Tools & Tips to be Your Own Mechanic!

This post is written with my lady mechanics in mind. Of course anyone is welcome to read it. This article may prove to be an asset to any training program. Auto parts stores have always been a place of unease for myself as a woman mechanic. I clearly know what I’m there to purchase, I can talk shop with the best of them, but I still get patronized. My name has never been Darlin’. And never have I heard the counter person call a man Darlin.

I have waited in line, patiently for my turn, only to have the counter person look to the man behind me, or near me and ask him, “Can I help you?” I then have to stand up for myself and say, “Excuse me, I believe I was next.” The counter help will look surprised and then their face softens like they just saw a cute child walk into the store, then, “Oh, hi, can I help you Darlin’?” Gah!

Have you had it with the way you are treated at the auto store or a mechanics shop? Have you noticed that the repairs appear to be far less costly when a man takes the car in compared to when a woman takes the car in?

When you take your car in for service, do you feel like you’ve walked onto the stage of the game show Jeopardy? “Darlin, what is a gear ratio?” At one time, twenty years ago, I would have been stumped, embarrassed, feel like walking back out the door because I was unsure about the answer. Not anymore. I throw it back at them. “Well, that’s the ratio between the rates in which the last and the first gears rotate.”

If any of these ring true to your experience then read on, because it’s for you to take your place at the front of the engine! Get under that hood and demand the respect you deserve as a mechanic. It’s not going to be an easy tune-up, it may turn into a complete overhaul, but you can do it! We can repair our own vehicles. There will be some cut fingers, squished knuckles and you will be up to your elbows in grease sometimes, but you can do this!

I will explain automotive repair in laymen’s terms. I will detail every step, explain each tool and point out tid-bits of interest that you won’t normally find in a repair manual. I will provide estimates of what the cost of a repair may be in general or at least provide a dollar amount you should have in mind when you walk into the auto shop looking for parts.

If you have a question about a procedure I post, or a question about the vehicle your dealing with feel free to put it in your comment.

I don’t know everything about auto repair, I don’t believe anyone really knows everything about auto repair, but I do know enough to repair my cars and keep them running smooth. I also repair several cars belonging to friends and family.

I keep repair manuals handy for looking up torque specifications, gap and various other specifications. I like Chilton and Haynes manuals personally. I have a variety because I like to cross reference the information. You would be surprised how often one book says one thing and another book says something slightly or sometimes completely different. Cross referencing can help eliminate that problem. If three manuals say xxx and one manual says xxl, I’m going to go with the xxx because the majority rules!

Of course there are some repairs you just simply can’t do because they require specialized machine’s that would be pointless to purchase. The three I wouldn’t attempt are wheel alignment, air conditioning service or repair (Charging your a/c system can be done by the DIY), and painting. Wheel alignment takes a specialized tool to determine the caster and camber of the wheel. Some people will wing-it and go with their approximation. If it’s off a few degrees it may mean your tires won’t last as long as they could have. Air conditioning uses a special pump to extract the freon from the system. Now, I found that O’Reilly’s Auto Shop will rent this pump and other parts for working on the A/C system for free! I may try that this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes! Last is painting your car. You can paint your car but a DIY paint job can be spotted a mile away. Paint shops have a clean room they spray in so nothing will stick to the finish.

Basic Tools

This is a nice English & Metric wrench set from Amazon.

  • English Wrench Set, (at least) 8mm – 14mm
  • Metric Wrench Set, (at least) 5/16, 1/2 & 9/16

The socket set on the left below has 40 pieces with a 1/4″ inch and 3/8″ driver, and an extension. The set on the right is by DeWalt with sockets and wrenches.

  • English Socket Set, Same sizes as english wrenchs
  • Metric Socket Set, Same sizes as metric wrenchs

Vice grips are my savior. I use them more than anything else in the garage! They give you a lock-down grip far greater than you could possibly manage bare handed or with pliers.

  • Vice Grips, If you have this, then you got it goin on!
  • Spark Plug Socket, 5/8 is probably the most common
  • Ratchet, Perferably one that is the same size as your socket
  • Standard Head Screw Driver, The one that is flat.
  • Phillips Head Screw Driver, The one that looks like a star or a plus sign.

The breaker bar, that’s another tool I couldn’t live without. When you’re working on the wheels the breaker bar cuts the job in half when breaking loose those lug nuts!

  • Breaker Bar, Your gonna need it for those tough nuts
  • Tool Box, This is not mandatory but it is a good idea to keep your tools together.

Alright, now you have the basic tools to start out with. There are tons and tons of tools you can buy to make working on cars easier. There are also tools you will need to complete a job correctly, like a torque wrench.  This is a tool like a breaker bar but with a gauge to make all the nuts or bolts the same tightness all the way around.  This even tightness is imperative to keep parts on the vehicle especially if it’s a part that spins.  If one nut or bolt is looser than the other it will cause a slight vibration to the spinning item, and slowly unscrew all the nuts o bolts until they fall off or you notice and re-tighten them.

For the female mechanic, and guys that enjoy wearing nails, first things first: remove your nails. Yep, the acrylics, silkies and down right real ones. You could work on your car with them but the ingredients in oil and grease will break the acrylic material down and they’ll start popping off like Pez candy and we don’t want one popping off into the carburetor. So lets get them off before they pop off! Be sure to pull your hair back either in a ponytail,  simple braid or hair clips. You seriously don’t want the fan or fan belt to grab a hold of your hair! So, trim them nails, pull back your hair and select the system you wan to work on today from the list below or from the home page.

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