Strut Replacement

How do you know when your struts need to be replaced? Here’s a few clues to look for:

  • If you can manually make your car bounce by pressing firmly on the hood or trunk.
  • The vehicle has poor maneuverability.
  • Sensation of the vehicle floating down the road, unstable feeling.
  • The vehicle doesn’t lean into turns but rather tilts out on them mixed with that unstable floaty feeling.
  • When driven over railroad tracks, bridges or bumps in the road the vehicle bounces several inches up and down.

What Is a Strut?

In order to make a vehicle stable, there is a stabilizer bar, shock absorbers, and/or struts situated in the front end of a vehicle. A strut has a shock absorber within it. It also has a spring and plates to contain the shock absorber. The strut is one unit, whereas a separate spring and shock absorber is sometimes used. Weather a shock or a strut is used all depends on the auto maker. Both are designed to resist compression. They don’t eliminate it, they resist it, thus providing a less jarring ride on the vehicle and a smooth ride for the occupants.

Some vehicles have struts in the front and shocks in the back, or vice versa, or shocks all around or they could have struts all around, again, this depends on the auto maker.

When the struts wear out, you’ll need to have them replaced by a mechanic, or do it yourself. To take on this job you should have some automotive repair experience because this job entails dealing with automotive parts that can be dangerous ie: compressed springs and jacking the car.

The vehicle used for this hub is a 1986 Buick Skylark.


This job calls for large wrenches and sockets and a tool not commonly held by the average backyard mechanic: a spring compressor. You can try to make your own but I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT. The coil springs, if improperly compressed, or the compression tool you’ve made fails, can cause bodily injury, and/or death.


As of this writing, August 2013, there is a great deal at auto parts stores. You can rent the spring compressor for about $50. When you return it they give you the $50 back!! Yeah, it’s a free rental! Now there’s enough reason not to try and make your own.


  1. Park the vehicle on level ground, put it in park and set the emergency brake.
  2. Loosen the lug nuts before jacking it off the ground.
  3. Now, jack up the vehicle and remove the lug nuts the rest of the way. Set the nuts and tire aside.
  4. Open the hood. At the right and left sides of the engine compartment you can see the top of the struts and the three screws holding it in place. Loosen the screws. Remove TWO of the three screws. Leave the last screw in place to hold the strut until your ready for it to come down.
  5. At the wheel, remove the brake hose from the back of the strut and move it out of the way being careful not to damage it.
  6. Remove the speed sensor if supplied.
  7. There are two bolts at the bottom of the strut. One is for the alignment and the other is for securing the setting of the alignment. Keep in mind which bolt is on top and which one is on the bottom, which side the nut is on and any shims (large washers) and their exact location. I like to take a picture of it with my cell phone to reference later. Remove both of these bolts (see video).They can be tough. Some WD40 might come in handy to spray on the threads to loosen them up.
  8. The wheel will swing down and the strut can be pulled out.
  9. While supporting the strut remove the remaining screw at the top.

Now it’s time to use the spring compressor. In order to get the shock out of the middle of the spring, the spring must be compressed.

  1. Set the spring compressor properly on the spring rungs and compress it until there is a bit of space between the spring and the plate. There should be no tension on the plate when it’s fully compressed.
  2. At the top end of the strut there is a nut holding the shock absorber. The nut must be removed to release the shock. There is a tool that can be purchased to achieve this end (photo), or for the do-it-yourself kind of person, a pair of vice grips and a set of allens will remove it. It’s solid twisting all the way until the end of the threads. This is intentional so it won’t come off easily when the vehicle is moving, but it can prove to be very difficult. Be very cautious of stripping the allen or hex type head.
  3. Pay attention to the position, and order, of the parts as you remove the shock.
  4. Get the new shock and release the rod according to the manufacturers instructions. Often, you’ll place an allen wrench in the end and twist until the rod slides out.
  5. Once you’ve released the rod, in the order the parts came off, put them back on.
  6. A new nut should be provided with the new shock. Once you have inserted the shock into the spring use the new nut to secure it using the tool in step #2 or your vice grips. Torque to your vehicles specifications. The torque is quite low (ie: 13-18 ft. lbs). So, don’t over tighten at first.
  7. De-compress the spring making sure the spring ends seat themselves in the plate correctly. There is a groove where the end of the spring seats itself to keep it from spinning.
  8. Remove the spring compressors.
  9. Place the strut up into the wheel well. The screw patterns is such that they will only fit in one way. Line up the bolts and slide it up and screw one of the huts on top, inside the hood, on to hold it steady. Screw on the other two screws and tighten, but don’t torque yet.
  10. To place the bottom of the strut into the control arm you may have to press the control arm down firmly.
  11. Replace the bolts exactly as they were when you took them out, including the shims.
  12. Torque the bolts to specifications.
  13. Replace the tire and lower the vehicle.
  14. Torque the three bolts at the top of the strut tower under the hood.

You’re Done! Congratulations! Now take it for a drive and enjoy the smooth ride!

The vehicle may need an alignment after the new struts are installed.

Thanks for coming by and reading!

Change the Oil

When I was a mechanic for a transportation company I saw the difference it can make to regularly service an engine. Car maintenance can add hundreds of miles to an engine. Maintenance schedules haven’t been updated in many, many years. The rule of thumb for changing the oil used to be three or three. That’s three thousand miles or three months, whichever one comes first. That rule of thumb has been outdated but you will continue to hear auto mechanics or quickie oil changers quote it.

There’s an article that explains how often oil changes are necessary with information on the changes that make oil last longer in today’s vehicle’s here Edmunds.com .

