tackle whatever DIY auto repair project they’ve got their sights set on.
Even better: right now, eManualOnline is offering AutoGuide readers a discount good for 20% off, using the code AUTOGUIDE20. Click here to shop their site and get started on your first DIY auto repair today. Then let us know what projects you’re planning to tackle in the comments below!