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What's within reach for a new DIYer?

Hi All,
First off, I’ll make it very clear that I’m new to the whole DIY scene for, well, almost anything. I’m at the point where I’d like to start learning how to work on my own car for pretty much all the reasons people get into that sort of thing. I figured out how to change my own air filter, and plan on giving my vehicle (1999 Buick LeSabre) its next oil change. I feel pretty confident that I’ll be able to pull it off. But I’m wondering, where to from there? I’ve heard it said that if you can pull off an oil change a lot of things in the DIY world are probably within your reach. Can you guys give me some examples of projects I might be able to put on my “to-do” list? Thanks in advance!


I think the most important part is to be able to know how the car and all its systems function and to able to narrow down a specific problem. That to me is more important than merely getting to the “waterpump”.

Get a repair manual for your car. The next step could be a transmission pan drop/ATF change or front brake pads. Be careful, wear eye protection, don’t creep under a car unless it has been supported properly-that would not be a jack.

I’d like to refine a few things that galant said. First, get an official repair manual, not one of the close-but-not-exact ones at the auto parts store. Second, definitely wear the eye protection anytime you work around your battery and leave any air-conditioning repairs to the experts. Third, good ramps or good jack stands (preferably with backup support) are what’s usually recommended; never use cinder blocks.

You may need to pick up a few additional tools, such as a torque wrench.

Do you have a knowledgeable friend who can come over to supervise at first?

I have to disagree with lion9car on the repair manual suggestion. For a new DIYer, you will be better off with a Hayne’s manual for your car. It is true that the Hayne’s and Chilton’s manuals do not cover some things that the factory service manuals do cover, but the cheaper manuals are more geared towards the novice. I recommend Hayne’s because they have a section on basic maintenance and car care, recommended tools to acquire, and other good information for the beginner. They also have clear photography showing how to do repairs. The factory service manual is much more detailed, but much less wordy, generally has no pictures save for pages and pages of wiring diagrams and schematics (Hayne’s and Chilton’s have basic wiring diagrams sufficient for most DIYers), and are geared towards experienced technicians. They also cost about five times as much as a Hayne’s or Chilton’s manual. You get a lot more technical information on the car from the factory manuals, but it’s probably information you will not be able to use at this point if you “figured out how to change your air filter” and “want to try to pull off an oil change”.

I’m with mark9207 on the manual. Factory service manuals are written for people who are already mechanics. Haynes manuals are - well, pretty bad - but they are best for beginners for all of those reasons mentioned.

Any DIY’er will figure out when they need to/can “graduate” to a real manual.

I’ll also emphasize safety safety safety. Eye wear. Ramps and jack stands. Start with ramps - they get you into fluid changes. The jack stands will probably come a long the first time you want to have a look at the brakes.

1st you need some tools, visit Sears for the basics they sell some decent starter sets of tools. Next, you need to understand how a gas motor works. See if you can find the clear plastic model of a motor made by Ravell models. The V8 version is what I assembled as a kid (zillions of years ago) and it clearly shows you how all the gears and moving parts work in harmony (called timing) to turn combustion into mechanic motion and energy.

Armed with tools and understanding you can tackle just about anything. The next need is a manual for your specific car. Finally, and a support system of friends to answer your questions and show you some of the tricks learned via experience.

In addition to a Haynes manual, you should get the “Auto repair for Dummies” book and read through it, lots of information on how a car works. You need to know that both to work on your car, and to deal with car repair shops. It’s cheap from Amazon:

In response to the list of repairs that a new DIY with limited tool budget should consider:

oil and filter change
air filter
spark plugs
replace coolant
replace brake fluid (careful to get instructions for your car on this one, some stability systems can be damaged)
brake pads
brake rotors
valve cover and other gaskets on motor
electrical problems such as window switches and door lock actuators
replace transmission fluid (again, instructions specific to your car are important)
cooling system parts (hoses, water pump, thermostat)
wheel bearings (at this point you are starting to buy more expensive tools)
CV joints

This will cover 90% of the service your car needs in its normal lifetime.

As noted by others - eye protection, ramps, jack stands, and a manual are the first things to buy.

cigroller wrote:
I’m with mark9207 on the manual

I guess this means I’m outvoted so far, which of course is fine. The OP just needs to remember that there will be things in the Haynes manual that don’t match the actual car.

Lion, I’m inclined agree with Mark basically because while the factory manuals are far more accurate and detailed, they tend in my experience to assume a lavel of basic knowledge that the novice typically lacks. Haynes and Chiltons are like “auto repaiit for beginners”, while the factory manuals are designed for professionals.