3 Months or 3,000 Miles?

Just looking at oil cannot tell you if it has broken down. Pictured is a sample of oil from one vehicle. Just looking at the photo it appears that there are two drips of used oil and one drip of new oil. Actually it is two new drips of oil and one old. After oil is put in your engine it almost immediately becomes dark colored from the engine parts it is coating. One drip is from the oil pan, one is from the engine right after I refilled it and one is directly from the can.

With today’s synthetic and high viscosity oils available there is no need to change your oil as often as the old three or three. At the shop I worked in we went by the five or five. The buses we serviced worked hard and changing the oil at five thousand or five months was still a bit premature. The important thing is to change it, period. At some point in time, change the oil in your car.

What You Need For the Oil Change

There are a few things you’ll need to get together before you start.

Auto Parts Stores, Walmart and Target all carry these items. You can also purchase these items online if you prefer. Walmart and Target have manuals hanging in the automotive isle that list vehicles and their recommended oil type and their filter type. The auto parts store counter person can look this information up for you on their computer.

Helpful tool but not mandatory.
  • Four or five quarts of oil (This is an average. Check your vehicle specifications or ask the counter person at the auto parts store.)
  • A new oil filter.
  • A catch basin.
  • An oil can remover if available (The oil can should not be terribly difficult to remove by hand).
  • A funnel.
  • A wrench to remove the bolt in the oil pan (Often a 15 mm).
  • An oil catch basin.
  • Jack stands. (if your vehicle sits low)
  • wrench
  • Oil filter remover (this tool can come in handy especially if the oil filter is slippery)
  • A couple of rags.
  • A funnel.

Not every vehicle needs to be raised on jack stands. If your vehicle does need to be lifted up onto jack stands make sure you secure them and set the emergency brake. Ramps can come in handy for changing the oil. I prefer ramps instead of jacking and then bracing with jack stands. I can just pull right up on ramps.

1. Put the front wheels on jack stands if needed.Some cars & trucks are high enough off the ground to skip this step.
2. Remove the oil dipstick.Removing the dipstick will allow the oil to flow out freely.
3. Set an oil catch basin under oil drain screw then remove the screw and allow the oil to drain out.Always use a catch basin. It can be recycled at your nearest auto parts store or refuse site.
4. If your catch basin is large enough to be placed under oil filter at the same time, do so and remove the oil filter.A oil filter remover can make removing the oil filter easier.
5. If your catch basin is not large, after the oil has drained replace the oil drain screw and place the pan under the oil filter and remove it.Removing the oil filter will get oil on your hand and arm. Have a rag handy.
6. Wipe the oil filter mounting with a clean cloth. 
7. Using your finger apply a thin layer of new oil on the rubber gasket. 
8. Screw the new oil filter into place.Hand tighten only!
9. Fill the engine with new motor oil. 
10. Start the engine and check under the vehicle where the oil drain plug & filter are located. You’re looking for any oil leaks.If you see any leaking, turn the engine off and tighten the bolt or filter. The filter may leak if over tightened. The gasket will fold over itself and cause a leak if over tight.

Replace the Fuel Filter

Fuel filters come in a wide variety now-a-days. Some of the varieties include:

  • Inside the carburetor inlet hose (found in Holly carburetors)
  • In-line at the fuel inlet hose before the carburetor.
  • In-line usually below the drivers door on the undercarriage.
  • At the fuel tank outlet.

Then there are the performance choices:

  • Standard Performance
  • Small Engine
  • High Performance
  • Marine Use

If that isn’t enough; there are several fuel filter manufacturers to choose from:

  • Russel
  • K&N
  • Spectre
  • Mr. Gasket
  • and of course Holley

If you look at the carburetor in your vehicle it works very much like our heart works. Our heart pumps blood and oxygen through a network of ventricles and veins to make our body run. The carburetor meters fuel and oxygen through a network of venturi, jets and hoses to “nourish” the engine so it can run. We humans have a filter to clean our blood, the liver. Like the human body, carburetors have a filter as well, a fuel filter.

The fuel filter collects debris that would otherwise pass through into the carburetor. This debris can cause blockage and build-up. Since debris is heavier than fuel, it settles at the bottom of the fuel tank. If you run your gas tank down to empty, a few times a year, your fuel filter is working overtime. It will collect more debris than if it never, or rarely, ran low.

A clogged fuel filter will restrict the flow of fuel and you will notice a lack of power and or the engine will stall.

A good rule of thumb for replacing the fuel filter is every 30,000 miles or once a year. If you rarely drive your car then, of course, less often would be appropriate for you.

Family SedanInline or At the CarburetorStandard or High Performance
4 x 4, Dune Buggy, QuadsInline AND at the CarburetorHigh Performance
Weekend RacerIn the CarburetorHigh Performance
MarineInlineMarine High Performance

Anything running in the dirt I would recommend two high performance filters. There is a high degree of debris when you’re out four wheeling, running the dunes and riding Quads. Two filters will work better than one in the high debris area. The high

Changing the fuel filter in the carburetor and at the carburetor are extremely similar. At the carburetor the fuel filter will be in the larger attachment just before the carburetor (see photo) whereas in the carburetor will not have the large attachment. It will be the hose into the carburetor nut. For these fuel filters:

REMOVAL

  1. Make sure the engine is off and cool.
  2. Remove the negative wire from the battery to avoid an accidental start.
  3. Place an old rag under the nut to catch any fuel that may spill out.
  4. At the carburetor inlet there is a metal hose that goes into a nut that goes into another, larger nut. It is the larger nut that must be removed to access the fuel filter. (see photo)
  5. Place a wrench on the nut and turn counterclockwise. If it is a fuel filter insidethe carburetor place a wrench on the carburetor nut and one on the inlet nut. This will help prevent bending or breaking the hose. Turn the nut counter-clockwise.
  6. When the nut is removed the fuel filter is right there and should come out. You may need to grasp it with your fingers to remove it.

