You need to have the proper tools before you attempt most of these car maintenance medium tasks.
However, you can occasionally substitute an all-purpose tool, e.g., a small adjustable wrench, for specific equipment.
I recommend that you buy a set of metric auto wrenches if you have a foreign car or an American car that requires metric tools.
Sometimes auto parts stores have these on sale, and that is an excellent time to buy and save money; the charge fluctuates depending on the number and quality of the tools.
If your car is American, especially an older model, you may need specific wrenches and tools labeled in inches or fractions to work on it.
Buy only those you must have because, within a few years, all new American cars will require metric tools.
a man doing car maintenance
Here are some medium tasks on car maintenance you should perform if you have the right tools and equipment, some mechanical ability, and the time and patience to do them.
Repacking the front wheel bearings-drum brakes
Repacking the front wheel bearings-disc brakes
Flushing the cooling system
Replacing the thermostat
Changing the hoses
Lubricating the car
Changing the oil and the oil filter
Changing drive belts
REPACKING THE FRONT WHEEL BEARINGS-DRUM BRAKES
Things you will need:
A one-pound can of Wolfs Head Lube super-duty and wheel bearing grease or the equivalent, or whatever your Owner’s Manual recommends. Be sure the grease is water-resistant; an inferior grease will melt under the hub’s ordinary operating temperatures and get on the brakes, causing serious trouble.
Two 2-inch-long cotter pins,
Two new grease seals
Small can of kerosene (to soak bearings, nut, and washers)
Ballpeen hammer with wooden handle
Adjustable pliers (slip-joint type)
Large slot-blade screwdriver
Lots of old rags
Typically, the bearings need repacking every twelve months or 10,000 miles; double-check with your Owner’s Manual.
Set the emergency brake and place chock blocks in front and back of one rear wheel. Use the bumper jack to lift a front wheel off the ground.
Use a jack stand below the front suspension (a jack stand is used to hold up securely either the front or the rear of a car that has been lifted with a bumper jack).
Never use concrete blocks or just a bumper jack to hold up the car while you work on it – concrete blocks are brittle and may collapse suddenly, and a bumper jack can fail without warning.
Remove the wheel. Spin the hub to detect noise, which indicates faulty bearings.
Use the hammer, screwdriver, and pliers to remove the metal dust cap covering the hub; then use the pliers to remove the cotter pin.
Unscrew the nut counterclockwise, and put the nut and washer in the kerosene can.
Pull slightly on the round wheel hub.
As the hub comes towards you, the outer bearing will fall in your hand. Put the bearing in the kerosene. Remove the hub entirely and place it on a flat surface with the inside facing down.
Use the ball peen hammer’s wooden handle to knock out the grease seal, allowing the inner bearing to come out.
Caution! Do not drive the grease seal out with a metal object be¬cause bearing damage will result. Use kerosene to clean all the old grease off both bearings and out of the hub.
Wipe off the kerosene, and then blow the bearings dry with a vacuum cleaner. Inspect all bearings for pits and surface scars.
Any bearing damage means new bearings are needed.
In that case, I suggest that you grease the damaged bearing and reassemble the wheel, and then go to a reputable mechanic and get him to inspect all front wheel bearings and replace needed parts.
Damaged bearings mean the bearing race or track that they move-in may be damaged, and replacing this is a job for the professional.
If you find no bearing damage, take the inner bearing first and thoroughly work the wheel bearing grease into all the bearing and the hub parts.
Be generous; grease is inexpensive.
Replace the inner bearing and use the hammer’s head to put in a new grease seal. Put the wheel hub back on the axle.
Coat the outer bearing with grease and replace the bearing in the wheel hub.
Restore the washer and nut, tightening the nut as far as possible, and then turning it back just enough to align the holes for the cotter pin.
Put in a new cotter pin and spread the ends so that they appear the way you found the old cotter pin. Use the hammer to replace the dust cover on the hub.
The wheel hub should rotate smoothly. Put the wheel back on. Next, remove the jack stand and the jack, and repeat the other front wheel’s operation.
Caution! The cotter pin prevents the nut from unscrewing and the wheel from coming off. Failure to follow instructions can be hazardous to the operator and others.
Be careful not to get any grease on the brake linings. After repacking your wheels, ask a reputable mechanic to check them if you have any doubts about whether the job has been done correctly.
