I‘ve lost count in recent years of the number of times someone has said to me: “You can’t work on modern cars at home. There’s too much electronics.”
My answer is always the same: “Yes, you can. They’re still basically just an engine with pistons rising and falling.”
In fact, I think servicing an engine these days is much easier than when we had to contend with distributors, rotor arms, points and condensers. It really only takes a few hours of your time to keep your motor running healthily.
Just think what parts are required for an annual engine service or scheduled service. You’re looking at ordering oil, an oil filter, air filter, fuel filter, pollen filter (if fitted), wiper blades and a set of spark plugs – just seven items for a petrol engine service. That’s all. Diesels won’t even need the plugs. Probably the hardest part of the job will be detaching the sump guard!
The most fiddly component to fit will be the fuel filter, depending on where it is located. Some air filters are only changed every two years – the same applies to pollen filters. Spark plugs will vary according to the make and model of vehicle, but some can last for up to 100,000 miles. Wiper blades can simply be inspected to see if they will last for another season, although I prefer to change blades annually.
Additional items can be checked fairly easily too. Topping up screenwash is a doddle, while ensuring the strength of the engine coolant is made simple with a cheaply-bought antifreeze tester. Same applies to brake fluid – a quick test with the appropriate tool shows how much water has been absorbed by the fluid. In fact, we have a special feature on fluid testers in the next issue.
Drivebelts can go on for many years without grumbling, but it’s best to inspect them annually. Any squeaky belts or pulleys will need to be dealt with before they get even noiser.
Going further will depend on your level of skill, but most jobs are well within the scope of a home mechanic. These include brake checks once the road wheels are off and an inspection of suspension components.
A good set of tools helps tremendously, of course, but most of us will have built up a collection of essential items over the years. It has always astounded me the amount of money a professional mechanic will spend on tools, but most Diyers needn’t fork out a fortune on equipment that will only be used once in a blue moon. For us, building up a toolkit bit by bit over a period of time is a good way to teach us about what’s needed to deal with the majority of jobs.
Another way to learn about working on engines is to buy a secondhand unit that is either scrap or has had a timing belt/chain failure. Sitting it on a dedicated engine stand at home will give you hours of fun as you dismantle it and see how it works. Even though you may never discover why the engine failed in the first place, you’ll learn things as you take it to pieces.
Keep on top of servicing and your car will appreciate it. There’s nothing more satisfying than an engine that never fails to start and never brings on any management fault lights.
Our 10-page feature on servicing from home will hopefully spur you to tackle these tasks yourself. After all, servicing your own vehicle will not only save you cash, but can be lots of fun, too.