Many auto lovers have an older vehicle on which they enjoy perfecting their mechanical skills. Such tinkering requires the basic sets of wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, and gauges. For others, though, the necessities stretch to specialty equipment, such as engine lifts and wheel balancers.
Here’s what you need to know about assembling the ideal car-maintenance kit.
Car & Driver suggests do-it-yourselfers (DIYers) start small, with the basic wrench and socket sets that will allow them to perform a basic oil change, spark plug pulls and minor component replacements, and then grow the equipment lists with items such as lathes, grinders and balancers.
“To those who love tinkering, the garage can be many things: a sanctuary, a place for quality time with your favorite toys, an alchemist’s lab where beer turns ideas into reality,” says the article. “Whatever role the garage plays in your life, it’s easy to see its potential as more than just a place to park. It calls out to be used, and to be useful.”
Among the basic maintenance that just about anybody can perform on a car (even today’s sophisticated machines) is an oil change. It’s not as simple as it was in your grandfather’s generation, but it can still be easily performed with easily affordable equipment. Detailed instructions are available on many auto enthusiast sites, such as Edmunds.
The front end of the vehicle (which, for safety, should have two hours downtime to allow the engine to cool down but not be stone-cold) has to be lifted, either by driving up a set of wheel ramps or by alternatively jacking up each of the front corners and placing axle stands underneath the undercarriage. Then it’s just a case of loosening the plug with a standard wrench to allow the oil to drain into a holding container (for environmentally responsible disposal), using an oil filter wrench to loosen and remove the old oil filter, and working in reverse order to install a new filter and securely fasten the under-engine plug, before refilling the engine with the proper amount of the recommended oil.
Some auto equipment providers recognize the struggle that many car enthusiasts may face in finding great tools without breaking the bank.
“At Greg Smith Equipment Sales, we strive to provide our customers with quality automotive equipment at discount prices,” says a statement from the company, which has been in business for 30 years and is primarily known for equipping lifts in professional shops.
The experts at Greg Smith Equipment Sales understand that homeowners are a growing force in today’s world of escalating maintenance costs, and even those who don’t have need or room for lifts in their garages are looking to alternatives in performing simple tasks such as fluid changes and brake jobs.
Among the essentials for such tasks, according to Doityourself.com, are hydraulic or service jacks and creepers (seats on which you sit or boards on which you lie to allow easy, supported access to components low on or under the vehicle.)
Other items the do-it-yourself garage might want to house are air compressors, a torque wrench, work benches, ramps, and exhaust hoses. Some of the heavier equipment will allow more ambitious projects, though even some of them can be performed with equipment that isn’t too hard on the budget.
Brake jobs on today’s vehicles are also relatively easy to perform, if you’re simply replacing components such as pads and rotors. Again, it involves safely jacking up the vehicle, followed by easy removal of the rotor (disc) to see if the minimum thickness has been breached. Note the thickness gauge on the edge of the rotor. Pull off the floating caliper and check brake pads for thickness as well (they too have a marker for the minimum thickness). Replace components as needed and bleed the brake lines to remove air (which will otherwise impair braking ability). You need a partner for that last stage, but it basically involves loosening the bleeder screw on the caliper on which you just worked, attaching a hose to allow the fluid coming out of the bleeder screw to flow into a disposal container, and having somebody depress the brake pedal until the fluid runs out air-bubble free.
It’s important to not let up on the pressure on the pedal before retightening the bleeder screw (because that will suck air back into the brake lines) and to not let the brake fluid under the hood run dry as it will introduce air into the brake hoses.
Replacing brake fluid in the master cylinder (another relatively easy job) also involves bleeding the lines to get rid of all the old fluid. Healthy brake fluid is clear; any objects in the fluid or a darkened color are both signs the fluid should be changed. You need a turkey baster to remove the fluid from the reservoir, and then enlist a friend to help you bleed the brakes and get rid of the old fluid in lines.
And, if you want to delve even deeper into automotive maintenance, with such tasks as rotating, changing and/or mounting your own tires, for example, there are balancing tools that can help get the job done properly and don’t take up a lot of space in the garage.
Whatever your degree of involvement with your vehicle, a company such as Greg Smith Equipment Sales can provide the tools needed to ensure safe and reliable do-it-yourself work.
“We are more than just ‘The Lift Professionals.’ We also offer a wide range of other shop equipment products, including tire changers, wheel balancers, alignment machines, sandblast cabinets, and much more. We sell to large and small automotive service centers, car dealerships, and Mr. Homeowner,” explains Greg Smith.