Car Repair for Beginners

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Looking under the hood of a car can be daunting to a first-time mechanic. All the hoses, belts, wires, tubes all mangled together makes one wonder how an automobile engine ever works. The reason they do is that different components work together to make the engine perform, move the car and operate all the various accessories. A beginner wanting to do repairs should start by knowing the different systems and what they do. Repairing a specific system like "fix the water pump" or "repair the steering" sound a lot less daunting than "repair the car."

Drive systems

  • All automobiles, whether domestic or import, share the same drive systems: electrical, fuel, combustion, driveshaft, coolant, lubrication and transmission. These systems (working in this order) produce the horsepower to move the car. Someone beginning to do auto repair should familiarize themselves with each of these systems and their components:

    • Electrical is the battery, alternator, wiring, distributor, spark plugs and the accessory machines that drive everything from the radiator fan to the air conditioner.

    • Fuel is the gas tank, fuel lines, fuel pump, fuel injection or carburetor and the exhaust system on the other side of the engine. Fuel goes in, exhaust comes out.

    • Combustion is the area of the engine where the spark plugs, carburetor or fuel injection, air filter, camshaft, cams valves, pistons, rings and cylinders make fire in the engine to produce power.

    • Drivetrain is the connecting rods from the piston driving the driveshaft to make revolutions to spin the transmission.

    • Coolant. This is not the air conditioner but the radiator and water pump that keeps the engine from overheating.

    • Lubrication. This includes the oil sump (where all the oil is located), oil pump and the lines getting oil to the various mechanical parts.

    • Transmission is attached to the driveshaft through a gearbox and transmits power to the wheels to make them go--while the brakes make them stop.

Repairing each system

  • When a problem occurs the first thing to do is troubleshoot what the problem is and where it is located. Determine the system affected and work on that system. Don't take the combustion chamber apart (on top of the engine and right under the spark plugs) if there is a transmission problem. If the car overheats it's probably not a problem with the fuel system. Don't worry about the radiator if there is oil on the ground, it's a lubrication problem. Also, most modern cars built in the past 30 years are very modular. Individual components like pumps, small motors and other parts are "plug-and-play" design. Car repair most of the time means removing and replacing a part. Very rarely does a beginner doing auto repair have to "fix" anything, just replace it. Knowing what to replace and where to find it more than half the job.

Tools

  • The most important investment any beginner doing auto repair can make is buying the right tools. You might have a hammer and saw in the garage but they won't get your far under the hood. Look for a good variety of sockets and a drive (replaceable pieces that fit different nuts and bolts), adjustable wrenches, different size and kinds of screwdrivers (flathead, Philips head, six-side Allen wrenches), pliers, clamps, metal files and lots of pumice hand cleaner to wash up when you're done. You know if you have to wash all the way up to your elbows you got in pretty deep to fix the problem.

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