Things Every Driver Should Know

If you’re not particularly mechanically inclined, you may watch those who are with admiration, amazement, and exasperation because they have something you don’t: an understanding of how things work and how things fit together.

When they take something apart, they can reassemble it the way it was. When they say that they want to take a look under the hood, they can actually get the darn thing open. And when they need to change a flat, they don’t spend ten minutes trying to figure out which end of the jack is up.

The good news is that you don’t have to be born with a wrench in your hand to know how to fix things — even things as seemingly complicated as a car. I know; I’ve been there. The Introduction tells you all about my automotive epiphany.

Before You Tackle Any Job

It’s wonderful to do things yourself. You spend less money, you get a sense of power knowing that you did it on your own, and you know that the job’s been done right. Nevertheless, to avoid getting in over my head, I always ask myself the following questions before undertaking any job

Buying the right parts for your vehicle

Before you go shopping for parts to replace those on your vehicle, read the tips in this section carefully. They can help you avoid what’s probably the most annoying part of any automotive job: disabling your vehicle to work on it only to find that you need it to drive back to the store to exchange the stuff they sold you in error! Before I learned how to do it right, this happened at least two out of every three times on every job I did.

To buy the proper parts for your vehicle, you must know its specifications (or “specs,” as they’re often called). Most of this information should be in your owner’s manual, and a lot of it is also printed on metal tags or decals located inside your hood. You can usually find these in front of the radiator, inside the fenders, on the inside of the hood — anywhere the auto manufacturer thinks you’ll find them. I know of one car that has its decal inside the lid of the glove compartment. These ID tags also provide a lot of other information about where the vehicle was made, what kind of paint it has, and so on.

It’s a good idea to stick with parts from the same manufacturer as those that your vehicle originally came with. That brand may be listed in a service manual for your vehicle. If you don’t have a service manual, tell the sales clerk at the auto parts store that you want OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts. Quality aftermarket parts are available as well, but unless you trust your parts seller’s recommendations, or you’ve already used a particular aftermarket brand and had good luck with it, stick with OEM parts.

Last word

If you can’t find specs for buying and gapping spark plugs in your owner’s or service manual or on your vehicle, you’ll find them in a “Tune-Up Specification Guide” (called a “spec sheet” for short) at an auto supply store. “Buying the right plugs” in Chapter 6 provides a sample spec sheet and shows you how to use it.

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