Life was much simpler once. Then, with just a small amount of know-how and some basic tools we were able to actually repair our cars. They were simpler. They didn't have on-board computers like today's cars and there was plenty of room under the hood to fix most simple problems.
Today, our cars are more complex. Trained mechanics need specialized tools to fix them, and indeed, our attempts at repairs may actually exacerbate the problem.
Let's face it, today it's best to have our dead car towed to a reputable service station.
Nevertheless, there are still a few repairs that all of us should become familiarized with. These repairs are:
”Changing a tire - will get us back on the road and to a service station
”Changing windshield wiper blades - will allow us to see in rain and snow
”Checking the windshield wiper fluid reservoir and filling it - will wash away slush
”Checking the oil level and adding oil when low - prevents expensive damage to engineChanging a Tire
- Today's new tires are a lot sturdier than those from yesteryear. Many are manufactured to be temporarily self-sealing when punctured. And yet, flat tires are still a concern when they happen. There are two repairs that we can do to get back on the road.
The first one is rather simple. If the tire is punctured by a nail, for instance, then we can leave it in place and spray a special Tire-Seal compound in to the tire through the valve stem. This compound seeks out leaks and seals them semi-permanently. Leaving the nail in the hole makes the leak smaller and thus easier to seal. This quickie repair will get us back on the road where our first stop must be a service station where a permanent repair or tire replacement can be made.
Our second repair is necessary if we don't have a Tire-Seal compound available. Then we'll have to change the tire. Although a dirty job, this too, has been made simpler by easier-to-use tools. Whenever possible, we first pull off the road unto a safe area where we'll be able to change the tire without being hit by traffic. We then open the hood to signal our dilemma to passer-bys. An open hood is the international sign that our car is in trouble. If good fortune befalls us, our open hood may attract one of the many highway safety patrols that cruise up down our major highways. They're often equipped to change tires.
If we're not on a major highway, we may have to resign ourselves to do the job ourselves. We need to look in the trunk or under the back seat, or wherever the car manufacturer has stowed the necessary equipment to change a tire. Hopefully we've kept our user's manual in the glove box to tell us where to find the tools and what the proper tire changing procedures are.
We'll need an inflated spare tire. Without this we're not going to change any flats. To save trunk space, many manufacturers now include special, smaller spare tires that work as well as the original ones. They look goofy but they do the job. We have to remember that these "donut" spares are for limited driving only, and that they were designed to get us to a service station.
Next, we need to find a tire jack. This tool raises the car into the air high enough to pull the flat tire off and to then mount the spare. The jack will have to be placed precisely as per written instructions in the user's manual, or alternatively, on a stick-on instruction flyer in the trunk. Cars that are raised incorrectly with a jack may slip off and come crashing unto our feet, hands or worse. If we're not comfortable with raising a car with a jack, it might be prudent to wait for assistance.
Finally, we need a wrench to loosen the lug nuts that hold the wheel unto the axle.
Once we know that all the required components are available, we're ready to change our tire.
First, we set the emergency brake to keep the car from rolling. We then place the jack in the correct position as per instructions, and we extend the lifting part of the jack just high enough to make full contact with the car, but not to raise it.
With a screw driver or with the flattened part of the jack handle (if that's what we have), we then take of the hubcap and lay it next to the car, face down.
Using the wrench, we then loosen the lug nuts on the wheel. That may be the most difficult job for us to complete because many lug nuts have been applied by service technicians with an airhammer that tightens them, sometimes to the point of not being able to take them off.
Be persistent and "break" the nuts from their tight position, but don't loosen them all the way, and don't take them off.
Now we jack the car into the air. We'll have to jack it up a little bit higher than what it takes to take off the flat tire, since the spare tire will be bigger since it's inflated. This may not be the case in the event that we have one of the newer, smaller "donut" spares.
Once the car is off the ground, we remove the lug nuts all the way and lay them in the "bowl" of the hubcap. We then pull the flat tire off the axle and lay it to one side. Next we mount the spare tire where the flat used to be and hand-tighten the lug nuts unto the axle. We then hand tighten the nuts just enough to seat the spare onto the axle.
Next we lower the car to the ground and remove the jack from under the car. With the wrench we finally tighten the nuts, a bit at a time until they are tight. On cars with five lug nuts, we skip every other one and tighten in that progressive order. This will insure an even tightening of the nut lugs.
To finish the job, we replace the jack and the lugnut wrench to their normal storage places. We put the tire in the trunk. It's best that we don't tighten the tire to its normal resting place since we'll want to drive it immediately to a service station for a repair or replacement. If we don't, and we have another flat, we won't have a spare to save us.