INSTALLATION.

  1. Put the new filter in the carburetor hole.
  2. Screw the nut back into the carburetor.
  3. Start the car and check for leaks.

You’re done!

Fuel Filter Inline or at the Tank

Fuel filters inline or at the tank are similar as the at and in the carburetor type. The inline on most vehicles is located below and under the drivers side door frame. The inline at the tank is further back nearer to the gas tank if not at the gas tank. Follow the fuel line to find these fuel filters if not at the specified locations. To change these types:

REMOVAL

  1. Locate the filter along the fuel line.
  2. Place a catch-all container below the filter to catch any gas that may spill.
  3. Remove the clamp holding the filter in place.
  4. Using pliers pinch the hose clamps to release the hose on each side. If the fuel filter is the screw on type use two wrenches like the at carburetor type to avoid bent or broken hose lines.
  5. Remove the old filter.

INSTALLATION

  1. Place the new filter in position the correct direction. There will be an arrow on the filter indicating the direction of flow.
  2. Screw the nuts into the new filter or press the hoses on the new filter and reattach the hose clamps.
  3. Reattach the restraining clamp.
  4. Start the car and check for leaks.

You’re done!


How to Change Your Spark Plugs

Beautiful Set of Spark Plug Wires by Jegs!

The spark plug is the source of life for your car. It’s what the beat is to your heart, the bounce is to the ball: it’s the driving force in your engine. The spark plug does exactly what its name implies: it sparks. Every chamber of your engine has a piston that slides up and down by the force of an explosion caused by the spark plug. When the piston goes down, it draws fuel into the chamber. When it goes up, the piston compresses the gas in the chamber. Then the spark plug sparks, and the gas in the chamber explodes, which in turn forces the piston down. Every chamber does this in a specific order. The force from the explosion, pushing the piston down, is transferred to the transmission to your wheels: that is what is behind your tires turning!

After causing several thousand explosions a day you can imagine that poor spark plug is going to get tired! That’s when you want to replace it. The automotive number geeks have come up with so many different “change your plugs estimates” I couldn’t tell you who is right. A good rule of thumb, and my personal habit, is to check one of the plugs after 20,000 miles. Just pull out one of the spark plugs and look at it. How does it look? Light tan on it is fine. Anything more? Change them. When you change one, change them all.

What engine you have in your car determines how many spark plugs are in it. If it’s a four cylinder (aka: four banger), then there are four spark plugs. If it’s a six cylinder then it has six spark plugs, and so on. How can you determine four, six, eight, etc., you ask? Easy, count the thick wires going into the engine block itself. They are either in a straight line (inline) or on either side of the engine (V). Referring to the photo you can see the wires you’ll be looking for. Your vehicle will more than likely have grey or black wires, but sometimes they are yellow, orange, blue, etc.

Before we begin, we need to find what spark plug and gap to use.

  1. Lift the hood of your car. Right in front of you, stuck to the car, should be a label. The information on the label is vital to your specific vehicle. It will have listed the type of spark plug, the spark plug gap (discussed later), ignition timing and other emission control information.
  2. If your label is worn or missing refer to a shop manual. A shop manual will have the information listed.
  3. If all else fails, tell the auto shop guy, “I need plugs for a blah, blah (name your vehicle maker, model, year and engine ie: v8, v6, etc). Have this info memorized! There’s nothing they like more than someone forgetting what they drive! It’s always a good laugh! They will look it up and find them in their stock.
  4. Plugs run about $2.50 each plug. So expect to pay around $20 on plugs. It’s a small price to pay for the heart of your engine!
Spark PlugsAs we pull each spark plug we’ll replace it straight away.4, 6, 8??
A Spark Plug GapperThis is used to set the gap on the spark plug.There are several kinds. One will suffice.
Socket Wrench or RatchetThe socket wrench/ratchet connects to the spark plug socket, it’s the handle.Just one socket wrench
Socket ExtensionYou may or may not need this depending on the depth of your spark plugs.Again, one will do.
Spark Plug SocketSocket made for spark plug removal (rubber inside).13/16 or 5/8

For the lady mechanics, first things first: Remove your acrylic nails and pull back your hair. I like to wear gloves to protect my hands from being scraped and cut. And you guys that like your locks long, pull them back into a pony or braid.

  1. Now we can start by disconnecting the negative terminal on your battery. Removing the negative cable disables the vehicle electrical system so you won’t accidentally electrocute yourself or short something out.
  2. Start at the number one spark plug. On an in-line engine the number one plug will be the one closest to the front. On a V8 engine the number one plug will be the right front.
  3. Grasp the spark plug wire right down at the boot, right down near the engine. Twist and pull. This is not always easy. Its important to twist and pull straight out. If you pull on the wire instead of the boot part you have a very good chance of pulling the wire right out of the boot.
  4. If you do pull the wire out you must pull the boot off, push the wire through the boot, catch the metal clip that falls out of the boot, strip the wire (after its through the boot), wrap the clip around the wire, pull the black wire in the center of the spark plug wire back along the wire and squeeze the clip shut (see pic). Then slide the boot back over the clip and wire. If you do happen to pull the wire out of its boot, click here for an article that shows you how to repair it!
  5. If its just too hard to pull the wire off, then take a trip to the auto shop and pick up a spark plug wire puller. You’ll definitely be able to pull it off with that, but you may kick yourself for wasting your money on it or maybe not, maybe you’ll love it.
  6. Anyway, so we twist and pulled the spark plug wire off. Now you can see the end of the spark plug sticking out of the engine. Put your ratchet, extension (if needed) and socket together and put it down on the spark plug. Be sure to engage the socket all the way; since there is a little bit of rubber inside the socket you may need to push a little bit to get it fully seated on the plug. Set the dial on the back of your ratchet to unscrew (remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey) and unscrew the spark plug.

