In Part One of Car DIY, I mentioned that I once owned a 1977 VW Beetle. Anybody who’s ever owned a Beetle knows that if you look after it and maintain it, it’s one of the most indestructible cars you’ll ever drive.
Being young and stupid, however, I didn’t quite take care of it as well as I should have. Things started to break. The clutch cable, the distributor cap, the starter, etc. Brakes were a permanent problem. The car caught fire twice. The Beetle’s battery sits underneath the back seat. One day I took a speedbump too hard and the battery shorted out against the steel frame underneath the seat and set the car alight. The second time, an oil leak I’d been ignoring for months finally caught fire – and that was the end of the engine.
That’s how I found out about magnesium engines and how they couldn’t care less about your silly fire extinguisher.
Long story short, many Beetle repairs can be done with nothing but a butter knife. That’s how easy it is. For people who aren’t living in the Stone Age, we’ll have a look at some easy, DIY repair jobs to save you money. But first…
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When Is It Time To Service Your Car?
According to manufacturer guidelines, your car should be serviced after a certain amount of mileage or time has passed. If you haven’t kept track of it, here are some tell-tale signs that your vehicle is due:
1. The Engine Warning Light
The most obvious sign that something has gone awry with your engine, is the engine warning light. Most modern cars use this to tell you that it’s time for a service. It’s nothing to panic about, but it is advisable to service it as soon as possible.
2. Smoke or Steam Coming Out From Under the Bonnet
This is another obvious sign that something is terribly wrong. Steam is generally white in colour and could indicate a problem with your radiator, such as overheating. Best idea? Pull over and let your car cool down.
Blue or dark smoke, on the other hand, indicates a big problem. It’s better to pull over and have your car towed to its destination. Blue smoke is generally caused by burning oil, and obviously, this can lead to a number of bigger problems.
It could be due to piston wear, worn valve seals, piston rings, worn engine oil seals, head gasket failure or an intake manifold gas leak.
3. Vibrating / Pulling Brakes
This could be due to a problem in your steering, suspension or most likely – worn brake discs or pads. If your tyres are wearing unevenly, this is a good sign that you’re in trouble. It’s not at all safe to drive like this.
4. Strange Noises
Cars make strange noises every now and then, and the cause of which could be any number of things. Here are some common sounds:
Loud whining – Could be caused by a loose belt. This could wreak havoc, from battery problems to overheating.
Extra loud exhaust noise – This is most likely due to a hole or crack in your exhaust.
Squealing when you step on the brake – This is probably caused by worn brake pads.
Crunching gears – The gear box goes through wear and tear, just like everything else. Fluids and parts often need replacing. A crunching sound when you change gears means it’s time for a full service.
Uneven engine noise – Most car owners have experienced this, and lost countless nights of sleep. What is it? Where’s it coming from? You may hear it best when your car is idling. Your engine could be misfiring, or there’s something wrong with the way it handles the fuel/air mixture, or you may just need to change the sparkplugs.
Scraping – Any sound of metal scraping against metal needs to be investigated as soon as possible. Likewise, if you hear your tyres scraping against the wheel arch of the car, there’s likely something wrong with your suspension.
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What to Check in a Basic Service
The basic service is the most common and easiest to perform type of car service. This is typically an oil and filter change, a top up of key fluids in the engine and a check of key components. If you were to take your car in to a mechanic or garage, they might also check your brakes and suspension and recommend any additional repairs.
You also get full, major and manufacturers service options. Each type builds on the previous level, takes a lot more time and costs a lot more money.
So, in a basic car service, you’ll be carrying out the following maintenance tasks:
In Part Three of CAR DIY, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to perform these basic tasks.