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Old 05-08-2012, 10:16 PM   #1
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Default Tips for newbie DIY mechanic

I have a friend, and am in the process of improving his mechanical skills. He can change oil (not lightning speed, but he gets it done) and has helped with brake pad jobs. He'll be changing his shocks and struts (with my supervision) in the next few weeks, as well as handing me tools during my timing belt/water pump job.

So, after years of working on cars, I'm trying to condense things into simple, easy to remember rules. So, what are your tricks and tips for a newbie shade tree mechanic?
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Old 05-08-2012, 10:19 PM   #2
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Don't get angry, just take a break and get back to it.

Think your actions over and don't jump into it, analyzing a situation always is better than guessing.
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Old 05-08-2012, 10:45 PM   #3
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Like all first-timers, he probably thinks an engine is something super-complicated and requires precision instruments and a scientific brain to understand. A lot of guys who think they know a lot about cars would be scared shizless to do their own brakes, belt, or swap a headlight bulb because "the dealership charges so much, there's gotta be more too it."

I know 2 emergency room docs, one of them a vascular specialist who rebuilds microscopic arteries and veins for a living. He thought it was the coolest thing in the world when he saw my 1.6 BP in parts on the workbench and said he "wouldn't know where to start". His vision of engine assembly was a clean-room at the BMW plant where guys in rebreathers fabricate parts with laser-vision-goggles.

You really want to blow his mind... head to the junkyard and buy some thrown-rod 4-cyl out of an 80's whatever for like $25. Take it back to your shop and tell him to disassemble it. Provide him no help except to point to your toolbox, and the only words that should escape your lips are "just pull/push harder, it'll come loose". Don't let him finish until he's down to the last piston ring. When he rounds off bolts/nuts, show him how to Dremel the faces flat and try again. When he bleeds, laugh. When he needs a beer, hand him one. That experience alone will teach him more than you could in a week-long seminar.

Rule #1: Right tool for the right job. 99% of people who don't like working on their stuff are simply people who don't have the right tool. Tip: Explain the difference between a claw-end, open-end, box-end, and crescent wrench... why they do pretty much the same thing, but why only ONE is "right" for a particular job.

Rule #2: Slower is faster.

Rule #3: If it's too hard, stop. Grab a beer and wait for you buddy to come over and help.

Rule #4: MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC MUSIC. Play it... not too loud, not too soft... but freaking play something.

Rule #5: Clean up at the end of the day, or when you're done. Make an inventory of your tools and do a thorough sweep of wherever you were working to make sure you didn't leave anything behind. A wrench that falls off the radiator support into your fan when backing down the driveway really sucks.

LAST AND FINAL UN-NUMBERED RULE... don't loan your tools. If a buddy doesn't have the right tool, don't just give it to him... walk/drive over there and help him out, then take your tool back when finished.

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Old 05-08-2012, 10:46 PM   #4
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The best mechanics Ive ever met all learned basic theory first like how and why everything works then went and got their hands dirty doing it.

The worst mechanics Ive ever met know nothing about theory and just have experience, so when something goes wrong they only go off what they have seen fix it before.

It takes a special mindset to be a diagnostic tech, you'd be surprised how many professional mechanics know absolutely nothing about the basic workings of the major systems of a vehicle.

I would just teach him how and why ---- works first, the wrenching is the easy part

If he just wants to be a parts changer, then tell him its only nuts and bolts, and set him loose. If hes not completely retarded he will figure it out.
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Old 05-08-2012, 10:49 PM   #5
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Safety first!
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Old 05-08-2012, 11:08 PM   #6
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Good point. I only work on cars in flip flops. Trust me, when you know nothing is protecting your feet, you don't drop anything on them.

Also, if it came off, it goes back on with anti-seize. Not motor parts/lugs obviously, but when you live in the rust belt, nuts and bolts become one piece.
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Old 05-08-2012, 11:09 PM   #7
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Most of the stuff is just learn-as-you-go...jump in and figure it out.


The one rule I constantly break, and regret nearly every time, is SLOW DOWN. Think it through 10 times before you do something you're not sure about. If you're really not sure, go do 10 google searches. If that doesn't answer your question, post a thread and take your noob beating if necessary.

But that moment when you say, "Screw it, I'll just force this," I can promise you you're going to regret it.
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Old 05-08-2012, 11:25 PM   #8
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Nice post, Samnavy. That pretty much sums up how my dad taught me. Made me get in there and do it, but he'd stop me before I did anything dumb.

All except the music part. I can't stand extraneous noise when I'm working. Music is for afterwards.
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Old 05-09-2012, 12:44 AM   #9
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Samnavy summed it up.

