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Things Every Driver Should Know

Buying the right parts for your vehicle:

Before you go shopping for parts to replace those on your vehicle, read the tips in this section carefully. They can help you avoid what’s probably the most annoying part of any automotive job: disabling your vehicle to work on it only to find that you need it to drive back to the store to exchange the stuff they sold you in error! Before I learned how to do it right, this happened at least two out of every three times on every job I did.

To buy the proper parts for your vehicle, you must know its specifications (or “specs,” as they’re often called). Most of this information should be in your owner’s manual, and a lot of it is also printed on metal tags or decals located inside your hood. You can usually find these in front of the radiator, inside the fenders, on the inside of the hood — anywhere the auto manufacturer thinks you’ll find them. I know of one car that has its decal inside the lid the glove compartment. These ID tags also provide a lot of other information about where the vehicle was made, what kind of paint it has, and so on.

When you go to buy parts, keep in mind that most professional mechanics get discounts at auto parts stores. Ask if you can get a discount given that you’re installing the parts yourself. It can’t hurt to try. Even if you don’t get a price break on parts, you’ll still be ahead of the game because you won’t have to pay labor charges.

Following safety rules:

This isn’t to say that working on a vehicle is free from danger. Before you do any work, be sure to observe the following safety rules:

  • Don’t smoke while you’re working on your car — for obvious reasons!
  • Never work on your vehicle unless the parking brake is on, the gearshift is in Park or Neutral, and the engine is shut off. If you have to run the engine to adjust something, turn it on and off yourself to avoid the risk that a friendly helper may misunderstand and turn the engine on while your hands are in the way.
  • Be sure that the parts of the engine you’re working on are nice and cool so that you don’t get burned. If you’re doing a job that calls for a warm engine, be very careful.
  • Never jack a vehicle up unless the wheels are properly blocked. I go into more detail about this later in this chapter in “How to Use a Jack Safely” and “How to Change a Tire.”
  • Use insulated tools for electrical work.
  • Before using a wrench or ratchet on a part that’s “stuck,” make sure that if the part suddenly comes loose, your hand won’t hit anything. To avoid the possibility of being injured because your hand slams into something, pull on wrenches rather than push them whenever possible.
  • Take off your tie, scarf, rings, long necklaces, and other jewelry. If they get caught on parts, they — and you — can be damaged.
  • Tie back long hair. If your hair accidentally gets caught in a moving fan or belt, you can literally be scalped.
  • If you’re working with toxic chemicals, such as coolant, cleaners, and the like, keep them away from your mouth and eyes. Wash your hands thoroughly after using them, and either store them safely away from pets and children or dispose of them in a way that’s safe for the environment.
  • Know that gasoline is extremely dangerous to have around. Not only is it toxic and flammable, but the vapor in an empty can is explosive enough to take out a city block. If you must keep a small amount of gasoline on hand for a lawn mower or chain saw, always store it in a ventilated gasoline can designed specifically for that purpose. Unless you’re going far into the wilds, never carry a can of gasoline in or on your vehicle. (See the sidebar “How to dispose of empty gasoline cans safely.”)
  • Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid breathing in carbon monoxide if you have to run the engine, or breathing in toxic fumes from chemicals and gasoline. If possible, work outdoors in your driveway, your backyard, or a parking lot. If you must work in your garage, be sure to keep the garage door open and move the vehicle as close to the door as possible.
  • Use a work light in dark areas
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy

How to Fill ’Er Up Yourself:


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