If you mess around with cars long enough, you’ll figure out ways of doing things that make the job easier. Here are five tips that have worked well for me over the years:
* Hot water can sometimes be good to get into –
Occasionally, a new radiator or heater hose will be a mother to install. The inside diameter of the hose seems to be just a bit too tight for the outlet/fitting it’s supposed to slip into. And sometimes, those outlets/fittings are made of relatively fragile (or brittle) aluminum or plastic – so the application of brute strength can lead to expensive damage.
A trick you can use to loosen things up a little is to heat up some tap water on the stove, then stick the balky end of the hose in the hot water. This will make the rubber more pliable – and should make the hose a lot easier to slip onto its fitting.
* Vaseline is a great extra pair of hands –
There are some repair/maintenance jobs where a part has to be held in place while you try to reinstall another part – for example, those little check balls inside an automatic transmission’s valve body, or even the pan gasket – as you try to maneuver the pan into place without the gasket shifting. A little dab/bead of Vaseline can hold whatever you’re working on in place while you button things up. Unlike RTV rubberized gasket maker (which you can’t or shouldn’t use in certain situations anyhow) the Vaseline is not permanent and will just melt away once the vehicle is put back into service. A little dab of Vaseline on your index finger can also help guide a nut or other fastener onto a hard to reach stud and allow you to begin threading it – without it slipping off your finger/stud a dozen times before you manage to get it started.
* Paper towels are good for more than just cleaning up –
Spark plugs should always be started by hand to avoid cross-threading them (which can lead to a major hassle and potentially big expense if you do). But it’s sometimes hard to get the spark plug to sit snug in the socket; once you upend the tool, the spark plug wants to fall out – making it very hard to delicately aim it at the hole and get it started onto its threads. There are spark plug-specific sockets that have a little rubber “doughnut” inside of them designed to hold the plug’s insulator in place – but you may not have one of these. If you don’t, just tear off a small bit of paper towel and wrap it around the ceramic insulator to snug up the plug in the socket so it won’t wobble around or fall off as you thread it into its hole. Once the plug is installed, just pull off the socket and the piece of paper towel should come off with it. If it doesn’t, just fish it out with tweezers or a “grab” tool.
* Avoiding DIY oil change messes –
One of the downsides of do-it-yourself oil changes is the mess in the driveway that often comes with them – especially if the car being worked on has an oil filter that’s not mounted straight down. There are two handy tricks to keep side-mounted oil filters from gushing oil everywhere: First, of course, the crankcase should be thoroughly drained by removing the oil pan drain bolt and allowing as much of the oil to come out as will come out. (Be sure to loosen or reove the oil fill plug on top of the engine to facilitate draining.) To deal with the filter, use your filter wrench to loosen it just enough so that you can turn it out the rest of the way by hand. Now remove the tool and put a sturdy plastic bag over the filter – such as a Ziplock freezer storage bag – and turn it out the rest of the way. The bag should catch most of the oil as the filter comes off. Be sure the filter is cool enough to touch with your bare hand before putting on the plastic bag – or the bag might melt and make an even bigger mess.
If you have one of those filters that is extremely hard to reach, another way to deal with the mess is to move a catch pan under the filter, then use a punch to make a hole in the side of the filter, allowing the oil inside to drain before you remove the filter. Just be careful not to beat on the filter too much; you don’t want to deform the thing – or damage the mounting boss it attaches to.
* Let time be your ally –
Probably the most important tip of all is to take your time with whatever you’re working on. A rushed job is much more likely to be a botched job. If you get hung up on something, stop – and think about it awhile. Have a beer. Read the repair manual – and if that doesn’t help, ask someone for help. Whatever you do, resist the temptation to forge ahead and “git r done” even when you don’t really know what you’re doing – or you’re mad.