It's rumored that my first words were,
"Hot car, Mom," so I can appreciate the passion that one has for
doing his or her own work. There's an allure in hearing the whir
of an engine whose oil you just changed or whose hood you just
polished or whose leather you just conditioned.
Keep in mind the line
do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-for-me (DIFM) is a green one—as in
$. This border can be wide or very, very thin, depending on the
nature of the task, the available tools and the expertise of the
owner. And what may seem like a DIY wallet-fattening move may
result in a very costly DIFM wallet-flattening experience.
That said, performed correctly,
checking tire pressure, monitoring fluids and changing one's own oil
can save time and money while providing individual car owners with
the satisfaction of knowing what services were done to their cars
when--and how well they were completed.
So should you DIY?
For tire pressure, the answer is simple: Absolutely. Check often
with a digital tire gauge and use the tire pressure noted on the
inside of your door jamb, not the pressure recorded on your tire.
That figure is the recommended tire pressure when the vehicle is
at maximum weight load.
monitoring fluids, the answer is: It depends. Some fluids—like
oil level, brake fluid & coolant—are easily checked. Accessing
others—like differential gear lube—is not simple, but these vital
vehicular lifebloods need equal screening.
For changing one's own oil, the answer
is: It depends on several factors.
- Safety. Does the owner have
"jack stands?" Since most vehicles ride only 6"-7" off the
ground, access to the engine's oil pan drain plug and oil filter
is virtually impossible without elevating the vehicle. And when
changing oil filter, one must visually inspect and clean the
filter's mounting surface to ensure proper sealing of the
filter-to-engine block, another reason to lift the car. The
safest method of doing this is to buy a couple of "drive up
ramps." NAPA has
for less than $40 (part #5201206.
NAPA also offers a
for about $22 (part #8218038) that allows old oil to be properly stored until it can
be taken to a local waste oil drop off for proper disposal.
Also, consider protecting your body. As a DIYer, you're
assuming the role of a professional, so use rubber gloves like a
professional. Gloves shield your skin from the “nasty factor,”
and they offer a better—and safer—grip for wielding your
here to check out the GRIP®
Gloves, which my technicians and I use daily for jobs in the
shop and in our homes. My recommendation is Kimberly-Clark Professional's
entire line of automotive products, which includes not only quality gloves, but
also general-to-heavy-duty masks and overalls. Go to
click on "KLEENGUARD Head to Toe" for the complete line of
personal protective gear. And if you're working on painting your
automobile as a DIYer, use what professional paint shops use:
"KIMTECH Auto Paint Prep."
- Oil disposal. Used oil is
toxic...to humans, animals and vegetation. So when changing your
own oil, make sure you dispose of it properly. Many gas stations
accept used oil and filters, but for sure-bets, go to
to locate a collection site in your area.
With raised consciousness about the environmental impact of
carelessly disposed oil, many state and federal initiatives
reflect the shift in focus from "who cares" to "we care." For
example, Sacramento's "California Integrated Waste Management
Board" is allocating more than $1.2M to ensure the safe
retrieval and collection of used motor oil from crankcases
throughout the state.
Maintaining the Environment. And
speaking of disposing of materials, DIYers, consider the rags or
cloths that you use. The contaminants collected on cloth can
affect the environment as a by-product of wash water. For years,
we used cloth in Car Clinic Service, my 15,000 square-foot
automotive service facility. Two years ago, we switched to the
SCOTT® product line. Depending on the nature of the job, our
technicians use professional-grade SCOTT® Shop Towels on a Roll,
SCOTT® Shop Towels in a Box,
or SCOTT® Shop Towels Hand Wipes.
To pair the perfect product with your project, go to
and click on "Automotive." Since seeing is
believing, check out the “Bobby in
the Shop” page on our website
for a simple plug-&-play worksheet for $$ saved.
When performing DIY procedures,
consider other venues to your driveway. Schools that offer
automotive service & management training courses often allow
students to work on their own cars inside the classroom / garage
Pensacola State College and the
Advanced Technology Center
Daytona are two examples.