REPACKING THE FRONT WHEEL BEARINGS-DISC BRAKES
Things you will need:
All the items listed above for drum brake wheels
Two 1x4x12-inch boards
Four retaining pin nuts
Piece of flexible wire 18 inches long for hanging the caliper
Nut driver or socket wrench
Read the previous section on repacking the front wheel bearings- drum brakes.
Follow the same procedure to jack up the vehicle and remove the wheel, the dust cap, the cotter pin, and the nut and washer.
Use a screwdriver to pry both mounting-pin retaining nuts off. (These nuts are usually held on with friction, and the mounting pins are not threaded.)
Remove the two mounting pins that hold the caliper by using a set of pliers-giving a twisting, turning, pulling motion.
Lift the caliper off the disc, then use the wire to hang the caliper from the front suspension. Don’t let the caliper hang by the brake line.
Pull the disc wheel hub outward, and the outer wheel bearing will fall into your hands. Put the bearing in the kerosene can.
Place the wheel hub on the wooden boards. Inside down with the boards near the disc’s outer edge, leaving the center of the hub unob¬structed.
Use the ball peen hammer’s wooden handle to knock the grease seal out; then, the inner bearing will come out. Invert the whole hub to remove the inner bearing.
Follow the same process as with drum brake wheels to clean the old grease off, inspect the bearings, apply bearing grease, and replace the inner bearing and new grease seal.
Next, put the wheel hub back on the axle, coat the outer wheel bearing with grease and replace it along with the washer, nut, and cotter pin, as explained above.
Replace the caliper and the two caliper mounting pins. Put the two new retaining pin nuts on the retaining pins’ ends by applying pressure with a nut driver or a socket from a socket set.
Replace the dust seal at the hub. Replace the wheel, remove the jack stand and jack, and proceed to the other front wheel. Follow the additional cautionary note.
FLUSHING THE COOLING SYSTEM
Things you will need:
Antifreeze solution (See our Owner’s Manual for the amount of coolant needed)
Park the car on a city street or somewhere other than your paved driveway. Otherwise, the rusty water from the radiator may cause red iron stains, or the old antifreeze may kill your grass.
If yours is a conventional cooling system, remove the radiator cap, start the car, and let the car engine idle for about ten minutes to bring it to operating temperature, then shut off the engine.
Use the pliers to loosen the underside of the radiator by turning the winged screw counterclockwise.
After you loosen the petcock, put the pliers down and use your fingers to turn the screw valve as far open as it will go, but do not force the screw valve; it is not supposed to come ultimately out, so stop just when it gets difficult to turn.
Be careful of getting scalded! The water from the radiator will be hot. Keep the radiator cap off, so the liquid will flow better; then crank the engine again and let it idle.
Has your water hose hooked up, ready to replenish the water in the cooling system as soon as all the liquid is drained out? This step is called Hushing the system.
Remember that the engine is idling, so keep your hands away from the spinning fan blades.
When you have filled the radiator full, and it has drained out-do this twice-stop the engine.
Close the petcock with your fingers and then use the pliers to tighten the winged screw nut so the petcock will not leak.
Do not put all your strength into tightening the screw because you may strip the threads.
Take the proper amount of antifreeze or antifreeze-and-water solution and prepare to pour it into the radiator.
Start the engine before you pour coolant into the radiator.
You may damage the engine if you pour cold liquid into the radiator when the engine is hot and not running. Fill the car radiator until the core is covered, and then stop the engine and replace the radiator cap.
The radiator cap on some sealed systems is labeled “”Do Not Open.”” Flushing the system is an exception, so remove the lid and start the engine.
Then follow the same steps as with a conventional cooling system.
Finally, empty the plastic container of coolant and refill with new.
You may use faucet water in flushing the cooling system because of the convenience; the water is passing through the engine and flushing out sediment and rust.
But, as stated before, rainwater or distilled water mixed with antifreeze is best for your cooling system and should be used for the final fill-up.
REPLACING THE THERMOSTAT
Things you will need:
The new thermostat of the proper size and temperature rating
Socket set or box wrenches
The thermostat is located in the engine block where the top radiator hose connects to the engine. Drain and save the coolant.
Use the socket set or box wrenches to remove the nuts holding the thermostat housing attached to the radiator hose. You may have to remove the alternator bracket or other metal parts.