When you get the spark plug out, “read it.” What I mean by that is take a good look at it. It should have a tan-colored coating on it from firing, but anything else like oil, blistering or broken/missing pieces is not good. Most repair manuals have a page of spark plug photos with an explanation of what the problem may have been.

Gapping Tool

Now let’s get one of the new spark plugs and a gapper. There are two places we can look up the gap specification. The first place we should look is on that label under the hood. Like I said before, sometimes that label is missing or damaged. If that’s the case then get out your automotive manual and look up the specification in that. Its probably under the “tune up” section or the ignition timing section. Set the gap to the specified amount. The wire or blade, which ever you use, should just barely drag through the slot. If not then adjust it. Please see the picture.

After you have set the gap its time to put the new plug in.

ALWAYS START THE SPARK PLUG IN BY HAND! It is a nightmare if the threads are crossed and you ratchet a plug in, your engine won’t work the same again. So take a minute to set the spark plug, by hand, and start the threads for a few turns, then put your socket and ratchet on it and tighten. Don’t over-tighten, just make it good and snug, that’s all. Now take the spark plug wire you pulled off earlier, put a lil spit in the end of it (makes it slide on way easier) and push it onto the spark plug until you feel or hear it snap onto the connector inside. You will feel a definite click when it reaches the connector inside the boot.

Now move on to the next spark plug. Continue these steps until all spark plugs have been replaced.

Don’t forget to reconnect the battery negative cable! Now start your engine and listen to your kitten purrrrrrrrrr.

Heck Ya Baby! You did it! Now go wash up and put your nails back on!

Transmission Fluid Change

First things first, pull your hair back if you wear it long, and ladies (or gents) with acrylic nails, remove them otherwise the transmission fluid will for you.

Transmission fluid should be changed about every 30,000 miles. We’ll be changing the fluid on an automatic 3 speed transmission.

You will need:

Transmission Fluid

Transmission Filter

The only tools you will need is a wrench or socket for the screws holding the pan in position and a jack with a jack stand to lift the vehicle if you need the room.

Watch the Video

Read the Directions

1. Disconnect the negative battery cable (I know, I know, just be safe and do it).
2. If your vehicle sets low to the ground; Use a jack to lift the front end and set it on jack stands. Do not leave the vehicle on the jack, use jack stands. 
3. Underneath the vehicle, locate the transmission fluid reservoir pan. It will be the semi-square item with the drive-line going into the upper part of it. 


4. The bolts holding the reservoir on, for the Chevy 3500 are 1/2″. Remove all but 3, or 4, of these bolts. Leave the 3, or 4, at one end of the reservoir pan. Loosen them, and it will allow the reservoir pan to lower the opposite end. This will help you reduce the risk of a transmission fluid shower. As you loosen the bolts have your collection container below the reservoir pan to catch the fluid as it starts to pour out as you lower it. 
5. When the transmission fluid has stopped flowing out of the tilted reservoir pan, put your hand under the center of the reservoir pan to balance it. Go ahead and remove the 3, or 4, bolts the rest of the way. Hold the reservoir in position until you’ve removed the bolts all the way, then use two hands to lower it down. 
6. Empty the fluid from the reservoir pan into your catch basin, and allow the fluid from the transmission case to drip into the catch basin as well. 
7. There is a bolt holding the filter in position, and a tube feeding down into the filter from the transmission. Remove the bolt, and the filter should slide right off of the tube. 


8. Take this moment to inspect the transmission parts, but do NOT touch anything unless you totally know what you’re doing!! But do inspect that there isn’t any scoring, or broken items. Take a lint-free cloth and wipe the contact edge of the case. Remove any sealant that may be on the edge.


9. Get out from under the vehicle for a minute and clean the reservoir pan with a lint-free cloth. Remove the magnet and wipe it clean, then wipe the reservoir pan clean. Remove any sealant that may be on the lip of the reservoir pan. 
10. Replace the magnet into the reservoir pan!

11. Take out your new gasket. Personally, I like to set the gasket on the clean reservoir pan and start 2 to 3 screws at random holes through the gasket before I slide back under the vehicle. (By starting a few screws I know that the gasket is in its proper place when I set it back up on the case. Then I just finish screwing them it (It makes mounting the reservoir pan much easier).

12. Now you have your gasket set how it’s supposed to go on the reservoir pan. Slide yourself, and the reservoir pan, AND your new filter back under the vehicle. 

13. Set the filter in place, with the tube going into the hole on the filter, and line-up the hole where the bolt goes to hold the reservoir pan in position. Install the filter bolt. 

14. At this time, if you have a leaking reservoir pan, and want to put gasket maker, or sealant on it, now is the time to do that. 

15. Take your reservoir pan and set it up into position and finish screwing in those bolts you put in back in step #11, the ones holding the gasket in place. 

16. Now put in the rest of the bolts, and torque to the specification for your vehicle. The specification can be found in the manual for your vehicle, or online there are several websites more than happy to provide you with specifications. 