The reality is that most
automotive services are beyond the skill-and-tool scope of a car
owner with a car key and gas card. From a technological
viewpoint, electronics controlled only 2% of an automobile in
the early 70's. By 2010, 50% of all vehicle operations will be
electronically controlled. With so many car functions interconnected, the potential to create problems doing one's own
services looms. While unscrewing a drain plug for oil change may
be relatively simple, try safely replacing some engine air
filters. You'll quickly learn that car makers cram too many car
parts into too small a space. Talk about a jigsaw puzzle.
In Clint Eastwood style, the
trick is "to know your limitations." When deciding on which side
of the DIY/DIFM line you’re on for a particular procedure, keep
in mind it’s what you don't know that can hurt you...and your
vehicle. Each manufacturer has its own electronic architecture
that keeps vehicle operations private--private to the point that
"other than franchised dealers and the best trained independent
shops," few can actually get into the car's computer-controlled
operations. Procedures that seem “simple”—and indeed were in
ancient history (that’s before the ‘90s)—are now much more
complex. For example:
- Resetting service lights—correctly.
- Recalibrating tire pressure
monitoring systems after a flat or low tire.
- Even replacing mere light bulbs has
too often become a sophisticated job requiring disassembly of
too many car parts.
As evidence of the complexity
of servicing today’s vehicles, some 60K e-pages of Technical
Service Bulletins (TSBs) are delivered monthly to service
shops across the country by Alldata. So how can you capitalize
on all this information? For DIFM consumers, it’s a
no-brainer: ask your shop to search for and print TSBs for
your particular vehicle. For DIYers, you’ll have to cross the
line because, despite your DIY status, it's important to
establish rapport with a dealer or up-to-date independent
service shop. Sooner or later, your vehicle will need an
operation that you can’t perform, so visit a few recommended
shops in advance and "test the waters" by chatting with the
service managers. Tell them you're a DIYer but are looking for
a place for servicing your vehicle beyond what you want to do
for yourself. Be bold. Ask for relevant TSBs. You'll get a
quick feel for the fit.
those who really want to get involved with their car's
health, ask questions at the shop. Don't toss the keys to the
service advisor and run (late) to work. The time you put in
upfront (before repairs) will pay dividends beyond your
expectations. Do this and you'll get "buy-in" from your
or DIFM, don’t neglect your 4-wheeled friend. In the world
of automotive service & repair, there's a term called "slow
death." Slow death happens to all machines (including cars)
and is caused when the lifebloods of individual mechanical
components deteriorate, causing extra pressure to shift from
one car part to another, eventually overloading the system.
For example, pressurized power steering fluid is the prime
element in creating "power assist" in steering. However, when
this fluid becomes contaminated (50K miles will do it) with
small metal particles, the effect is the same as cancer that
has metastasized, traveling through the automotive body and
causing damage to other "healthy" components.
Ask consumers (ask yourself) what
comes to mind if I asked what "Preventive Maintenance" (PM)
means to you and you'll probably hear, "Changing oil & filter
every 3K to 4K miles” and maybe “rotating the tires." This
mindset is common across America. And little wonder, the
automotive aftermarket has sung this "PM" song since the
mid-60's. Today, "100K-mile This and Forever That" are
commonplace...and necessarily unwise.
As a result of my 40 years under
the hood and now in the electronics of cars, we've created and
trademarked a new service approach: Pre-Repair™. I know
"Preventive Maintenance is obsolete because it's incomplete."
Engine oil, gear lube, brake fluid, power steering and
transmission fluids must be included in short- and long-term
services if a vehicle is expected to deliver thousands of
miles of trouble-free operation. Truly, these fluids are the
Speaking of protecting your
automotive baby, covering it is a must if you want it to
maintain the factory shine, or better yet the glow from last
weekend's elbow-grease wash 'n' wax. But not all fabrics do
trick. Some trap moisture. For the best in car cover
by Kimberly-Clark is
the choice. Depending on your vehicle's environment and
your requirements, you can choose a cover made from
Evolution, Noah and Dustop. All my vehicles have BLOCK-IT®
fabric covers, even my Viper which is carefully garaged.
And finally, whether DIYer or DIFMer,
you have access to this website as a resource. We designed our
site with the consumer in mind, and it's rich in audio, video
& print content. Click on the "Email Bobby"
link for a direct connection to moi. I've answered literally
thousands of Car Clinic listener and viewer questions with
direction that helps consumers make smart decisions at the
service shop and retail store.