My suggestion to the OP would be to get some good textbooks, perhaps from the local community college or technical highschool, and begin to learn how the various systems work. I have a list I’ll provide but it’s long in the tooth. Should the OP go to order them (any bookstore can), the publisher will provide the updated versions.

Auto Fundamentals
By Stockel, Stockel and Johanson
Published by Goodheart - Wilcox
ISBN 1-56637-138-4

Automotive Engines
By Crouse and Anglin
Published by MacMillan/McGraw Hill, (800) 338-3987
ISBN 0-02-801099-X

Complete Engine Performance and Diagnostics
By Robert Scharff & Editors of Motor Service
Published by Delmar Publishing / Thompson learning, (800) 477-3682
ISBN 0-8273-3579-2

Automotive Chassis Systems
By Thomas W. Birch
Published by Delmar Publishing / Thompson Learning, (800) 477-3682
ISBN 0-7668-0001-6

Fuel Systems and Emission Controls
Published by Chek-Chart Publication, (408) 739-2435
ISBN 9-781579-322496

Thanks for all the feedback guys. And yes, for those of you who are wondering, I do have someone with experience that I can rely on if I need help. I just so happen to have a cousin who is a long-time mechanic and has worked on my car several times. I really appreciate all those who suggested education. Somehow I managed to forget that step, lol. Was gonna dive right under the hood and try to get to work. Thanks for slowing me down.

Tom and Ray have some information on this very site:

@mleich - good point, we’ve ignored the HUGE amount of free info available on web. Sites like this, Autozone, etc. have info, and just google ‘how do cars work’ for more.

Definitely get a manual for your car, Haynes or Chilton’s are good manuals for learning the basics. Personally I have both for most of my cars and prefer the Chilton’s over the Haynes because they are more informative and cover more details, I also have factory service manuals for some of my cars. With time and studying about anything is possible for the DIY’er. When I was 16 I started out the same way you are doing oil changes and simple repairs. As you learn the simple stuff your confidence level will increase and you can increase your field of repairs. When I have a problem or need to do a repair I’m not familiar with I get my manuals out and read the specific section paying attention to the picture illustrations and once I think I have the basics I start work, but I also take my manual to the garage with me for reference in case I forget exactly how to do something. I’ve now been working on my own cars for about 36 years and do about 98% of my own repairs. About the only thing’s I won’t tackle are internal engine/tranmission repairs.

Most public libraries will let you access Chiltons Library free with a library card from your home computer, and they update it every year also.

I meant no disrespect by disagreeing about getting a factory repair manual for the car, but I do remember what it was like to be a novice learning the ropes. When I was a teenager and started showing an interest in repairing cars, I wanted repair manuals to learn this stuff. My father insisted that Hayne’s manuals were worthless for me and pretty much forced me to order the $100 factory repair manual from Helm, Inc (which I would willingly do today). I found the repair procedures at the time, as a novice, to be very frustrating and vague because they are written assuming the person reading them has a great deal of experience with similar repairs (I later bought a Hayne’s manual behind his back). For example, if you wanted to replace your brake pads and rotors and were using the factory repair manual, you would look up “rotor replacement”, which would look a lot like this:

Rotor - replace
Remove or disconnect:

  1. Wheel assembly
  2. Caliper
  3. Caliper anchor
  4. Rotor
    Installation is reverse of removal.

There would be just as much detail in the factory manual for removing the engine from the car, but perhaps in 20-30 steps rather than four, but the factory manual is written for professionals, and removing the engine from a car is a fairly simple and straightforward job for a professional mechanic. There are a lot of blanks to be filled in with those procedures, and the factory manual assumes the mechanic reading the manual can fill in those blanks. The Hayne’s and Chilton manuals fill in those blanks on paper and will generally direct you to seek out a repair shop if a repair is outside the realm of any but the best equipped DIYer. This is a good thing for a novice.

Autozone’s website has some decent manuals.

@mark9207; “Installation is reverse of removal.”, my favorite sentence esp when you are up in arms trying to figure how exactly you can get that nasty bolt off without removing the whole engine.

I am a visual guy and benefit most from pictures. Also sometimes would search on youtube and find videos that other DIY’ers have posted. There are some jobs that I don’t do frequently and a refresher course is always good.

  1. jumpstart the car
  2. change a tire

Chilton’s is now owned by Haynes. I had an old pre-Haynes Chilton manual. IMHO they were far superior to Haynes. But that’s that.

They can be problematic, as lion9car said. You will find inaccuracies and inconsistencies. But given that its pitched more toward the average person rather than professional mechanic its just an easier way to get your bearings.