There's a lot to be said about knowing the inner workings of a car. It's empowering. We need to know how it works, how to drive it properly and also how to fix it when something goes terribly wrong, because knowledge really is power. That old saying may be worn to the bone, but it’s true in every way.
When it comes to repairing, maintaining and servicing your own car, it's also true that there are several limitations and restrictions to keep in mind. Perhaps the biggest of these is that performing many of these jobs on your own car could land you in a lot of hot water with your insurer. So, it's crucial that you always, always, always check with your insurer or broker before deciding to undertake any DIY car projects.
And then, of course, some jobs require specific expertise or equipment to complete, and in these cases it is always far wiser to speak to a qualified mechanic.
But, luckily, a bare-bones basic service is well within the capability of the average person. In Part One of this guide, we took a look at the important When's, What's and If's of performing your own basic car service at home. When is it time to service your car? Which tasks will you be undertaking? What are the tools you'll need for the job?
Are you nervous? Don't be! People are often hesitant when it comes to opening the hood and getting their hands dirty. Remember: the parts of a car can only come apart and go back together the same way. It’s a matter of nuts and bolts and keeping track of what goes where. So, take pictures, draw diagrams, use colour-coded systems and take it slow.
Alrighty then, you're all set to get started! But first...
Safety always comes first, so here are a couple of very important things to keep in mind when servicing your own car.
Always be sure that your car is securely supported with jack stands or blocks before putting any part of your body beneath it, and to avoid running yourself over with your own car, always secure the wheels with blocks and put your transmission into Park or Neutral before getting to work.
Always disconnect the battery before working on the starting or charging system, and never, ever bring any spark or flame near the battery or fuel system.
Exercise extreme caution when opening the radiator cap, or you may just parboil yourself or a bystander alive.
Where possible, use the box end of a wrench on nuts and bolts, and avoid stripping them with the open end.
Try to do your work over a sheet or mat, and always clean up and and all leaked fluids. Not only could flammable fluids ignite, but they could also poison any pets or children around. Plus, it'll ruin your driveway.
Patience is key. Take it slow. Remember: act in haste and you will repent at your leisure. Don't lose your temper, and pay close attention to what you're doing. Do it right the first time, because nobody wants a wheel coming off while doing 120km/h down the highway.
Never forget the law of Murphy.
The key to this job is being methodical. Let your car idle for a few minutes beforehand, just to warm it up. This will make the job easier. To do this, you’ll need to get underneath your car, so you could either jack the front of the car up on both sides and put a couple of jack stands or cinder blocks under there (to prevent you from dying), or you could invest in a pair of ramps.
Oil pan, socket wrench, rags, new oil filter, new engine oil and a new washer for the sump plug (just in case).
Engine oil is stored in the sump at the bottom of the engine. Once your car is up and secure, place some cardboard beneath the sump area and put your oil pan under the sump plug. The sump plug is a bolt attached to the lowest part of the sump, which you then remove with your socket wrench.
To avoid having a nervous breakdown, try not to drop the plug into the oil pan.
The warm oil will gush out, so best avoid getting your hands in the way. While the old oil drains (it could be up to 5l), open up the hood and remove the oil filter, as well as the engine oil filler cap on top of the engine.
These should look something like this:
Both of these should come off with good old elbow grease, but if you struggle, there is an oil filter wrench specifically designed for this.
Wait for the oil to drain. Once it’s done, you can throw the old filter away. Line the inlet of the new oil filter with some new engine oil and then gently screw it onto the fitting. It should sit firmly with the rubber seal. You then need to top your engine up with fresh oil.
If you haven’t put the sump plug back in before doing so, you’re in for a very bad time.
Once you’ve topped the oil up, check the dipstick, and do so after regular intervals until the oil remains at the ‘full’ mark. If satisfied, start the engine and allow it to idle for 5 minutes. After that, check the dipstick again and add any necessary oil. Do not overfill. Afterwards, check the filter and sump for any leaks. Then comes the fun part…
The engine needs air to run. The air mixes with fuel, the piston compresses the mixture, the spark plug provides the spark, and presto! You’ve got internal combustion. So, for maximum efficiency, the air needs to be as clean as possible. For that, you need a clean air filter, made of porous, paper-like material.
New air filter, your hands, perhaps a screwdriver.
Most filters are rectangular, but older cars that have carburettors use a donut-shaped air filter. This air filter is connected to the engine’s intake manifold. Open your bonnet and locate the air filter box. This is usually a black plastic box on top of, or beside, your engine. Open the box up and remove the old, dirty filter. Put the new filter in, make sure it’s the right way round and fits snugly. Close the box.
Aaaaaaand, you’re done.
A clogged fuel filter could eventually prevent your car from running at all. While some may last a long time, it is still advisable to replace it every now and then.
If your filter is located underneath the car, you’ll have to jack the car up, or move it up onto ramps, and secure it. Before beginning, make sure that the area you work in is well-ventilated. It goes without saying that lighting up a cigarette while doing this job is the easiest way to get yourself killed.
Your car may have either an in-line fuel filter or an in-tank fuel filter. The latter is infinitely more complicated to replace.
An in-line fuel filter (pictured above) connects to the main line of the fuel system. To replace an in-tank fuel filter, though, will require lowering the fuel tank to remove the fuel pump assembly. If your filter is located in a hard-to-reach place, it’s probably better to get a professional do the work. These jobs do require considerable expertise.
The filter may be in the engine compartment, mounted on the firewall, under the vehicle, mounted on the frame near the driver's side, or close to the fuel tank. If you don't see the filter, you can follow the main fuel line from the engine towards the fuel tank.
Let’s look at how to replace the easier in-line fuel filter.
New fuel filter, rags, line wrench and screwdrivers.
First, you need to relieve the pressure in the fuel line, before disconnecting it. To do this, loosen your petrol cap and then remove the fuel pump fuse. Every car has a small fuse panel, either under the hood or under the dashboard. On the lid of the box, you should find a description for which fuse goes where. After removing, make sure that your gear is in neutral, handbrake is up and then go ahead and start your engine.
Let it idle until it stalls. Now you’re ready to disconnect the fuel line.
Disconnect the negative (black) battery cable. Clean the fittings on both fuel lines connected to the filter, to avoid contamination. Make a note of how the old filter is connected (they usually have arrows printed on the case). The new one must be installed the same way.
Disconnect the fuel lines. This could involve removing hairpin clips or unscrewing the nuts which hold the lines in place. If there’s a clamp or bracket holding the filter in place, remove this as well. Follow the same steps in reverse order to install the new filter and reconnect the fuel lines.
Reconnect the battery, place the fuel pump fuse back into its slot and start the car. Check for any leaks around the filter while the car runs.
Congratulations! Your car is almost serviced. All that remains is topping up your brake fluid, water, steering fluid and engine coolant, which shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. You could also check your spark plugs, brakes, shocks and rotate your tyres if you have the means to do so.
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