Car repair is as old as the first car that ran on the road. So is a car owner with a raised hood, scratching his/her head of what the problem may be.

Although there is an army of professionals ready to help out with car problems, lots of drivers and car owners simply prefer to tackle these kind of problems on their own.

At least they think so until he/she comes across a complicated mechanism with several intertwined systems most commonly known as a car.

Some people give up immediately, but others just see tackling the problem as sort of a challenge, gain of knowledge and why not, an adventure.

In this article you’ll hopefully find useful information on how to get through a car repair procedure with less headache and make a successful repair.

Basic steps for proper car maintenance.

1. Find the problem through a proper diagnostic procedure and troubleshooting: what’s wrong, where and with what.

2. Inform yourself about repairs at hand (DIY or not, tools needed, cost of parts, etc.)

3. Make preparations (tools, safety measures, spare parts etc).

4. Make a safe environment to work in (best a garage or shed). If it’s outside, make sure it’s a clear surface (no grass, gravel, drains where you can lose stuff etc.)

5. Make the car repair (more details of the actual procedure below).

6. Double-check the whole job and procedure.

7. Once finished, gather all the tools and equipment. Make sure nothing stays under the hood or around the car.

8. If the nature of car repair demands it (for instance brake repair, coolant system repair, fuel system etc), take the car for a test drive.

Why does the car break down?

Before we start, just a few words worth mentioning.

An average car has about 30,000 parts! Just picture that. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that engineers manage to put all these parts together in to a functional mechanism.

Anyway, two main reasons for cars breaking down :

  • Material fatigue

It’s the number one reason for breakdowns.

Always look at the car as an expendable asset. It simply runs down over time.

Metal, plastic,fabric whatever the material may be simply has a lifespan of it’s own.

This is why regular maintenance is key for a long “life” of the car

  • Bad engineering solutions

Mostly limited to certain car types and manufacturers.

Bad in the sense of used material and combination of parts with the rest of the car systems.

For instance, a simple low quality washer, sensor, bolt or else can mean the difference between a good car and one that is troublesome.

Some manufacturers combine car parts from different models and manufacturers. Mostly successfully but in some cases are known to cause headaches.

Nevertheless, I always congratulate every car manufacturer on making a car, despite the fact that some car models do have issues.

Building a car was, is and will be an engineering marvel.

1. Find the problem with proper diagnostics and troubleshooting: what went wrong, where and what happened?

Making a good car diagnostic is KEY for a good car repair!

Making a mistake here means going down the wrong track and finishing in a dead-end.

Two ways I would advise on this matter:

1). Using your senses:

Yes, sounds like you’re going hunting, not making a car repair. But believe me the old-school way of solving car problems is still very effective.

A lot of car problems manifest themselves first through unusual sounds, smells, unusual behavior when driving etc.

Look, feel, smell and hear a car problem for a start.

Old-school method, but nevertheless, very effective.

2). Using diagnostic tools (OBD tools):

On today’s cars, computers are the name of the game. Have been for a long time.

OBD tools read a fault code provided by sensors to the main ECU unit.

Connecting the OBD tool lets you read a fault code and gives a hint (and perhaps a solution) of what may be wrong.

Simple to use, just find the OBD port on your car, connect the tools and let it do its thing.

Operating most of them is simple (much like old-school video games-up-down-left right pointer system) so even the laymen will be able to manage.

2. Inform yourself about repairs (DIY or not, tools needed, repair costs, etc.)

Most importantly: know what you should do!

Going in to a repair without clear knowledge is trouble in the making.

Once you’ve found out what the problems is, start informing yourself before you start taking the car apart.

What you should consider:

  • Volume and complication of the repair. Are you really able to repair this?
  • What tools will you need (do you need specialized ones)?
  • Do you need an extra pair of hands?
  • Are the car parts available and are they expensive?

3. Be prepared (tools, safety measures, spare parts, etc.)

When you’ve made a decision to make the car repair, start making preparations.

See that you have all needed tools and spare parts at hand.

You won’t want to get stuck in the middle of the job because you’re missing a car part or some tools.

Wear some protective working clothes and gloves. These will protect you from oil, grease and other filth which you’ll encounter.  Have in mind that most of these are very tough to wash off.

Having grease under your finger nails isn’t a nice site, especially if you’re not in this line of work.

4. Create a safe work environment

Park the car in a safe place. Best a garage or a shed.

Especially if you’re doing a car repair in a rainy, hot or winter day. Some repairs may take hours, so sitting unprotected in this kind of weather isn’t a pleasant experience.

Also, protect your health; laying down under the car in cold or wet conditions is a serious health threat.

A firm surface (concrete, asphalt etc) is best for making a car repair. See that there’s no drains or openings on the surface in order to avoid losing parts.

Grass or gravel surfaces should be avoided as these are traps for losing car parts, little nuts and bolts especially. These kinds of surfaces simply “eat” the small parts up, causing a serious loss of time.

If you have to work outside (you don’t have a garage or shed), best choose a secluded part of a parking lot and a day with nice weather. This way you’ll be able to make a quality repair without much distraction.

When you have to make a car repair under the car, make sure that you secure the car once jacked up.

