Monday, December 18

Three Auto Repairs You Can Do at Home: Change Oil, Battery, Wipers

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If you own a car, you might one day decide to tackle some of the simpler kind of repairs yourself. Here are three easy repairs you can do yourself with the help of a few tools and a little time:

Change the oil:

How often do you need to change your oil? Experts disagree. Much depends on the age and condition of the engine, your driving habits (high speed, peeling out, dirt roads), whether your car is driven primarily on the highway or around town and other factors, such as extreme heat or cold climate.. Owners’ manuals may recommend going 3,000 miles between oil changes, or 10,000.  The famous “Car Talk” experts, Tom and Ray, recommend changing it every 5,000 miles. Check your oil level every 3-400 miles – if it looks dark, change it.

Since clean oil is essential to the proper operation of your vehicle, let’s talk about oil for a moment. In the high temperatures connected to engine operation, oil breaks down and becomes less efficient as a lubricant. Engine parts start to rub against each other. Also, the additives in oil get used up resulting in a loss of engine efficiency. Also, oil tends to pick up dust, combustion byproducts and water, and hold them in suspension. Once the oil is saturated with contaminants, it will stop absorbing them. When the oil is changed, the left-behind sludge stays in your engine.

Now, let’s get started:

You’ll need a jack and jack stand or some ramps, newspapers, an oil filter wrench, box-end wrench and a large bowl or bucket to contain the old oil.

Take your car for a little trip around the streets, to heat and thin the oil so it will drain completely. If you don’t have a heat gauge, turn on the heater and drive until your feet get warm. Take the car home and park it on a flat spot. Pull the emergency brake on. Use jack stands.

Get under the car with the container and open the drain plug. Look for it close to the ground – look for a label, “drain plug.” Don’t mistake it for the transmission plug; the oil plug has a smaller nut and will feel hot to the touch. Don’t take the nut all the way off. Spread the newspaper under the car. Locate the oil filter (a blunt cone). Put the container under the grain plug. Adjust so the stream goes straight down, then remove. It will take about two minutes to drain all the oil. When the oil is drained, remove the oil filter. Take it out carefully, it will contain some oil. Keep your face out of the way. Drain its oil into the container. Open the hood of the car and remove the oil filter cap. At this point you can take a break, give the oil a chance to finish draining. Before replacing the oil filter, stick a finger in the drain pan, coat the rubber gasket on the filter’s bottom with oil. Take a clean cloth and wipe the metal circle where the oil filter will sit. When it is clean, thread the new filter on. Tighten it by hand or use a socket wrench. The drain plug needs a new sealing washer. With that installed, reinstall the drain plug. Don’t tighten it too tight. Using a funnel, pour the contents of the drain pan into an empty bottle. Close it up tight and clean the funnel. Using the cleaned funnel, pour in your quarts of oil into the oil filter hole. Check the level – it should read “full.” (DO NOT OVERFILL. Too much oil can be whipped into a froth by the swiftly-turning crankshaft, and the pump can’t deal with froth). Recycle the old oil filter in a plastic bag. Most national chains like Jiffylube, Grease Monkey, etc., will accept your used oil and filter. Start the car and check for leaks. Later in the day, check the level again and for leaks. Check your oil often if your car is an older model – sooner or later, all cars start burning oil.

Here are some tips for changing your oil:

Make sure you are unscrewing the right drain plug. Even mechanics sometimes err here.

Wear gloves, and spread newspaper under the drain pan before draining the oil. An old blanket may work even better.

For old cars, use a thick oil such as 10W40. In winter, oil stays thick, so go to a thinner oil like 5W30.

Before starting to change your oil, rub some dishwashing detergent into your hands like a hand lotion. Your hands will come a lot cleaner.

Replace the Battery

Disconnect the terminals from the old battery (negative/black first, then and take it with you when you go to buy the new one. Your dealer or your mechanic will know which is the right battery for your car. Clean the terminals using a wire brush and a water/baking soda mixture. Buy the proper battery for your car (ask the dealer or your mechanic). Take the old battery with you for recycling. Disconnect the terminals and replace if damaged. Install the new battery (use the same orientation used in the old battery) and fit the frame around it. Fasten securely. Connect the terminals to the battery – positive to positive then negative to negative. Make sure they’re good and tight.

Then, start the engine to test the battery.

 Here are some tips about batteries:

Before you disconnect the battery, be sure you know the code to your anti-theft radio, as disconnecting the battery wipes the code from the radio’s memory.

Wear safety glasses when changing the battery. There is a battery terminal protection spray that will fight corrosion and prolong battery life.

On GM cars, take special care not to over-tighten the bolts on the side terminals, for if may break the alpha terminal to break, requiring the purchase of another battery.

Check the date code sticker on the battery you buy. If it is older than six months, reject it.

Wear gloves while changing your battery, and after the job is done, try not to touch anything until you can clean up. Battery acid has a disappointing affect on concrete, rubber, paint, plastic and your skin.

Replacing Windshield Wipers

 When you buy your new wiper blades, you will usually find included with the rubber wipers the support structure. The entire assembly is called the “wiper blade.

At the store, look up the car’s make and model in their reference books, or have a clerk do this for you.  Make sure you get the proper wiper blades for your car. 

The package also includes several styles of blade attachments: a small plastic piece that fastens the new blade to the wiper arm. Use the same style as was on your old blades.

Remove the old blades by pulling them up and away from the car until they stick out from the windshield.

Remove the small plastic piece holding the blade to the support structure. Use a screwdriver to depress the small tab. There may be a small metal bump with two tabs on the sides; push down on the tabs and pull hard. Replace the old attachment with the new one. Fix the blade to the windshield wiper arm. Turn on the wipers to test them. If they slip, make sure the attachments are seated firmly.

Here are some tips regarding wiper blades:

Replacing Windshield Wipers

1. When you buy your new wiper blades, you will usually find included with the rubber wipers the support structure. The entire assembly is called the “wiper blade.”

2. At the store, look up the car’s make and model in their reference books, or have a clerk do this for you. Make sure you get the proper wiper blades for your car.

3. The package also includes several styles of blade attachments: a small plastic piece that fastens the new blade to the wiper arm. Use the same style as was on your old blades.

4. Remove the old blades by pulling them up and away from the car until they stick out from the windshield.

5. Remove the small plastic piece holding the blade to the support structure. Use a screwdriver to depress the small tab. There may be a small metal bump with two tabs on the sides; push down on the tabs and pull hard.

6. Replace the old attachment with the new one.

7. Fix the blade to the windshield wiper arm.

8. Turn on the wipers to test them. If they slip, make sure the attachments are seated firmly.

Here are some tips regarding wiper blades:

You have the option of replacing just the rubber blade, but it is better to replace the whole thing, because not all refills are the same in width.

Expect some fumbling if this is the first time you have changed your wiper blades.

Handle the wiper blades carefully; do not let them bang against the windshield.

Never run your windshield wipers over ice.

Make your wipers last longer by occasionally leaving them on when you turn the engine off. This bends the rubber in the other directions and helps prevent the wipers developing a “memory.”

Armor All or a similar product used on the rubber blades will help keep them flexible and long-lasting.

After you have done these repairs several times, you will be in a position to advance to more complex repairs. Eventually you will save enough to buy a new car!

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