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Got a full time job but want to learn how to repair my own car

Hi, I work a full-time job that prevents me from going to mechanic school (and I don’t want to be a mechanic). I do want to learn how to fix and upkeep my wife’s 1983 toyota 4x4 pickup. She inherited it from a close friend and it means a lot to her so we are unlikely to get rid of it. But last time we took it into the shop to check a rattle and oil leak, the shop told us (a) it’s leaking from too many places and (b) the rattle is the exhaust manifold and fixing it would be “a can of worms” they do not want to get into. We got the impression from the shop that they don’t want us to bring the truck back to their shop anymore. So, it’s going to become a garage restoration project slowly.

The problem is that I know very little in automotive maintenance (Checking oil, changing lightbulbs, etc) and not much more. Nor do I have a nearby friend who can help me with this.

How do I start with learning how to fix this truck? It still has a lot of life left.

Start with repair manuals from the parts store.
Then, to learn theory, pick up books from the bookstore. Pick up magazines too, but select ones that have “how to” features. Street Rodder and Hot Rodder magazines cater to hands-on guys and have lots of these articles. Top Gear, Octane, Motor Trend, and others don’t have as many, some of them never have how-to articles.

If you get really into it, or would like to, you can go to the local community college and get the names, authors, and ISBN numbers of the textbooks they use. You can then order the books through any bookstore or book site, including their college bookstore.

Oh, and always remember that safety comes first. A good set of ramps, a good hydraulic lift and good quality jackstands, leather work gloves, a face shield (you can get one from the local hardware store, but I like the medical ones if you have a local medical equipment supply outlet).

And, of course, you can hang out here with us. If you can stand us.

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Also, one potentially dangerous thing I’ve noticed in the post:

Your wife’s 1983 pickup truck means a lot to her?

Look, I can understand that people get attached to their vehicles. I can also understand the idea of “happy wife, happy life.” Fact of the matter is, though, that you’re probably going to have to start planting the idea that the truck is getting up there in age, and eventually, it’s going to have to go.

I’m hoping you can get this current problem fixed and get some more time with it, don’t get me wrong. However, the sooner you start getting her to think about the junkyard, the easier it will be when it comes time to usher it into the automotive afterlife.

If she puts up much of a fight, don’t ever (ever ever EVER) buy her a puppy.

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What tsm said. I think you have to also determine how much aptitude you have in the field of auto mechanics. For many of us (I include myself), accepting our limitations is the cheapest and safest approach. I like knowing how things work (or why they don’t) but it doesn’t come naturally. Funny but after reading folks trying valiantly to describe issues and listening to them in my mechanics waiting area I still feel like I know more than 50% of the general public when it comes to auto repairs.That said I still know less than 20% of probably just one of the regulars here…

It’s 29 years old…It has a carburetor…It will be a full-time job keeping it on the road…It has crude electronic controls and emissions equipment…

But it IS a relatively simple vehicle as long as parts are available…How many miles are on it??

and how much rust?

+1, Big Marc - I wonder if that might be a reason the shop doesn’t want to see it. If there’s much rust the time may be here for a replacement.

Many shops don’t want to see old automobiles. The bolts are often rusted and hard to remove. Sometimes parts are hard to obtain. I had a 1978 Oldsmobile that I purchased new and sold last fall after 33 years. For at least the last 15 years, when I drove it to my independent shop, the mechanics all ran and hid either in empty oil drums or locked themselves in the restroom. I did find one mechanic that did like working on old cars. However, he retired a year ago, his shop was torn down and a drug store built on the lot. I did purchase the service manuals for the car from GM when I bought the car. These manuals (engine and chassis manual and body manual) did prove to be quite helpful and I saved money over the years in doing some of my own repairs. I was able to change the alternator, water pump, fuel pump, well as do the oil changes and lubrication. The manual was very helpful when I replaced the original AM radio with something better. Most importantly, these manuals gave me an idea of the labor involved in a specific repair.
I don’t think I would tackle the exhaust manifold. However, an independent exhaust shop might be a good place to go for this repair. The manual might show you what is involved in changing the valve cover gasket and this is a repair you might be able to handle if this gasket is part of the cause of an oil leak.

You may be able to get a scanned copy of the service manual on line. That way it is searchable so very convenient.
Join forums dedicated to your vehicle, etc and participate.

I applaud you willingness to learn, btw.

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The can of worms on the exhaust is a common problem. The bolts, hangers, and pipes are ususally so rotted that the whole thing just falls apart as you take it apart. Likely the shop figured you really weren’t up to paying for a complete new exhaust system from the front to the back. In such cases you leave it alone until it starts falling off or starts to get real noisey.

Frankly, I don’t mess with exhaust work on my cars, these jobs are just a bear and the pro’s earn their money on exhaust work IMO. Knowing how to fix a car is good, and knowing when to DIY or let a pro do it is even better.

You can enroll in some evening night school classes. Check with your local high school, vocational school, or community college. All of them have classes in auto shop available and often offer different skill level classes, like bodywork, or general maintenance.

