I am all for working on your own vehicle if you relish the challenge, like to tinker, or maybe just always have. Just remember the modern automobile is more finely engineered then it ever was and mistakes are far more costly. Your tool set must be that much bigger and your patience level that much higher.
Sure, the automobile lasts longer than it ever has without many failures but it is much more sensitive to poor maintenance and repair. Yep, it is easier to wreck than it ever was. The advent of computers and computer aided design and engineering allows the engineer to design pieces/parts and systems with much closer tolerances than ever. Nothing is over engineered because doing the calculations to put a little less metal, a little less plastic, a little less clearance is a lot easier.
Assembly of the lighter highly engineered pieces is not for the ham fisted. Any bolt tightening more than ever requires a torque wrench to obtain the correct clamping force. You might have a feel for tightening bolts that clamp steel parts but aluminum and plastic are not near as forgiving. Stripping threads in aluminum or plastic happens far too easily.
Many simple maintenance jobs require special tools. We are starting to see many different kinds of oil drain plugs that require special tools. Don’t be that person that uses the wrong tool and ruins the drain plug so that even the right tool no longer works. If you want to do the job buy the right tool.
After draining the next step is filling. Again this might require special tools. Many new vehicles do not have engine oil dipsticks. The level checking procedure might involve an electronic level sensor so that checking the oil level is done in the driver’s seat. A series of button pushes and commands will bring up the oil level display but it also may require some driving to get the oil temperature high enough and then some engine off time to let the oil settle in the oil pan.
Automatic transmission fluid changing is definitely not what it used to be. Most vehicles no longer have a filler tube for the automatic. Fluid is pumped into the transmission from below with special attachments and pumps or gravity fill systems. The level is determined with a scan tool to read the transmission fluid temperature and many times a plug in the bottom of the transmission. When the plug is removed oil should drain out. The proper level is established by the drip rate of the fluid from the transmission.
Want to change your engine coolant? Think long and hard about doing this yourself. Lots can go wrong here. Getting all the fluid out can require considerable time and skills. There are usually multiple drain plugs or hoses that must be removed. The clamps holding these hoses on come in many varieties while sometimes being near impossible to access.
Once drained filling is a whole other process that may require many more steps than just pouring coolant into the radiator until it is full. There will almost always be a bleeding procedure to let the air out of the system to get it completely full. Running a vehicle that is not completely full of coolant can do serious damage very quickly.
Coolants, transmission fluids, and engine oils, are highly engineered as well. There is not one type of each that works on all cars. Failure of any lubricant or coolant to do its job will be very costly and using the wrong product may void your warranty.
Trail’s Ron Nutini is a licensed automotive technician and graduate of mechanical engineering from UBC. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org