17. Now you’re done under the vehicle. Yeah!

18. Remove the vehicle from the jack stands. 

19. With the vehicle back on the ground, open the hood, and locate the transmission fill. Pull the dipstick out, put in a funnel, and fill with the appropriate transmission fluid, and amount. Both of these are very important!! The wrong fluid, and over-filling, or under-filling can all damage your transmission! Put the dipstick back in. 

20. Start the vehicle’s engine, but DO NOT REV it. Move the gear selector through each gear, including reverse with the engine running. 

21. Shut the engine off. Get down and look under the vehicle for any leaks. If the reservoir pan is leaking, try to re-torque the bolts. 

If that doesn’t stop the leak… 
• The rubber gasket may be twisted, or off position. Loosen all the reservoir pan bolts and use a jack to lower the reservoir pan enough to manipulate the rubber gasket and make sure it is in place. Then, re-torque the bolts. 
If it still leaks… 
• The reservoir pan may be bent. Loosen all the bolts and use a jack to lower the reservoir pan enough to get some gasket maker in there and then re-torque the bolts. 
If it still leaks…I don’t know, buy a new reservoir pan?! 

When you have no leaks, right on! Either way, check the fluid level again. The filter will have absorbed some fluid since it is new. And you’re good to go another 50,000, or 100,000 miles! 

Nice work!

Car Maintenance Inspection

It’s been proven a number of times that regular vehicle maintenance will prolong the life of your vehicle, especially the engine.

The vehicles at my place of employment are driven every day, except Saturday and Sunday, on the bumpy roads of the foothills. These vehicles reach 400,000 miles on their odometer before we consider trading them in. They are mechanically sound, because of the regular maintenance we perform, but they are at a point that the parts start falling off because they are old.

Engine oil today lasts a lot longer than it did twenty years ago. The oil should be changed about every 5,000 miles, or every three months if the vehicle is driven every day for several hours.

To remind the vehicle operator to bring the vehicle in, I place a service tag on the windshield of each vehicle which includes:

  • The on-or-before date that it needs to be serviced (every 3 months).
  • The odometer number by which the vehicle must be serviced (every 5,000 miles)

I perform the maintenance inspection at the same time as the oil change because they take about the same amount of time.

The inspection, on average, takes about 30 minutes. If preventive maintenance issues are found during the inspection, such as a burned-out light or a wiper blade that needs replacement, then you must obviously add to the inspection time appropriately for the work that needs to be performed.

If you have access to a vehicle hoist or lift, this would be preferable. A roller will also work.

Tend to your hair if it is long and tuck in any loose clothing. Clothing and hair can become entangled in moving engine parts; the engine will win any tug of war there may be.

Have a check list available or memorize what you should check. If you’re new to performing inspections, a checklist can come in handy to make sure you didn’t skip anything by mistake. An inspection will cover the following areas:

All Lighting:

  • Headlights
  • Signal lights
  • Tail lights
  • Brake lights
  • Backup lights
  • Interior lights

Interior

  • Horn
  • Steering wheel play (no more than 8 degrees play maximum)
  • Seat belts
  • Seats
  • Floor
  • Charged fire extinguisher

Undercarriage:

  • Visually inspect the underside of the engine hoses, pulleys and belts for cracks.
  • Look for any sign of engine oil, transmission fluid or any other fluid leaks.
  • Check wheel bearing wear.
  • Brake pads and brake lines. (use a flashlight to peer through the wheel to check amount of wear on brake pads)
  • With a flashlight check for foreign objects in tires, amount of wear on the tire tread.
  • Check the fuel lines and wiring.
  • Make sure all the leaf springs are secure and in place.
  • Check for leaking shock absorbers.
  • Inspect the springs for cracking.
  • The steering linkage has several zert fittings, give each a couple of squirts of grease.
  • At the wheel are a couple of zerts that should be filled also. Any other zert fittings should be checked for grease.

Exterior:

  • Do a “walk around” inspecting trim, paint and bumpers for loose pieces or damage.
  • Inspect headlight glass, brake light plastic and signal light plastic for cracks or damage.
  • Open and close all doors.
  • Check windshield, side windows, rear window and side mirrors for cracks, check windshield wipers for wear.
  • Look for lose or broken body parts.

Under the Hood:

  • Top of brake fluid, transmission fluid, windshield wiper fluid, radiator fluid.
  • Check air filter and remove any loose debris.
  • Check oil level, add oil if needed.
  • Check the belts; Serpentine belt should have no cracks.
  • Check hoses.
  • Remove any buildup on battery terminals. (use baking soda mixed with water)

Record the mileage and add 5,000 miles to the number. Write this number on a service tag. Count out three months (this number may vary depending on how often the vehicle is used and the conditions it is used under) from the current date of the inspection and write that number on the service tag also. Place the tag on the windshield of the vehicle as a reminder when the vehicle needs to be inspected again.

  • Record any of your findings in a log specifically for that vehicle.
  • Order parts or schedule appointments for problems found during the inspection.

You’ve now completed your vehicle maintenance inspection.

Car Insurance Alternatives

Like it or not, in California, if you want to drive a car, you must provide financial responsibility just in case you are involved in an accident. Most people do so by maintaining car insurance. Unfortunately, in most states, the insurance companies are very aware of the law of financial responsibility so they jack up the price for car insurance. California has Proposition 103 to help protect us from such price gouging. Regardless, basic car insurance can run anywhere from $25 a month to $150 or more a month! Some of us would like our car replaced or repaired if possible. You’re looking at another $50 plus tacked on to your basic coverage. According to the Consumer Federation of California the average a person paid for insurance in 2010 was $746 a year. That’s an average of $62.00 a month. Remember that’s an average. That means there are some people paying more than $62 and some paying less. Again, California has Proposition 103! Prop 103 requires insurance companies to open their records and prove why they need to implement a rate hike before they are allowed to do so.

