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February 22, 2012 - Larry DeHays

Lots of people enjoy taking care of their own cars, saving money and learning things about their cars. These chores might include washing and waxing, and cleaning the interior, and could extend to oil changing and tire changing, or tuning the engine, or even the occasional repair operation. Noble efforts, but the world is stacking the deck against these people. For instance, you may get a ticket for washing your car on the wrong day of the week. Lee county has water usage rules. Even though we allow billions of gallons of fresh water to flow down the Caloosahatchee River into the Gulf, we have a water shortage. But I digress. All paint jobs on cars now are covered with a clear coat which really doesn't need waxing. Oil change franchises offer to change your oil so quickly you barely have time to turn the engine off. Soon you may be able to just drive by and they'll squirt some oil and grease at you at thirty miles per hour. Tire changing is still a viable option for owners, since most cars come with jacks and lug wrenches and spare tires. The spares are usally minatures and there may not be room to carry the flat tire in the trunk when you're finished. Don't get me started on changing spark plugs. Some engines require gymnastic tricks to access the plugs.

So is it hopeless for the do-it-yourselfers? Not at all. Many routine jobs can be done by owners. One's own skill level and ambition level are the only roadblocks. There are, however, a few things you might want to avoid doing to your car. For instance, beginning with the washing;

Avoid car wash soap that includes wax. That wax is so soft it won't last, and it will smear on your windshield when you turn your wipers on, hindering visibility.

Don't polish the top of your dash board. It will reflect back in your winshield, blinding you.

Never put "belt dressing" on a squeaking serpentine belt. That dressing was made for "v" belts, and will cause a terrible racket when applied to the new flat, serpentine style belts. If these belts are noisy they are either too loose, worn out, or have anti-freeze or belt dressing, or some other contaminant on them. They are nearly imposssible to clean. New belts may be required.

Never remove a thermostat to cure an overheating engine. It is almost never the problem. Removing it might cause the engine to run too cool, harming your gas mileage and damaging the engine. Overheating is more usually caused by dead electric fans or clogged radiators.

Never guess at what kind of fluid to add to any system. Power steering fluid added to the brake system can cause the demise of all four wheel brakes, the master cylinder, and the anti-lock brake system, which could be enough damage to "total" the car.

Never keep driving an overheated car once steam starts coming out from under the hood. You may find your location to be inconvienient at the time, but you can destroy an engine by running it out of water, so weigh your inconvienience against the price of a new engine. This goes double for running out of oil. Stop, and call for a tow truck. (Keep that number handy.)

Obviously we could go on forever, but don't want to be all negative all the time, like the guy who sees the glass as half empty. Personally I think someone wasted money buying a glass that was too large.

Finally, never say "never" or "always" because there are always exceptions (oops).


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