Remove the old thermostat and gasket, and clean the recessed portion of the housing so the new thermostat will fit properly.
Place the new thermostat in the block in the same direction as the old thermostat. Apply gasket cement to both sides of the new gasket. Install the gasket and replace the thermostat housing.
Tighten the nuts after replacing all brackets. Don’t forget to replace the coolant.
Caution.” Install the thermostat with the proper side facing inward. A thermostat is usually marked to show the appropriate direction in which it should be installed.
CHANGING THE HOSES
Things you will need:
New hose or hoses
Two new clamps for each hose (screw type)
Adjustable slip-joint pliers
I suggest that you change the two radiator hoses every two years. First, drain and save the coolant from the radiator.
Use the pliers to remove the clamps from the hose to be replaced.
The original clamps are probably the spring-steel type designed for trench pliers.
You should be able to remove them with adjustable slip-joint pliers. Pull firmly on the hose, using a twisting, turning motion until both ends are free.
Install the new hose and tighten the new clamps with a screwdriver. Replace the coolant in the radiator.
LUBRICATING THE CAR
Things you will need:
Grease gun (pistol type)
The cartridge of grease to fit the gun
Two jack stands or two metal car ramps, each with a capacity of 2,500 pounds, or at least half the weight of your car
Tools as needed
Auto creeper (optional)
An auto creeper is not essential, but it is handy for the amateur mechanic.
It is a flat, boardlike device with four small wheels and enables the operator to lie on his back and move quickly to various locations under the car when greasing it or performing other service work.
Frequently, a lube job and a change of oil and oil filter are performed simultaneously.
If you do these tasks yourself, it is the ideal time to check the various other fluids in the car: battery, radiator, transmission, brake, and power steering.
Jack stands (grease gun and oil filter wrench in the center)
I suggest you go to a service station and have grease fittings installed if you have a new car that came from the factory with “”plugs”” instead of a grease fitting, necessary to grease a car.
If your vehicle already has grease fittings, then proceed.
Consult your Owner’s Manual to learn how many grease fittings are on your vehicle, as the number varies greatly depending on the make and year of the car.
Install the emergency brake, put chock blocks in front and back of a rear wheel, and use the bumper jack to lift the front, one side at a time, for your jack stands.
Or drive the car up on the car ramps, fixed the emergency brake, and chock a rear wheel.
Caution! Never work under an automobile held up by a bumper jack or concrete blocks! The bumper jack may give way with no warning, and concrete blocks are brittle and may collapse suddenly.
Use a rag to wipe off each grease fitting. Press the grease gun hose connector onto each fitting and hold the connector on with one hand.
Operating the trigger with the other hand to apply grease to the fitting.
You should pump grease into the fitting until you see the boot begin to expand. Stop! It is not necessary to force oil to come out of the joint. Be sure to grease all fittings; do not neglect a single one.
Remove the jack stands from the front or back of the car off the ramp. Place the jack stands under the rear axle.
Remove the filler plug on the differential; the location of the socket varies -look for it. You may need a unique tool or wrench.
For example, an inches drive handle for a socket set fits some General Motors cars, while other vehicles may require an open-end or box wrench.
When the plug is removed, stick your little finger in the opening to check the differential grease level. The grease should be inches below the top of the opening.
Go to a service station to have differential grease added if the grease level is too low.
The station has a pressure gun and the proper grease, and there is no easy way for the car owner to add it to the differential.
If the differential has sufficient grease, replace the plug, remove the jack, or take the car off the ramps.
CHANGING THE OIL AND THE OIL FILTER
Things you will need:
Oil filter wrench
The new oil filter (a proper number for your car)
Plastic dishpan or container that will hold up to two gallons (for the used oil)
Two jack stands or two metal ramps, each with a capacity of 2,500 pounds, or at least half the weight of your car
Box wrench to fit oil drain plug
Oil (the required number of quarts of the proper oil)
Pouring spout, or funnel and can opener
Wheel bearing grease
Auto creeper (optional)
Some people consider changing the oil and changing the oil filter as two separate tasks. But I think of them as one task because I recommend replacing the oil filter when you change the oil.
Set the emergency brake and put chock blocks in front and back of one rear wheel. Use the bumper jack to lift the front, one side at a time, so you can place your jack stands under the front.