Financial Responsibility as Defined by the D.M.V.

According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) basic financial responsibility consists of:

  • $15,000 for injury/death to one person.
  • $30,000 for injury/death to more than one person.
  • $5,000 for damage to property.

To meet these requirements most of us pay an insurance company in either monthly or bi-yearly installments.

Prop 103 has saved Californian’s a great deal of money.

Prop 103 provides that:

  • All rate proposals be evaluated with consistent standards for all providers.
  • Insurance company information and proposals are available to the public.
  • We, the consumer, can request a hearing at the Department of Insurance on questionable rates or policies.

California is the only state with such laws as mentioned above. It’s needless to say, California has the lowest average insurance costs in the US.

For those of us that have never been in an accident, this is a huge sum of money we will never see again!

Insurance Alternatives

Making monthly payments to an insurance broker is a simple, and common, way to take care of the requirements, of financial responsibility, but there are other options. There are actually three other options available to you, approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles, in the state of California.

  1. You can get a DMV issued self-insurance certificate. You can call the DMV Financial Responsibility Unit for information on this option at: 916-657-6520
  2. Or you can provide a surety bond for $35,000 from a company licensed to do business in California. To locate a company that sells surety bonds contact the Department of Insurance at www.insurance.ca.gov or call phone #1-800-927-4357.
  3. You can make a cash deposit of $35,000 with the DMV. Call the DMV Financial Responsibility Unit for more information about this at: 916-657-6520.

The self-insurance certificate pertains to someone that has 25 cars, or more, in their possession, at all times. Said person must always have 25 cars, at all times, or the DMV can cancel the certificate. Also, judgments must be paid in full otherwise it can be canceled. This option would be optimal for a dealership, car showrooms and car collectors.

A Surety Bond is a little tricky, but worth looking into. A large source of information pertaining to Surety Bonds can be found here, on the DMV website. A Surety Bond is obtained through a company that is licensed to provide such. You can find who provides this service from the Department of Insurance. From my understanding, a surety bond works by you providing collateral, such as a home, and in return the company, provides a document stating you have provided such collateral through a court order. If you are involved in an accident the collateral is used to pay damages if you cannot. I found a very good definition of bonds here.

Then we have the cash deposit of $35,00 with the DMV. This is self explanatory. You give the DMV $35,000 to put in an account they hold in your name and if you are involved in an accident the money will be used for claims against you if you are at fault. If your not in an accident, the money is there until you reclaim it (when you no longer wish to drive a car). The money you save, from not making payments to an insurance company, will add up to more than you would get from any bank for interest on that amount. For example: Insurance coverage for a vehicle may be $700 for a year. The insurance company will tack on a service charge, a convenience charge and any other charge they can get away with. Your premium ends up coming to $850-$900 a year for that $700 insurance coverage. But, if you put $35,000 into a cash deposit with the DMV you will save that $150-$200 of fee’s tacked on. That’s money staying in your bank! Some people may argue that’s like comparing nickels to pennies. Personally, I want to keep my nickels and pennies. Pennies make dollars!

Keep in mind, if you choose to skip the insurance thing for a while, insurance companies are required by law to report private-use vehicle insurance information to the DMV. If the insurance company reports that you have cancelled your insurance, or allowed it to lapse, the DMV will immediately revoke the registration on your vehicle. You will receive a notice in the mail informing you of their action with instructions on how to re-instate your registration. Just because you have a pretty colored tag on your license plate does not mean all is well. Police have a device that can scan and read thousands of license plates within minutes of being aimed at vehicles. They will know if your registration has been revoked.

In California, if you can’t afford regular insurance you have options there too. Low-Cost-Insurance is a program run by California that assists financially qualified individuals obtain car insurance. Insurance companies in California choose to participate in the program. Be aware some of the insurance companies will try to sway you into purchasing a costly insurance instead of the basic insurance you are required by law. When you visit the Low-Cost-Insurance site you will be offered several companies to choose from that are providers. You provide your information and THEY call you. The insurance company that you choose is completely aware that you are requesting the low-cost-insurance option, so don’t be pressured into buying more than you need.


Replace the Distributor – 1989 Chevy Silverado

The distributor dictates when to activate the pulse for each spark plug to fire in the engine. Where exactly is the distributor? It’s that round thing with all the wires coming out of it . . . there it is, behind the air filter.

The distributor contains a rotor. I small arrow piece that spins as the engine rotates. The rotor is attached to a gear on the end of the distributor. Inside the distributor cap are contacts around the peripheral edge. As the rotor spins with the engine it comes into contact with these contacts. When the tip of the rotor touches each contact, in turn, it’s saying, “Fire that spark plug! Fire this spark plug! Fire this spark plug!” Over and over again as it spins. This creats a nice smooth idle as the contacts are spaced evenly apart inside the distributor cap.

Distributor

If you can imagine damage to these contacts, or distributor cap, or build-up of any sort, or a cracked cap, could easily displace this precise system of Fire, Fire, Fire. You might have instead, “Fire, …, Fire,…! The contacts that are not fired would cause the engine to shake from the piston that is not fired. The shaking is one of the first clues you will notice when your distributor is going bad.

You may notice stalling, or hesitation. These are caused by the same mis-firing of the distributor because the contacts aren’t being touched correctly by the rotor.

Occasionally you may notice an oil build-up near the distributor. This is the seal not properly sealing and the oil is pumping up and out of a cracked metal washer, or loose bolt, etc.

