Story and photography by Ryan Lee Price
It’s a bright and fresh Saturday morning and there’s no better feeling than being under the hood of a car doing some regular maintenance or tackling that long-procrastinated project. Whether you’re replacing your air filters or swapping out brake pads, there are a few things you should take care of even before you pick up that first screwdriver.
1. Assemble the proper tools. Nothing is worse than starting a job and not being able to find the right tool to complete it or you just plain old don’t have it. Having the proper tools laid out in front of you is important because they are right where you can reach them when you need them.
2. Wear the right clothes. Working on cars in flip-flops is just inviting injury. Wear proper shoes and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. Cars are shiny on the outside but are a complete shambles underneath. Long pants and a long-sleeved shirt will protect your skin from sharp parts and a long shower with a scrub brush. If you have overalls, wear them. Also consider wearing a hat to keep dirt and dust out of your hair.
3. Trim your fingernails. Nothing is more disgusting than dirt and grease under someone’s fingernails, especially if they’re sitting across from you at the dinner table. An easy way to keep that from happening is to give them a tight trim before you start work. Otherwise, you’ll be picking gunk out of them for days to come.
4. Have handy the appropriate safety items. Dust mask, safety glasses, knee pads, and mechanic’s gloves are all designed to keep you safe. You might look a little foolish, sure, but you’re not going to lose an eye to an errant bolt or breathe in carcinogens from old brake pads.
5. Wear gloves. Similar to the tip about keeping your nails trimmed, further protect your hands from the elements under your car with latex/rubber gloves (or mechanic’s gloves). Some of the chemicals used in the automotive industry are harmful to skin, especially from repeated exposure.
6. Create a safe environment. Always work safe, and to do so, you must keep your vehicle secure and rendered inert. If you are working on the electrical system, unhook the negative lead to the battery. Keep the car in park with the parking brake on. Use jack stands if you are removing the tires and chock the tires if you aren’t. Always keep a fire extinguisher handy, and keep your garage or workshop well ventilated.
7. Set aside the time to do the project. Don’t rush. Give yourself plenty of time to finish the procedure because inevitably, things happen, mistakes are made, and you’ll need an extra 20 minutes to fish out that bolt from deep down in the engine.
8. Keep distractions to a minimum. On some complicated projects, concentration is needed, as there may be a strict order of operation or a complicated array of parts. After spending two hours carefully disassembling a tri-barrel carburetor, having someone upset your parts can be devastating.
9. Have help on-call if you need it. Removing a hood is a two-person job. Removing a gearbox is a two-person job. Even pulling a bumper can be a two-person job. Don’t try to go it alone if you don’t have to. That can lead to injury or damage to your car. Plus, the company is always nice.
10. Have the know-how. Make sure you know how to do the procedure you are about the begin by researching the project with the help of Chilton’s vast collection of repair manuals, maintenance intervals, wiring, and technical service bulletins, covering nearly every make and model.
Not only is Ryan Lee Price a freelance writer specializing in automotive journalism and a former long-time magazine editor, he is part of the technical editorial team that provides content for most all of the Chilton products. He currently resides in Corona, California, with his wife Kara and their two children.