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How do I improve my car knowledge?
August 2, 2005 8:50 AM   Subscribe

The only thing that I know about cars is that the engine makes it go. What's a good book/website/reference that can I use to improve my car knowledge? Also, I bought a car in 2003 but I don't drive very much so it's got about 6500 miles on it. I had the oil changed at 3000 miles but I haven't done any of the other preventive maintenance listed in the manual. I realize that I need get that done but do I have to take it to the dealership? If I take it to like Car X or Jiffy Lube will they know what to do for my car? I'm assuming that different cars need different maintenance performed on them.
posted by nooneyouknow to Travel & Transportation (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Jiffy Lube will try to sell you a bunch of shit you don't need. Your best bet is to ask around and find a good local mechanic. They can usually deal with all but the most exotic cars.
posted by ryanissuper at 8:59 AM on August 2, 2005


Also, a local mechanic will typically make sure your tires are inflated to the correct pressure, give your car a once over and let you know what you will (and won't) need in the future. Check cartalk.com for reviews of local mechanics.
posted by trey at 9:08 AM on August 2, 2005


I'm assuming that different cars need different maintenance performed on them.

Not really. For the most part, all cars are pretty much the same, and you want to check the same things on them.

Jiffy Lube and friends can do the basic services (lube, oil, filter, check all the fluids) but they aren't set up to do your 30,000 mile service.

If you don't know of a good mechanic, here is a database of mechanics with reviews. (It's not much, but it's better than dropping your car off with a total stranger)
posted by mosch at 9:11 AM on August 2, 2005


Fast oil changes are a lot like fast food: they're cheap and fast and fine as long as you don't care about what goes in your body/car, and realize that the people who work there care even less.

Jiffy Lube, etc. don't actually do things that take, you know, time, like draining the oil pan and changing the filter. Instead, they stick a hose into your engine, vacuum out [most/some/whatever they can get in 30 seconds] and then pour some new oil in. You end up with about half old oil, half new oil, and all the residue and detritus still floating around, ready to clog your heads and jam your cams. But hey, you were smart and went to the cheapest, fastest, oil "change" place in town, right?

Really want to learn about cars? Change your oil yourself. Any idiot can do it and you'd be amazed at how much you can learn just by poking around and seeing how stuff works. Even if you don't, take your car to your mechanic to get the oil changed, fluids checked, etc. He has a vested interest in actually taking car of the car if he wants you to keep coming back and referring your friends to him. The kids at Jiffy Lube could care less about you or your car, and frankly oftentimes the same is true of the dealer.
posted by ChasFile at 9:21 AM on August 2, 2005


Your car is basically brand spanking new, and probably still has coverage through your dealer. Many cars in the past few years have thrown in free oil changes and brake service for the first 3 years of ownership (or maybe that's just BMW/MB).

Side note: My family has always taken their cars to the dealers for the life of the vehicle and even if we were overcharged upwards of 20%, which is likely, I believe it was worth it because all of our cars lasted over 15 years each.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:23 AM on August 2, 2005


Here's the best way to learn: go to either your local autoparts store (or Amazon), and pick up either the Haynes or Chilton manual for your vehicle. Amazing stuff.

I'll skip the inevitable debate as to which is better, but take my word for it - both are great. They're full of pictures showing exactly what to do.

I have a decent amount of car knowledge, and these really help you to diagnose problems, as well as to do work.

Using my Chilton manual, I've replaced my alternator, and done my brakes.

You'll feel amazing after you do some of this stuff, trust me.

Enjoy.
posted by kungfujoe at 9:24 AM on August 2, 2005


There are lots of resources out there that will help you feel more comfortable discussing car repair/maintenance with a mechanic. Here's where I would start:
1. Read the owner's manual. You'll notice that certain items (such as oil changes) have two criteria for when to do them, mileage or elapsed time. You should have the oil changed at least every six months, just to ensure that your oil is still up to spec and doing its job, and also because if your low miles are short-distance, stop-and-go, the oil will be dirtier (this kind of mileage is harder on a car).
2. Go to the public library. Be nice to the Research Librarian. He or she should be able to find a couple of basic books about how cars work. Check them out. Read/study them.
3. Check out the Car Talk section of Cars.com. Read as many of the articles/threads as you can stand. The same site has an interactive car system tool that is also pretty cool - explore that.
4. Get to know a mechanic - preferably a pro, but a good shade-tree is fine too. Have them show you how to change your oil, replace belts, and the easier stuff. For me, hands-on is the best way to really get a handle on how things work. It makes the abstract real.
Have fun.
posted by dbmcd at 9:35 AM on August 2, 2005


Why wouldn't you go to the dealer? Your car is still under warranty most likely.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:41 AM on August 2, 2005


This is still a new car. Go to the dealer, if only to protect the warranty. If they did the work, you don't have to prove it was done.