The important thing to know here is that the distributor can be easily replaced by the home mechanic. It’s not science but you do need to work with care. Let’s go over the process of replacing the distributor. I’ll be working on a 1989 Chevrolet Silverado 7.4 engine:

  1. Remove the negative battery cable from the battery.
  2. Number the spark plug wire and it’s corresponding position on the distributor cap. This is fairly important to do. You will transfer the numbers from the old distributor cap to the new distributor cap, so the spark plug wire marked #1 will have the corresponding #1 on the new distributor cap for easy installation. If you forget, or get the numbering mixed up, all is not lost! You can refer to a shop manual for the firing order.
You can see where I have numbered the wires with a red marker.

3. After numbering the cap and wires, remove the wires from the cap and set to the side. There’s no need to remove the distributor wires from the spark plug so leave them attached.

4. Now, mark the position of the distributor cap to the engine.

5. Using a Phillips head screw driver remove the screws on the sides of the distributor cap (two screws). They are not captured so be careful the screws don’t fall out. Unscrew them until you can lift the cap and leave them still in the cap has been my preferred method.

6. Inspect the inside of the distributor cap for burns and cracks. These telltale marks can give you insight to what your engine is doing. If one of the prongs inside are burned or scored, then the cap was probably not screwed on straight. If there’s a crack or hairline fracture this could cause misfiring.

7. Unplug the connectors on the back of the distributor and any other connectors your vehicle may have. Mark them, or take a photo, so you remember where they came from.

8. Now your plugs are unplugged, and your distributor cap has been removed. You should be looking at the rotor atop of the distributor. Very precisely mark the position the rotor is pointing. This is your first rotor mark.

9. At the base of the distributor there is one large bolt holding the distributor in place. It will have a forked tang it is holding down as well. This is the same bolt that is used to set the timing. Clean away any dirt and grease in this area.

10. Mark the position of the base of the distributor.


11. Remove the bolt and forked tang.


12. Pay attention to the position of the rotor. It may turn as you remove the distributor from the engine. By holding the base of the distributor, lift it out of the engine. Watch how far off of your original mark the rotor turns. Mark it. This is your second rotor mark. This is the position you will refer to when installing the new rotor.

Distributor removed.

13. Take the new distributor and dip the gear of the rotor (the side going into the engine) in a bit of engine oil. Hold the base of the distributor in the position you marked on the old distributor base.

14. Line up the rotor with the rotor second rotor mark.  As you slide the distributor down into the engine, allow the rotor to turn with the gears it is meshing with. When the distributor is seated the rotor should have turned to the position it was in on your first rotor mark position.*


15. Replace the hold down bolt and forked tang. You don’t need to tighten this bolt as hard as you can if you are planning on checking/setting the timing next, Just make it snug.
16. Holding the distributor cap mark the corresponding number from the old distributor cap to the new cap. Make sure you have it in the same position as the other one was when you mark it.

17. Attach the spark plug wires to the appropriate, corresponding number on the new distributor cap.

If the distributor was NOT disturbed after removing the old distributor then you should not have to set the timing. You may want to check it with a timing light just to make sure.You are done! Re-attach the negative battery cable and start it up!

Flat Tire Repair

That tool pictured above is what you’re looking for to repair your flat tire. I literally, just used this exact tool and tire plug set over the weekend! I blew a tire way out of town. I pulled into the nearest gas station, pulled out the kit (I keep one handy in the glove box) and repaired it right there at the gas station, and I was on my way again!

You know that sinking feeling. The one that makes your stomach do a slow, backwards, somersault as a groan escapes your lips. “Ugh, my tire is flat!” Yes, a flat tire and it’s on your car, so what do you do now? Call a tow truck service so someone will come out and fix the flat for you? That isn’t going to be cheap! Take your other car and leave the flat to deal with later? You’re still going to have to take care of that flat tire sooner or later.

Read through this and you won’t have to ask these questions again, because you’ll know exactly what to do.

Repairing a flat tire, like a pro, is easy. I wouldn’t call myself a “pro”, but I worked as an automotive technician and inspector for several years. What I learned from those years is there are a whole lot of repairs the average Joe can perform that we pay mechanics a lot of money to do!

There are five easy steps to repair that flat tire. Depending on your physical agility, you can perform this repair On or Off the car! Repairing the flat on the car is the quickest, but you have to have strong arms to push the plug in. If the tire is off the car; you can put your weight on the needle tool to push it through the puncture site, but if you leave the tire on the vehicle; you only have your muscles to push the needle tool in.

The plug material is the same stuff used by mechanics to repair a puncture. It will last as long as the tire does. I’ve been using these tire repair kits for twenty years and I’ve never had a plug fail.

If you find it easier to remove the wheel from the vehicle to complete the repair steps, then by all means, remove the wheel. It won’t change anything when repairing it except you will have better leverage to work on the puncture in the tire.

Remove the wheel:

There are as many different wheel well dimensions as there are vehicles on the road, so depending on what kind of vehicle has the flat, will dictate whether you must remove the tire. The position of the foreign object in the tire will also determine whether the tire must be removed. The tire can be left on for the repair if:

  • There is a gap between the tire and the wheel well that you can get your arm into.
  • It is parked on a level service where rolling won’t be an issue.
  • Looking at the width of the tire, the puncture is no more than mid-way of the tire. Any further in and it becomes too much of an odd angle to push the reamer and plug into the tire.