Here’s my advice:
*I switched careers from being a mechanic BECAUSE of things like rusted-up exhaust manifolds. I kept a heat wrench, otherwise known as an acetylene torch, in the shop to allow removal of rusted studs, nuts and bolts w/o breakage. This is a whole art in itself to master. Basic maintenance is ok for anyone, but maintenance and restoration of older vehicles takes far more skill than people give credit.
Thankfully, all those broken fingers and cuts pushed me to becoming an automotive engineer rather than staying in the trade. Downside is exposure to massive egos of other automotive engineers who can’t turn a wrench.
Enjoy your life with your skills, shed the vehicle or let someone else fix it.
Hope this helps.

@bearmedic99 what is your goal with this old truck? Do you want to restore it to like new condition? Or, do you just want to run and brake decently for weekend runs to Home Depot or take the kayaks out to the lake?

Lot’s of oil leaks can be tolerated in old “work” trucks. You park them on gravel and add a bit of oil as needed. At quart of oil is pretty cheap. If a leak means a few spots on the driveway perhaps you just leave it alone. If overnight you drip a puddle about 6" or more diameter then you have a leak you need to address.

Fixing some oil leaks means a significant motor teardown to access the seals and replace them. Where is the oil leaking, how much it is leaking, and how much do you have to do to stop the leak are the factors you consider in “fixing it” or “let it go”.

Maybe the word “restoration” should not be used in this case and instead the phrase “keep it going” should be substituted. The former means a lot of time and money; even for someone who knows what they’re doing.

If the shop wanted to part of it then the truck must be in pretty bad shape and an engine that leaks oil in many places is often a sign of a worn out engine.
Repairing an exhaust manifold is something that will likely lead to broken bolts, rethreading, and torch work; all of which is expensive.

Considering the lack of mechanical knowledge, lack of time, and more than likely a lack of the countless tools needed to do many repairs I think that you’re looking at a project that is simply not worth the effort and money required.

If you seriously want to proceed with this then about all I can offer is that you buy a few books on the very basics of auto repair and read them thoroughly. Best of luck anyway.

I agree with the commenst about rusted bolts and carburators, but having owned a '79 toyota pickup and '89 Toyota pickup I’d have to say that if you can get past those drawbacks (impact wrench anyone?) they’re one of the easiest vehicles to work on that one could imagine. I’d take one in a heartbeat if the frame was intact.

Here is a short and simple answer that worked for me. Begin with small tasks and move gradually to larger ones.

Cars a really very simple, no matter how complicated they get… Its still spark, fuel, and timing. You need to know the basics, before you turn a wrench. The whole learn to crawl before you can walk thing… There is a TON of info out there, but I liked Click and Clack’s book (I forgot the name). I used it with my sister when she got her license and if she can get it any one can.

The problem here: OP is wanting to jump in and fix some (potentially major) problems. Better to start with regular maintenance.

I’ll disagree with everyone in here who says “it’s too old, throw it out.” That kind of thinking kills a lot of classic cars every year, and it’s needless. As long as the truck is not a daily driver, there’s nothing wrong with keeping it if for no other reason than to learn how to fix cars. Keep it and have fun with it. If it IS a daily driver, I would probably want to swap out the engine with something more modern, which is a can of worms that makes the exhaust issues look tame :wink:

The best advice I can give you right now that others haven’t already covered is to get your tool storage up to snuff. Nothing sucks more than knowing you have a 27mm axle nut but not being able to find it anywhere because you don’t have a good place to store tools. Disorganized tools add a lot of time and sometimes expense to repair work, which tends to turn you off of the idea that repair work can be, if not always fun, at least not miserable. Get 2 or 3 magnetic parts trays, and a large tray or cart that you can keep the tools you’re using at the moment on. And after every job is done, put everything away where it goes. You’ll thank yourself when the next job comes around.

If you don’t have many tools at all, the “mechanics tool sets” at Sears are actually a decent buy - depending on which one you get, for a couple hundred bucks you can get a set that will let you do most routine jobs. Harbor Freight, if you have one in your area, is also a great place to get cheap tools, but you have to be careful what you get from them. Some of their stuff sucks, while some is good and much cheaper than anyone else.

As for tool storage, if you’re fortunate enough to live in an area that has a Menards, the Masterforce rolling tool cabinets are a great bargain. They’re very well built, and you can get a huge tool box (42 inches wide by 5 feet tall) for less than a grand - a big bargain when you consider that similar boxes from brands like Snap-On and Matco can be thousands more used. If you don’t want to spend that much, then get storage bins and put pegboard on your wall - just do something that will let you find your tools when you need them.

Get a mapp gas torch and a can of PB blaster. They’ll be a huge help in getting rusted bolts off. Of course, be careful with the torch - don’t point it at anything that isn’t metal, and be careful about how long you point it at the metal.

Lastly, remember - safety first. Get a good floor jack, a set of chocks, and at least 4 quality jack stands (so that you can jack the whole thing up when, for instance, you’re replacing the exhaust system). Any time the car gets lifted, the tires still on the ground get chocked, and it gets supported with jack stands. No exceptions - that’s life or death stuff.

Excellently written, Shadow…but I gotta tell ya, the motor in those pickups is one of the most bulletproof and easiest to work on that I’ve ever owned. I’d just check the compression, and if it’s good I’d keep the motor in there.

I agree. but 1983 motors - - Finding certain parts on those things can be a headache. Hell, I’m starting to have trouble finding some parts for my MR2, and it’s 10 years newer. It’s often easier once a car is that old, to replace the internals with modern stuff that still has a healthy parts market. Of course, I wouldn’t bother swapping until I needed something that was hard to find.