Even after the warranty expires, avoid Jiffy Lube and the like, for the reasons mentioned above. J-L may save you a few bucks in the short term, but their sloppy procedures can cost you a lot if you're not lucky. This is true of Sears Auto or any other place that uses minimum-wage labor. And yes, they will try to cheat you. Find a good local mechanic. Word-of-mouth is the best way to do that.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:49 AM on August 2, 2005


Get a service manual and some tools, and avoid car x & jiffy like the plague!

My honda is so easy, I've even done my own brake pads.....
posted by stevejensen at 10:08 AM on August 2, 2005


As a rule of thumb, you can equate one month as being 1000 miles of travel, with a bit of fudging. So, for example, if you bought the car in July 2003, it has been 25 months, and you're overdue for your 15,000 mile maintenance (assuming that is the recommended service interval), but not by that much. Continuing with this example, if you have the 15,000 mile servicing done in August (and I also recommend doing it at a dealer, despite being more expensive), and continue to drive 250 miles per month, then you could do a 3,000 mile oil change in April 2006 (six months), or a 5,000 mile oil change in 8 to 10 months after August.

A lot of car manufacturers don't recommend (in the maintenance manual) oil changes every 3,000 miles - it's not unusual to see this recommended every 5,000 or even 7,500 miles. Given how little you drive, getting an oil change every six months seems more than adequate, though doing it once a year seems to me to be pushing the limit a bit. You can certainly go two years between the 15,000 and the 30,000 mile servicings.
posted by WestCoaster at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2005


Jiffy Lube, etc. don't actually do things that take, you know, time, like draining the oil pan and changing the filter. Instead, they stick a hose into your engine, vacuum out [most/some/whatever they can get in 30 seconds] and then pour some new oil in.

*rolling eyes* Yes, that's why they have a big hole in the floor to let the guys get under your car, because they're not going to drain the oil pan. And it's why they do it right out in the open so you can see what they're doing. (In fact, they'll let you watch if you ask.)

There's nothing wrong with most of the oil change places. I have no doubt some of those people are incompetent, but no more than at any other car service place. When I lived in Detroit, I had my timing belt changed by a well-regarded mechanic. A year later my engine started making a ticking noise and it turned out to be... the timing belt, which hadn't been replaced after all. That asshole mechanic basically stole three hundred dollars from me. I'll take incompetence over outright maliciousness any day.
posted by kindall at 10:34 AM on August 2, 2005


If you car came with a manual, it should have the maintenance intervals for a lot of the things your car needs. Changing the oil regularly is one of the best things to do, though on many cars, they need specific things looked at at certyain intervals [Honda Accords as one example, usually need a new timing chain at 90,000 miles, it's good to know this if you are either driving or buying/selling an older Honda]. You can also invest $10-15 in a good Chilton's Guide for your car. This will probably be more technical than you need, but it will not only explain what regular maintenance on your car you can do your self -- how to check fluids, replace windshield wipers -- but will give you the locations of many good places to chack if you have car trouble, like fuse boxes and battery/starter areas. It will also tell you good things like how full to inflate your tires [which really is something you should do yourself, plus it's written on the side of the tires].

However, what other people have said is also right on. If your car is newish, a lot of early mainteance work is done under warranty and will be better in the long run than going to a Jiffy Lube.
posted by jessamyn at 11:03 AM on August 2, 2005


Noticing that you want to improve your car knowledge, you can also look at Advance Auto Parts and their "how to / why to" section (some interesting stuff there) as well as Edmund's (http://www.edmunds.com) for auto-related discussion groups, from "My car's better than yours" to "How 'bout them Hondas?" to "How do I change the dash lights on my 2002 Spleenfire?" And if you could post your make and model of vehicle, we might be able to dig up some owners' groups for you; Porsches and Volvos have vibrant enthusiast communities, for example.
posted by ZakDaddy at 11:08 AM on August 2, 2005


HowStuffWorks.com has a decent automotive section, with good descriptions and very good animations on a variety of subjects. It was a world of help when I was trying to explain how a differential works to my girlfriend.
posted by saladin at 11:47 AM on August 2, 2005


Before you change your oil by yourself, make sure you have a good plan on how to dispose of the old oil. (good != pour it down the storm drain)
posted by joaquim at 12:10 PM on August 2, 2005


Following joaquim's "make sure you have a good plan on how to dispose of the old oil", you can drop off old oil at any Kragen Autoparts store for recycling (no charge to you).
posted by anadem at 12:25 PM on August 2, 2005


Jiffy Lube, etc. don't actually do things that take, you know, time, like draining the oil pan and changing the filter. Instead, they stick a hose into your engine, vacuum out [most/some/whatever they can get in 30 seconds] and then pour some new oil in.