Remove the Wheel (optional)

  1. Chock the tires (Choking = block a tire with an object to make it stable; block).
  2. Loosen the lug nuts with a breaker bar. Just a 1/4 turn or less is fine for now on each lug nut.
  3. Position your jack under a part of the vehicle that is the frame. Do not use the jack on area’s like the springs or on shock absorber or the body (IE: door panels, fender, etc.).
  4. Raise the vehicle with a jack.
  5. Remove the lug nuts and set aside somewhere safe.
  6. Remove the tire.
  7. Follow the steps in reverse to replace the wheel.

Locate the Cause Of the Flat

If you removed the tire, roll it until you see what is stuck in it.

If you left it on the vehicle roll the car forward (or backward), until you can see it. If you cannot locate the object by looking at it, then put a good deal of soap on a washcloth or spritzer bottle and add water. Run the cloth all over the surface of the tire or spritz it heavily. After a minute or so, where ever the puncture is a bubble will appear or a bunch of small bubbles will be in one spot.

Now that you have the location of the foreign object:

  1. Using a pair of wire cutters or a similar tool, remove the object.
  2. Take the rasp tool and stick it into the hole wear the object had been and ream it out a few times.
  3. Thread a piece of the plug material onto the needle tool.
  4. Place the tip of the needle tool into the hole and push the plug material in until just about an inch is hanging out.
  5. Pull the needle tool out.

Your done!

Replace The Heater Core

I’ve been working on cars for twenty plus years and nothing, I mean nothing, was easier to install than the heater core on the 1993 Ford Explorer. I would say a child could install it!

I have heard that some vehicle models are difficult because a person can’t access the heater core very easily. I’ve also heard that you have to remove the dash. I have replaced the heater core on a 1 ton Chevy, a Mustang, a Pinto (yep, a Pinto!) and the Explorer and never have I had to remove a dashboard. The heater core on all four were straight forward and took less than an hour. The Mustang did require a couple of extra parts removed, compared to the Chevy, Pinto and Explorer, to access the heater core, but it was still child’s play. The Chevy was as easy as the explorer, but I didn’t take pictures of that installation, but I did of the Explorer installation!

Follow along with the directions and pictures and you’ll be roasting in no time.

The heater core is like a miniature radiator. The coolant from the engine flows through it as part of the cooling system.

First, the coolant in a warm engine flows through the engine, absorbing the heat.

Second, the hot coolant is diverted through the firewall into the heater core at the passenger area below the dashboard.

Third, when the heater is activated, a fan blows air across the heater core causing the warmth from the coolant, that is hot from the engine, to disperse into the cabin of the vehicle.

Last, the coolant flows out of the heater core, back through the firewall and to the radiator for additional cooling through the radiator and radiator fan.

When a vehicle is having an overheating issue it can sometimes help to turn the heater on high. With the heater on high it assists in cooling the coolant that the engine is having trouble cooling. It won’t fix an overheating issue but it may buy you some time to get to a service station or safe exit.

Is It The Heater Core?

Is the heater core the problem? Before purchasing, or removing parts, you’ll want to be sure that it is indeed the heater core that is the problem.

Fortunately, the heater core provides several indicators when it is going bad, or has gone bad. In order of what you may see first with a bad heater core:

  1. Does the windshield of the car have mist on the inside on occasion. This mist will get worse as the core goes bad. The mist will be noticeable near the dashboard at first where the heater vents for the defroster come out of the dashboard. It will slowly rise up the windshield as time passes.
  2. Depending on the contents of your radiator (some people insist on only putting water in their radiator to their digression). When the core starts to go bad you will notice an odor of radiator fluid, in the cabin of the vehicle. If water is in your radiator, you’ll notice an odor of boiling water.
  3. The floorboard of the vehicle, on the passenger side, will be wet.
  4. Lastly, the heater will turn on, but no heat will come out of the vents.

Sometimes, when a heater core goes bad, a quick fix some people choose instead of replacing the heater core, is to bypass it. To do that they remove the hoses, under the hood, and plug them into each other. This way the coolant bypasses the heater core (see photo). This was what was done on the Explorer. The person that bought it found out the hard way. When they were up in the snow and turned on the heater only cold air came out. When they popped the hood they saw the hoses were spliced together. That was a cold ride home!

Let’s Do This!

Only work on the cooling system when it is cool. If it’s warm, or hot, burns can occur from the coolant, besides the built up pressure that will burst out.

  1. Remove the two hoses under the hood, at the firewall, attached to the heater core pipes that are protruding through the firewall.
  2. Inside, on the passenger side, below the glove box, is a black, plastic cover with four screws in it, remove the four screws. ( There may be a decorative cover that would need to be removed first.)
  3. The plastic piece will drop down. Slide it outwards to allow the drain pipe, going through the firewall, to come through.
  4. You should be able to see the bottom of the heater core at this point. Pull it down while pushing towards the wall. The pipes can be pushed through the firewall, under the hood, by an assistant, if this helps.

And you’ve removed the heater core! Now let’s put it back in.

Install The New Heater Core

There may be insulation on the heater core you removed. If possible transfer it to the new core. If it can’t be removed pick some padding up at the hardware store and attach it as it is on the old one (this is not imperative, it’s just padding).

  1. Take the new heater core and slide it up where the old one was. Again, use an assistant to guide the pipes through the firewall if it will help. It can be difficult to line up the holes and push the pipes through at the same time.
  2. Once the pipes are through, attach the hoses, under the hood, to them. It helps to hold the heater core in place.
  3. Now put the plastic piece back on and screw in the four screws you took out earlier.
  4. If there was a decorative cover, replace that too.
  5. Open the radiator cap and top off the fluid that escaped when you took the hoses off.
  6. Start the engine and look for leaks at the firewall connection.

Job well done!!