Jack stands are best, if you don’t have ones, you can use what you have at hand (wooden pallet, wooden beam etc). Just as long as you’re safe from the car falling on you. Once you’ve secured it, give it a bit of a budge to make sure that it stands firmly.

Avoid working around the car when the engine is hot. Severe burns may occur if you’re not careful. Best work around when the engine is stone cold.

5. Make the car repair

There are basically three types of repairs you’ll encounter:

1). Basic maintenance

This isn’t really considered a repair. Changing oil, coolant, wiper blades, car headlight bulbs etc are more maintenance then repair and are considered fairly easy jobs to do.

2). Replacing whole parts or mechanisms

On this part, you’ll probably be replacing the whole mechanism. Old part out, new part in. These include changing things like window lifters, fuel pumps, wiper motors, coolant pumps or else.Most of these parts don’t have the possibility of repair because of their build.

3). Mending

Some parts or systems can be fixed and mended. Because of the system layout some of these can be successfully removed, cleaned, mended and returned.

A fine example of this is the starter or alternator that can be removed from the engine, repaired or rebuilt and returned successfully, working on the car for years.

But proper mending usually demands more expertise and tool handling (this involves things like soldering, welding, using special types of glues and sealants etc.) .

Mending all depends on your level of skill.

If you have higher technical knowledge and will, go ahead and try.

Once you’ve concluded what kind of repair is at hand do the following:

a) Remove any obstacles

Plastic coverings, trimmings etc., God knows that there’s no lack of these in today’s cars. Open up your working area so you can work comfortably

b) Understand the whole mechanism you’re going to repair

What’ the purpose, what is it connected to and how does it affect the other systems. Inform yourself well on this one, especially with newer, high-tech cars.

c) Clean the working area

For instance if the engine is greasy and dirty, find a way to clean it up. Lots of times, there are hidden nuts and bolts under layers of grease and dirt that build up over time. You’ll have better overview and it will be a nicer place to work.

d) If the repair involves fluids which can be spilled around and cause a mess, drain them first.

e) Remove any connections to the mechanism.

Wire connectors, cables, hoses or whatever the case may be. Make a clean spot to work and to be able to remove the faulty part.

f) Remove what’s holding the part

Nuts, screws, bolts, clips, whatever the case may be, remove them and loosen the part from the rest of the mechanism.

g) If needed clean the area around or under the part again.

This goes double if you have surfaces which seal off fluids. For instance, leaving any kind of residue on the metal surfaces will cause leaks and trouble.

h) Install the new part

Check if it needs any kind of lubrication, fine setting, re-tightening or else.

Make sure that the new car part is the exact match.

i) Properly fix in and tighten everything.

j) Reconnect everything and return in to place. Check that every connection is cleaned, tightened and properly set.

k) Start the car and see if everything works, if it’s that kind of repair.

6. Double check the entire job and procedure

Once you’ve finished the actual repair, double-check everything.

Mainly things like (depending on the type of repair):

  • Have you tightened everything properly

  • Are there any leaks around

  • Are all the connections OK and in place

  • Check for any kind of anomalies (weird sounds, smells or else). These are first tell-tale signs if you did something wrong

These are the basics and I hope you get the picture.

Whatever car repair you’re doing, the point is not to miss anything and check that everything works properly.

Especially do this if you’re new to car repair.

7. Once done, gather all tools and equipment. Make sure there is nothing under the hood or around the car.

One of the most common mishaps that happen during a car repair is leaving tools and equipment around.

Most things that are left over are mostly smaller and less visible like small diameter sockets, screw drivers, leftover nuts, washers etc.

Most dangerous place to leave, forget or lose them is under the hood.

Various crescents, holes or flat surfaces are just begging you to leave tools or parts around the engine bay.

If you don’t notice immediately that you’ve lost tools or left-over parts, you can continue driving the car and risking damage.

Lost wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers can fall in to the engine (like in to the serpentine belt ) and cause damage beyond belief.

Also, losing parts and tools is very time-consuming: if you’ve ever spent half an hour on a repair and two hours or more trying to find a lost nut, washer or socket, you’ll know what I mean.

In order to avoid this here are a couple of tips:

  • For tools; remember exactly number and type of tools you’ve used. If you can’t remember make a bullet list (I know it sounds stupid) but this is very effective.
  • For car parts, find a pan or some sort of container to put removed nuts, bolts, washers, plastic parts whatever the case may be.

Just don’t hurry and lay randomly things around.  Give it a short thought before putting things away.

Also remove any other left over equipment that may lie around the car (jack stands, car jacks, etc).

8. Find the problem with proper diagnostics and troubleshooting: what went wrong, where and what happened?

This tip goes double if you’ve done a car repair or maintenance  on systems like brakes, steering, repairing leaks, changing coolant or else. Any kind of repair that affects actual driving.

With this test, you’ll be certain that everything is OK and the car is ready for the road.

While making a test drive, pay attention to any weird sounds, smells or strange behavior of the car.

If such problems occur, tend to them immediately. It means that you did something wrong.

The test drive is the last  “circle” of safety and certainty that everything is done properly.

Don’t miss on it.