This is completely and totally false. It's perhaps the worst answer I've ever seen on AskMe.
posted by mosch at 12:32 PM on August 2, 2005


You can drop off the oil pretty much anywhere that does oil changes.

When I was in high school I worked in a well-known quick oil change place, and we probably had 3 or 4 people a week drop off used oil. The disposal was handled for free.
posted by mosch at 12:34 PM on August 2, 2005


Yeah. The anti Jiffy-Lube / Sears alarmism is bizarre.

(Jiffy Lube does indeed try to sell you various things but this can be avoided if are even minimally assertive.)

Unfortunately, this is an area where YMMV massively due to where you live. Up here Sears is basically the only good option when you want minor work done on the weekends, and they have always done a fine job on my car. The local people, on the other hand, have turned fucking my automobile up into an art form.

So basically: ask around, and take your lumps when you make the wrong choice.
posted by selfnoise at 12:44 PM on August 2, 2005


Joaquim said: (good != pour it down the storm drain).
I didn't see any irony filter, so pleasepleaseplease, in the name of the sacred salmon, do NOT put your used motor oil (or any other type of household waste) down the storm drain! That is a seriously BAD idea.
posted by dbmcd at 12:46 PM on August 2, 2005


What's up, my friend. Mathematically speaking != means "DO NOT!"

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.
posted by selfnoise at 12:53 PM on August 2, 2005


my bad...see, I'm not a mathemetician (and I don't know if the questioner is either) - last I checked, this thread was about car repair...
But you're right, now I know a new piece of jargon - nothing makes me happier than jargon - really (okay maybe not 'nothing', but close).
posted by dbmcd at 1:03 PM on August 2, 2005


How to avoid being ripped off at Jiffy Lube and friends:

salesperson: "Welcome to Spiffy Lube, would you like our Deluxe Service today?"
you: "No thanks, I just want a lube, oil and filter."
posted by mosch at 1:09 PM on August 2, 2005


If you know nothing about cars and can get through an oil change at jiffy lube without buying something extra you have more willpower than I. These guys are trained liars, worse than used car salesman. They will try to convince you that your car will break down on the way home if you don't get the $60 "engine soap service". They will tell you things that are covered under your warranty are not covered and that the dealer will charge you twice as much. They will act like they are your friend and offer you the 29.95 air filter for 24.95.
WOW! What a deal!
posted by ryanissuper at 1:20 PM on August 2, 2005


As far as maintenance, read your owners manual. Then read it again. Then read it a third time in case you missed anything. Follow its recommendations for what to do when: oil change frequency, type and grade of oil, cooling system flush frequency, tire inflation pressure, timing belt inspection and replacement intervals, etc. Seriously, the manual will tell you in excrutiating detail precisely what needs to be done and when. It is the authority on what your car needs.

Armed with that knowledge, completely and totally disregard any of the upsells that anyone at a parts store or Jiffy Lube tries to push on you.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:49 PM on August 2, 2005


The only thing that I know about cars is that the engine makes it go. What's a good book/website/reference that can I use to improve my car knowledge?
As suggested above, get a service manual for the car. Next step: buy a good torque wrench. Final step: crack open the hood and do something yourself.

Sounds pretty daunting, right? It's not, really. While there are a number of things that can go wrong when you're repairing your own car, you'll find that if you just proceed slowly and follow each direction to the letter, everything usually works out fine. The hardest part is psychologically convincing yourself that you (yes, you) can do it. Really, you can. It may seem like a big, complicated machine, but all cars are essentially the same: air+gas+spark = car go. All the extra stuff in the engine bay is just to make your driving experience more enjoyable (air conditioner, power-assisted steering, headlights to see at night... etc.)
I had the oil changed at 3000 miles but I haven't done any of the other preventive maintenance listed in the manual.
Oil changes are the big thing to remember, so you're fine. Don't panic. My suggestion to you would be to take it to a mechanic and ask them to watch what they're doing when they change the fluids. For any "big" fixes with my car, I take it to a guy I trust who charges 1.5x his normal rates if I want to watch and learn myself. It's worth it.
I realize that I need get that done but do I have to take it to the dealership?
The dealership will know any specific idiocyncracies of your particular car model, and will have all the correct parts on hand to fix it. You'll pay a bit more per hour to have them work on your car, but it's almost always worth it. They've probably worked on a hundred other cars just like yours, so they'll be fast, they'll do it right, and they won't try and sell you something you don't need (usually).
If I take it to like Car X or Jiffy Lube will they know what to do for my car? I'm assuming that different cars need different maintenance performed on them.
I wouldn't trust a Jiffy-anything on my car, except perhaps for an oil change, but for that I would trust them implicitly, because that's what they do all day.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:42 PM on August 2, 2005


Well, I have watched the Jiffy guys work, and when changing my oil, they did vacuum it out, just like ChasFile said. If I'd bought the other services they said I needed to keep living, maybe they would have used their grease pit.