In fact, if we have one of the newer, smaller spares, then we'll have to have it taken off the axle and replaced with our new tire that we'll purchase as quickly as possible. Thankfully that can be done by the tire service technician.Changing windshield wiper blades
- Typically, this has been one of the most underused repairs on automobiles, primarily because we don't know when wiper blades need to be replaced. We see the streaking on the windshield in a rainstorm but we don't recognize this as a breakdown of the wiping surface of the wiper. We try to wash the windshield afterwards, thinking that the streaking is the result of oil and grime on the glass.
In fact, streaking occurs when the windshield wiper rubber has been eaten away by the ozone in our atmosphere. This destruction is not immediately noticeable. Once this occurs, it's unable to make the tight contact with the windshield that it needs to squeegee it clean.
Mechanics and auto safety experts suggest that wiper blades should be routinely changed, say when we change our oil.
Although somewhat tedious at first, changing wiper blades does not need to be overly complicated, once we know the specific removal and installation techniques for our brand of windshield wipers. In most instances we can remove the wiper by first squeezing a pinch bracket on one end and then pulling it clear of its mounting brackets. To install a replacement wiper, we merely reverse the removal process by inserting the end without the pinch bracket in to the mounting brackets and then pushing the new rubber all the way to the end until the pinch bracket snaps the blade securely in place.
In the event that the wiper holding bracket has been damaged to the point of not being able to align the wiper blade squarely against the windshield then we must replace it along with the blade. This can be tricky because different automobiles use different mounting techniques. Many brackets attach to the wiper arm by attaching to the arm's "U" hook, whereas other brackets may use any number of different mounting techniques. It is important to read the accompanying directions that come with all holding brackets. Most of them are designed to fit any number of different automobiles and it is important to use the correct attachments that come with the brackets for our specific vehicle.Checking the windshield wiper fluid reservoir and topping it off
- Along with clean windshield wiper blades we must insure that the under-the-hood windshield wiper fluid reservoir is always filled with either water or a commercially available windshield wiper fluid. The latter has an anti-freezing component to it that prevents the fluid from freezing during the winter.
When road grime splatters unto our windshield we can't always rely on only our windshield wipers to clean them. Thatfs when we need the additional cleaning power of the windshield wiper fluid to help wipe away the grime.
The fluid reservoir is most often located on either side of the engine compartment. It's important to be able to differentiate between the wiper fluid reservoir and the radiator overflow reservoir! Each of these performs a different function and they must not be confused with one another.
Once located, the wiper reservoir can be easily opened at the top and water or wiper fluid added to the fill mark.Checking the oil level and topping it off
- Our cars need oil to run properly. Without it, cars would quickly grind to a halt. Generally our local service station mechanics change the oil on a regular basis. Unfortunately, there are times when oil leaks occur, or when oil is burned in the cylinders and the level drops dangerously low. Depending on our car, we may be alerted to the problem by a gauge or a red light on the dashboard. When that happens, we must stop the car immediately. Driving it with an insufficient amount of oil will irreparably damage the engine.
With the car out of traffic and turned off, we open the hood and look for the oil dipstick. This is generally one of two thin metal strips that are cased within a narrow tube. The other dipstick is for checking the automatic transmission fluid. When we pull out the dipstick and it has two notations on it, Cool and Hot, then we have found the automatic transmission fluid dipstick which we replace. Once we find the other dipstick we remove it from its tube and wipe it clean with a cloth or a paper towel. We then reinsert the dipstick all the way until it seats in the tube and then we pull it out again. We can see the level of oil by checking it on the bottom of the dipstick. If the indicator at the bottom of the dipstick shows a low level, then we have to add some oil. The indicator will show us how much to add. Interestingly enough, it is better for the engine to pour a little less than the full amount in than to overfill the oil reservoir.
If, however, the oil level seems to be all right and the gauge or the red light indicated an oil problem, then a mechanic must look at the car. This is now beyond our capabilities.
If we have to add oil we now have to find the oil filler cap. Generally it's a round screw-on cap that's located on top of the engine. It might be useful to refer to the automobile owner's manual to properly identify this cap because we don't want to add oil into the wrong receptacle. Once we know where to pour the oil we pour only enough as indicated by the dipstick. In order not to overfill the oil reservoir, it's best to add just a bit of oil, then recheck the level with the dipstick, and continue this process until the correct amount has been added.
Generally, unless we're especially adept at working on cars and we have the correct tools, it's wise to let the professional mechanics do the repairs. Nevertheless, in an emergency, these basic repairs will get us back on the road.