Mechanically Speaking: When it comes to repairs, you still gotta get your hands dirty

"The problem is what is obvious to a mechanic is not so obvious to the armchair mechanic."

The Internet is awash with auto repair information. We all use it to solve automobile woes. Unfortunately many an armchair mechanic can’t seem to get out of the armchair to solve the problem. It is always easier to talk about a solution than to provide a solution.

I understand this problem more than many of you might think. I am guilty of over analyzing problems.

Before I fix a car I want to know how the system I am concerned about works.

I need to know where all the components are. I need to know the common failure items. I need to drive the vehicle or operate the system that allows me to experience the problems my client is complaining about.

All of these steps are necessary but there is one step that needs to take place early in the diagnosis.

Lift the hood (so to speak) and take a look.

Many times the solution becomes obvious. The problem is what is obvious to a mechanic is not so obvious to the armchair mechanic. What to look for? Time to search YouTube for that exact video that will point out the obvious.

While searching online for “silver bullets” (solutions to problems that everyone has experienced in the same type of vehicle as yours) it is easy to find litanies of people describing the exact problem that you may be experiencing. By the time you are finished reading you are darn sure your vehicle is another casualty to the exact scenario.

Usually included in those litanies is reference to either how poorly the writer’s mechanic performed at finding the solution or how grossly overcharged they were for such a simple solution.

Do not underestimate the value of using a mechanic to diagnose the problem, source the parts, perform the repair, and guarantee the repair.

You could circumvent the whole process. Purchase a part online and bring it to your local mechanic and say install it or maybe install it yourself. Then live with the consequences.

The consequences can be significant though. The online diagnosis may be wrong. The part may not fit the vehicle. The part may be substandard. There will be no guarantee.

I can assure you there are a lot of online solutions to vehicle problems that are very incorrect.

Choosing a quality part that fits is harder than ever. The tools required to successfully perform repairs are expensive and varied. A guaranteed solution will save you money in the long run.

Using a mechanic will give you the benefit of that early in the diagnosis lifting of the hood.

A loose battery terminal will mean you do not need that multi-hundred dollar alternator that everyone else in the online forum said you needed.

Tightening that battery terminal saved you both a new alternator and a new battery.

Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail:

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