Story and photography by Gene Hannon, Jr.
ChiltonDIY Tips for Taking on a Car Repair
Before you start working on your car or truck here are some tips to guide you through the process.
First, identify the job at hand. Are you trying to fix something (stop a leak, quiet a noise, start the vehicle) or perform routine maintenance? Do you have the time, tools and skills needed to do this work? If you have the time but aren’t sure whether you have the skills, are you willing to acquire the skills on the job with some help from a friend and/or with a repair manual, such as Chilton? If you are missing some of the tools needed, can you buy or borrow them in time to finish the work?
Okay, if you are willing to learn the skills and acquire the tools to complete the job in your spare time, let’s begin. Write down any symptoms with details about when they occur. Note the vehicle mileage so you can find the right maintenance schedule to use.
Whether you are fixing a problem or performing maintenance, check the owner’s manual and a repair manual resource (such as ChiltonDIY, available online) for specifications, procedures and illustrations. These will help you determine what needs attention and provide cautions and warnings to heed.
Before getting parts, write down the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). You can see it from outside the vehicle in the lower corner of the driver’s side windshield. This number is very important when ordering parts and finding the correct procedures and specifications. To avoid mistakes when writing it down, you may want to take a picture of it.

The vehicle identification number (VIN) is usually visible from outside of the driver's side window.
Open the driver’s door and record the certification information that is found on the door or pillar, such as the year and month of the vehicle’s manufacture because you may need the exact month when ordering parts.

Certification labels are specific to each year, make and model vehicle, ChiltonDIY sample shown. Courtesy of General Motors
Now you have the basic information to isolate issues and order parts.
After reading the repair procedure in ChiltonDIY, check what tools are needed to perform the job. If you need additional tools, make sure you have the time to buy or borrow quality tools, because they will make the job so much easier than if you use inadequate tools. Here is some more information on basic hand tools.
If you lack much experience, ask other DIYers and research on the internet which parts are best to use for your job, based on other people’s experiences. Check the price of the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) part, and then check to see if there is a quality aftermarket part that others have used successfully. Buyers beware! How does the old saying go? “You get what you pay for!” Save all your receipts and record all of your repairs, especially if your vehicle is under warranty.
After finishing the job, congratulate yourself on saving money while gaining experience and learning additional skills. If you acquired some new information and tools in the process, they might have already paid for themselves with this one job; or certainly they will with a few more. Your friends and neighbors might need your help fixing their cars soon. Now you can show them how!

For information on your vehicle, check out Chilton’s online database of repair information for detailed instructions, images, and specific tips from the vehicle manufacturer and our certified expert technicians. Keep your vehicle running smoothly with maintenance schedules, service and repair procedures, and Technical Service Bulletins at: ChiltonDIY.com.

Gene Hannon, ChiltonDIY Gene Hannon, Jr., ASE Master Technician lives in Maryland with his wife Paula; they have 3 girls, Jocelyn, Sarah and Carly. Gene began working with cars when he was 13 at his father’s (Gene Sr.) ESSO service center where he cleaned equipment and tools, scrubbed out the repair bays, and pumped gas. By age 16 he was turning wrenches and receiving technical training. He worked at the ESSO (later Exxon) station for 29 years. With his father and brother, the three opened Avalon Automotive, an 8-bay repair center, where he was a partner for more than 10 years. Gene joined the Chilton Team in 2006.