I always tell my buddies (if I trust them enough to touch anything of mine)
If it feels wrong.....STOP! You will or are about to break something. If it's breakable or stripable I've probably done it. But I was taught how to fix most F ups. If it isn't totally F'd I can fix it wit the right tools.

Buddy of mine slightly cross threaded on of my shocks. Stopped when it felt "wrong" about a thread into it. Then I taught him how to use a tap/die set. Few weeks later when my cat converter studs stripped off he was gone and back with the tap set and going nuts having a blast getting to show his new skills to the hobby shop.
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Old 05-09-2012, 01:01 AM   #10
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I got tired of working on my buddies Miata all the time so I basically handed him a book, set of tools, and said here ya go. Created a monster...
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Old 05-09-2012, 03:19 AM   #11
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Never tighten a bolt till all the bolts are settled in at least a few threads.

The goop that holds the plastic on the door once you pull the skin off is great for holding bolts onto a socket if you have Parkinsons like I seem to have. If your in a pinch, a piece of grass will do the same thing (eco friendly also).

You'll break a TON of stuff starting out. Even someone with experience will have a fail moment or two.

To this day, I still can't work on Fwd's to save my life. Don't know why, but every time I work on one, you'd think failflora was holding the wrench.
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Old 05-09-2012, 03:22 AM   #12
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^This brings up a good point.

Have him read Faefae's thread for pointers on what Not To Do.
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Old 05-09-2012, 03:55 AM   #13
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I use a small piece of paper towel to slipped between a bolt and the socket to make the bolt sit tight in the socket. Makes long reaches where you can't hold the bolt in the socket easier, also doesn't make the bolt sticky and attract gunk. When done tightening just pull off the socket. Towel either comes with the socket or falls out the bottom of the car.

Ziplock bags, especially ones with the white label, are your friend. Bag and tag everything. Ziplock bags full of nuts are also harder to lose when they fall of the work bench then finding the one nut that rolled into the same black hole socks go to. i even zip tie the bag of nuts to whatever came off. I have my intake mani on my table with all of its associated nuts/bolts in a bag ziptied to it. Zipties are cheaper than the trip to Ace for a bolt that doesn't match the others.

When in doubt like others said, take pictures.
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Old 05-09-2012, 11:35 AM   #14
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Always have the right tools, even if you have to go to harbor frieght to afford them.

Always use a bowl/pan for small jobs with less than 10 bolts and zip locks for bigger jobs like a timing belt.

Always use the appropriate wrench for the job, don't neck down a 3/4 ratchet for a 10mm bolt, you will break it.

If you can, start all bolts/nuts by hand first.

Try to stay cool when working, try a fan or window a/c.

Take your time, its not a race. This is really nice if you have a second car to drive. When I have to work on something in a hurry I end up not enjoying myself.

Phone a friend if you don't know something.

Always check 2-3 places for prices on parts. The difference between Autozone and Oreilys can be shocking sometimes.
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Old 05-09-2012, 11:57 AM   #15
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Remind your friend that it's just a bunch of nuts, bolts, and connectors that come apart in one order, and go back together in reverse. It helps mentally me to remember that, especially large jobs (like my turbo conversion).

Label everything electrical that comes apart with masking tape and a sharpie, especially if there are multiple connectors that look similar in the same area. This has saved my *** many times And the ziplock baggies TorqueZombie suggested are a great idea plenty of them around.

The right tool/s for the job is the old adage, but I can get a lot done with very little. I have a small toolbag that lives in the trunk of my Miata, and I could probably knock out anything short of dropping the trans or pulling a subframe/the motor with what's in there. Teach your friend to be resourceful without being destructive.
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Old 05-09-2012, 12:22 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by samnavy View Post
Rule #1: Right tool for the right job.

Rule #5: Clean up at the end of the day, or when you're done. Make an inventory of your tools and do a thorough sweep of wherever you were working to make sure you didn't leave anything behind.
These are the most important.

Rule 5 I practiced religiously when I was a tech for a few reasons, theft in particular whether an accident, or on purpose. Now all my tools are in my garage, and I cant seem to ever put them up when i'm done. I can just close the garage, and everything is safe, especially at 3am after working on a car for 10 hours.

After working on cars for so long, leaving tools behind is a very rare occurrence for me, but when your starting out, this is a very important reason for rule 5.

As you get better, inevitably you will have family, friends, neighbors, friends of friend of friends call you to do work, and having your tools in the right place makes all the difference in the time it takes to do a job. Also if you unorganized you tend to forget rule 1 because although you might have the right tool, you cant find it so you use the wrong tool.
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