* Remove the fill plug before you remove the drain plug –
This applies mostly to manual transmissions and rear axles, which typically have a drain plug mounted somewhere near the bottom of the case and a fill plug located higher up, often on the side of the case. A beginner’s mistake – one that can lead to extreme frustration (and possibly, expense) is to remove drain plug – and with it, all the fluid (gear lube/transmission fluid) and then discover that you can’t get to the fill plug.
Or can’t get it out.
Now, you can’t refill the transmission (or axle) with fresh lube. Which means… you can’t drive the vehicle.
Usually, the fluid/lube level will be at or just below the level of the fill plug, so it will not come gushing out when you remove the fill plug. But it will facilitate faster/more complete draining once you remove the drain plug. And – most important of all – you’ll know you can refill the case before you drain the case.
Helpful extra: Many transmission/axle drain and fill plugs can often be removed using a 3/8 or 1/2 inch socket extender. The “boxed” shape of the extender exactly fits the drain plug bolt and is deep enough for a secure (non-wobbly) fit. Use the largest (longest) driver (or breaker bar) that’ll fit in the space available to loosen the drain/fill plugs. They are often very tight. Leverage is your friend. Dousing them with PB Blaster or similar penetrant about 30 minutes before trying to loosen them also helps.
But whatever you do, don’t force them – or you might end up with a truly hideous scene. A cracked/broken case, for instance – which will take many dollars to remedy.
Is just the ticket for holding a gasket in place while you line parts up. Particularly case covers with lots of bolts, such as differential covers and automatic transmission pans. In addition to making it easy to get parts together properly, it will also make it a lot easier to take them apart again, later on. The gasket will not have to be scraped off with a razor blade. Just peel it off.
No fuss, much less muss.
Vaseline can also be used to hold small parts in place during installation – such as the little check balls in an automatic transmission’s valve body – that would otherwise fall out of place and drive you nuts.
* Start all bolts/spark plugs, etc. by hand (and wiggle as you turn) –
Few things can ruin your day like cross-threading a spark plug or bolt. It hasn’t happened to me in years because I’ve learned to first make sure the threads are clean (you can use a wire brush for this) then begin turning them in (righty, tighty) by hand, wiggling them slightly at first to help seat the threads. You’ll soon develop an instinctive feel for proper (and improper) engagement. Only when you’re sure the spark plug or bolt is threading properly should you bring out the ratchet or wrench. Be extra careful when tightening a plug on an aluminum cylinder head. Just slightly tighter than hand-tight is usually safe – and even if it’s not quite there, it’s far better to leave it a bit loose than too tight.
Smart move: Invest in a torque wrench to be certain you’ve tightened whatever it is just enough … but not too much. A good one will cost you about $50-$75.
Much cheaper than pulling a head to fix a ruined thread.
* An old syringe can help you keep your brake (and hydraulic clutch) fluid clean –
Probably the most effective way to avoid expensive brake (and clutch system) problems is by keeping the brake/clutch fluid clean. This will help keep lines from rusting from the inside out, internal seals from disintegrating and much reduce the likelihood you’ll be stuck with a big bill for new brake calipers, an ABS pump or hydraulic clutch slave cylinder – among other things.
But people frequently neglect to even check the fluid level in the reservoirs (the brake master cylinder reservoir and the clutch fluid reservoir) even though both are usually very easy to identify and access and usually do not require tools to top off. Both also use the same fluid – brake fluid (be sure to check the type your vehicle uses; e.g., DOT3 or DOT4, and so on; the info will be in your vehicle owners manual). This fluid should be in the clear/translucent to honey yellow range. If it’s dark brown or black, it’s contaminated – and should be changed out.
A full fluid change requires “bleeding” the system, but an easy way to extend the changeout intervals – and keep the fluid clear/translucent for much longer – is to use a syringe to suck out most of the old fluid in each reservoir, then refill with fresh. The best syringe is a larger one. Remove the needle and fit a short section of rubber tubing of the same diameter on the nipple. Use an old cup to “spit” the old fluid into as you go (be careful not to spill the old fluid as brake fluid is a very effective paint stripper). As you get near bottom, take care not to completely drain the reservoir. You will (or should be able to) see a little pinhole. This is the intake for the fluid lines and you do not want to uncover it/expose it to air as that may allow air into the lines – and if that happens, the system will need to be bled.
By using the syringe technique, you can drain out appx. half or more of the system’s total fluid volume without actually bleeding the system. If you start doing this before the existing fluid has been in there too long, it won’t be necessary to do a full bleed as often (or rather, pay someone to do it for you) and you may never have to worry about contaminated brake/clutch fluid – and potentially very expensive repair work.
* Blocks (and other pieces) of wood –
Use a piece of 2×4 in between the metal of your floor jack and the metal of your car and you’ll avoid dimpling (and scratching) the frame. A flat board of just the right size bolted to the jack pad is just the ticket for stabilizing a large/unwieldy/heavy component (such as an automatic transmission) while you you raise and maneuver it into position. A piece of wood will can also be used to help distribute weight more evenly when raising, say, an engine an inch or so up on side so that you can remove (and replace) a bad engine mount.
The really great thing about wood is that it’s solid, but has some “give” to it. Just enough that it usually won’t scratch what you’re working on (especially if you put an old towel or similar in between the wood and the metal component being raised or loaded. Also, it’s cheap – and you can easily cut a piece to suit whatever the need happens to be.
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