Here's my Sears Auto tale: I had them do a simple brake job. They left a spring disconnected inside one of the drums, so that brake shoe dragged all the time. They also managed to get the hood closed without latching it. Since it was hinged at the back, when I got up to about 45 mph, the hood flew open and completely blocked my view of the road. Not the kind of excitement I want to pay for.

I have also been seriously ripped off by independent garages, but not in any life-threatening way. I take my new cars to the dealer, and when they get old, I take them to an independent that I trust.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:08 PM on August 2, 2005


dbmcd mentions the CarTalk website, I'd also suggest you listen to their show. Tom & Ray are fun and engaging, it's mostly commercial-free (completely so if you listen to the last week's show on the website) and you'll hear about all the typical and not-so-typical problems people have. I think you'll find that to be a way more long-term effective way to learn more about cars than trying to apply yourself to specific study.
posted by phearlez at 4:28 PM on August 2, 2005


This claim that Jiffy Lube doesn't change oil filters is still the dumbest thing I've ever read on the site. It's a company that exists to change oil and oil filters... if there was even a slight modicum of truth to it, every Jiffy Lube customer in the world would be party to a class action lawsuit from an enterprising lawyer.

Vacuum oil extractors exist but are generally only used in extenuating circumstances (protective undertray that's blocking access, issue with the pan). There's actually nothing wrong with them, despite the batshit insane accusations made in Chasfile's post.
posted by mosch at 8:39 PM on August 2, 2005


There's actually nothing wrong with them

That's not entirely true. The tiny shards of metal that accumulate at the bottom of your oil pan aren't removed from the oil supply by the vaccum method. Often times the oil pan drain plug is magnetized specifically for this reason, and a failure to clean it off when doing an oil change can shorten the life expectancy of your car's engine, over time.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:10 PM on August 2, 2005


Jiffy lube has been the subject of a number of complaints and lawsuits for, among other things, adding bogus charges, improper filter installation, and improper disposal of oil. Some friends of mine had to replace their engine because the J-L "technician" grabbed the wrong hose and filled their crankcase with something other than engine oil.

Here is one of many, many threads full of first-person J-L horror stories. That many people aren't making it all up.

Jiffy-Lube is a crap shoot. If you feel happy saving a couple of bucks every few months, good. I really hope your luck continues.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:24 AM on August 3, 2005


Jiffy-Lube is a crap shoot. If you feel happy saving a couple of bucks every few months, good. I really hope your luck continues.

All mechanic shops are a crap shoot. Jiffy Lube is a franchise operation so it is no different. There's no reason to believe that they are worse than any other operation.

The idea that a Jiffy Lube sign makes the mechanics less competent is almost as flawed as the claim that Jiffy Lube doesn't change your oil filter.
posted by mosch at 2:52 PM on August 3, 2005


No one said the sign makes the "mechanics" (they aren't mechanics) less competent. It's the pay-scale that does that. If you pay peanuts, you don't get skilled or conscientious help.

Jiffy Lube is a franchise operation so it is no different.

That's precisely what does make it different from an independent garage, by definition.

There's no reason to believe that they are worse than any other operation.

I guess you didn't look at my last link in the post above yours.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:01 AM on August 4, 2005


That's precisely what does make it different from an independent garage, by definition.

That word does not mean what you think it means.
posted by mosch at 9:26 PM on August 4, 2005


OK, so what do you think it means? If you're going to say my definition (i.e. not part of a chain) is wrong, you have to supply a better one, or I'm going to conclude that you have some agenda other than the truth.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on August 5, 2005


OK, so what do you think it means?

A franchise is an independantly owned business which pays a fee to an external company, in order to license their name, and to use them as a supplier.
posted by mosch at 1:26 AM on August 7, 2005


. . . and follow their marketing policies and business procedures. Independently-owned is not the same as independent. Even in your definition, the franchisee depends for its supplies on the other company. If it deviates far enough from the way they dictate that business will be done, the franchsee won't get more supplies, and will have to stop using the name. On the other hand, the three idependent garages near me determine their own business practices, and are free to buy supplies anywhere they want. Just as I am free to choose the one that has the best reputation.

That good reputation is a quality Jiffy-Lube doesn't have, and it isn't an accident or the result of some conspiracy. It's because they don't provide good service. I base that statement on my personal experience, on the experiences of my friends, and on the hundreds of non-testimonials I have seen in various media. That's the reason I don't go there, and the reason I don't recommend anyone else going there.

As I said, If you're comfortable with them, good. I am not, for the reasons given.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:16 AM on August 8, 2005


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