Or drive the front wheels on the car ramps, set the emergency brake, and chock a rear wheel. Let the car engine idle for five minutes and then turn it off.
Caution! Never work under a car held up by a bumper jack! The bumper jack is not safe when you have to get under the vehicle.
Do not use concrete blocks to hold up the car, as they are brittle and may collapse suddenly.
Place the dishpan under the oil drain plug. Use your box wrench to remove it. After all the oil drains out, replace the oil drain plug and tighten.
Then place the dishpan beneath the oil filter and use your oil filter wrench to unscrew it and remove it. Apply wheel bearing grease on the rubber seal of the new-good oil filter.
Install the new filter and tighten it with your hands.
Never use the oil filter wrench to tighten the filter or have great difficulty removing it in the future.
Open the oil filler cap and use the oil can pouring spout to add the necessary quarts of oil, or use the can opener on the cans and add oil through the funnel.
As some oil will usually be spilled with a pouring spout, I strongly urge you to use a fit funnel to pour oil into the engine if your car is a Chevrolet Vega.
Any spilled oil goes into the alternator on the Vega (and perhaps on some other cars) and can cause expensive repair bills. Replace the oil cap filter.
Crank the car engine and just let it idle for five minutes while looking underneath the car to see if any oil is leaking at the drain plug or at the new filter.
Bury the old oil, or put it in empty milk containers and place it in the garbage.
Caution! Some discount auto parts stores sell a device called an “electric-drill-powered oil changer.”
By attaching an electric drill to a unique pump device and lowering a hose into the oil dipstick sheath, a person can pump the oil out of his engine to save the trouble of getting underneath the car.
Do not buy this gadget! No pump can altogether remove all the dirty oil from the crankcase, and the oil remaining will contaminate the clean fuel that you add.
When you remove the drain plug from a warm engine, the oil will flow out rapidly, taking with it any metal particles, sludge, and other materials that have settled in the bottom of the crankcase. Still, the oil pump will not remove all of this material.
Inspect the PCV or positive crankcase ventilation valve at each oil change. The PCV valve helps to cut down on air pollution and must be clean to maintain efficient engine operation.
The location of PCV valves varies with different makes and models of cars.
A hose connects to the PCV valve, and usually, this valve is placed in the rocker arm cover, and the other end of it connects at the carburetor base.
To locate the PCV valve on your car engine, refer to your Owner’s Manual or ask your mechanic. Some older cars do not have a PCV valve.
My Owner’s Manual recommends that this valve be inspected at each oil change and replaced every twenty-four months or 24,000 miles, whichever occurs first.
After you locate the PCV valve, remove it from the engine, using pliers to disconnect it from the hose. Shake the PCV valve: if it rattles, the valve is not jammed and is satisfactory.
If it does not rattle, replace it. Another way to check it is to crank the engine and put your finger above the end of the PCV valve: if you feel a vacuum, it is all right; if not, it needs replacing.
CHANGING DRIVE BELTS
Things you will need:
New belt(s)-be sure to get the proper type and length.
Tools: box wrenches, socket wrenches, etc.
Belts should be changed whenever they show signs of wear, such as frayed edges. It is an excellent approach to replace all belts every 24,000 miles or two years.
Be sure to check the belts if you are starting on a long trip. Modern automobile engines have one or more drive belts; their number depends on the accessories you have, such as air conditioning and power steering.
To change one frayed or broken belt, you may have to remove one or more other belts.
Use your box wrenches, socket wrenches, or other tools to loosen or remove brackets and parts obstructing the removal of old belts and the installation of new belts.
Most auto parts dealers have belts that will fit both American and foreign cars. Try your foreign car dealer if you cannot find the needed belt for your foreign vehicle at an auto parts store.
It is essential to install the new belt with the proper amount of tension. Use your jack handle to provide leverage on the various pulleys until you have the correct pressure in the belt.
Then tighten nuts or bolts to keep the tension. The belt tension is about right when you push on the center of a belt between two pulleys 12 inches apart, and the pressure depresses the belt about inches.
A belt is slipping and should be tightened if you hear a squealing noise when the engine is running. Belt dressing preparation is also available if a belt with proper tension is slipping.
After replacing a worn belt that is not broken, keep the old belt in the vehicle’s trunk as a spare.