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To do or not to do

May 28, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Many people enjoy taking care of their own cars, saving money and learning things about cars. These chores might include washing, waxing, cleaning the interior, and could extend to oil changing and tire changing, or tuning the engine, or even the occasional repair operation.

Noble efforts all, but these people, known in the industry as "do-it-yourselfers" or simply DIYers, have the deck stacked against them more each year. Cars are not built to be self-serviced because manufacturers want you to take it to their dealers' service departments so they can make more money off of you. The manufacturers, however, cannot legally cancel the warranty if you do your own work, or if you have an independent shop do it. The law states that you just have to have the work done on schedule, using parts that meet the specifications required by manufacturers. So if you're feeling froggy, go ahead and jump. However, there are a few things you might want to know before you begin this beguine.

- If you wash your car, check your local water usage rules. You may get a ticket for washing your car on the wrong day of the week. Even though we allow billions of gallons of fresh (well, sort of fresh) water to flow down the Caloosahatchee River into the Gulf, we have a water shortage, (but I digress). 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 on your wipers, hindering visibility, especially on damp, cool mornings. All paint jobs on cars now are covered with a clear coat which really doesn't need waxing.

- Oil changing is physically difficult, as well as messy. Oil change franchises offer to change your oil so quickly and cheaply, you barely have time to turn the engine off. All you have to do is resist their solicitations for overpriced additional work or parts. Soon, you may be able to just drive by and they'll squirt some oil and grease at you at 30 miles per hour. They'll call it the 10 second oil change.

- Tire changing is still a viable option for DIYers, But note that many new cars (Kias, etc.) do not have spare tires included in the sale. For those that do have spares, it will be a miniature, and there may not be room in the trunk to carry the full sized flat tire when you're finished.

- Don't get me started on changing spark plugs. Some engines require gymnastic tricks to access the plugs. On some engines, motor mounts have to be unfastened and the engine tilted over to gain access, or wheels removed to reach under the fenders for the plugs. Tough stuff to do in your driveway, but if you want to do these things, go ahead, knock yourself out (figuratively speaking, of course).

There are, however, a few things you might want to avoid doing to your car. For instance...

- Don't polish the top of your dash board. It will reflect into your windshield, blocking your vision, day or night.

- 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, belt dressing or some other contaminant on them. They are nearly impossible to clean. New belts may be required to stop the noise.

- Don't remove a thermostat to cure an overheating engine. It is almost never the problem, even though it gets blamed the most. Removing it will cause the engine to run too cool, which will make the computer richen the mixture, harming your gas mileage and damaging the engine by washing away the oil. Overheating is more usually caused by non-working 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" some cars.

- Never keep driving an overheated car once steam starts coming out from under the hood. You may find your location to be inconvenient at the time, but you can destroy an engine by running it out of water, so weigh your inconvenience against several thousand dollars or more for a new engine. This also goes for running out of oil. If it starts clicking, turn it off and call for a tow truck. (Keep that number handy).



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