Where can I learn the basics of car maintenance and repair?
August 3, 2013 10:58 AM   Subscribe

I know next to nothing about cars beyond checking the oil and topping up windshield wash, but I'd really like to learn. I don't necessarily need to go full greasemonkey, but I'd like to be able to handle the basics and be an informed customer when I bring my car to the garage at the very least. I'd love to take a hands on course, if there are any in the Southern Alberta area, but book or website recommendations would also be quite welcome.
posted by peppermind to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Buy a repair manual for your car. Haynes & Chilton make 3rd party ones. They have step by step instructions for repairs with pictures. Its a good start, but you'll want hands on too after you have read the manual through.
posted by TheAdamist at 11:13 AM on August 3, 2013

I'm a big fan of amateur YouTube how-tos. Do a search on a specific repair for your make and model. You could start simple -- for example, "changing headlamp on Honda Civic 2010". Seeing the repairs done on video is the best way, short of sitting next to your mechanic in the service bay, to learn how the components go together to form the whole.

Message boards for your make/model are really great ways to learn about issues specific to your car, and generally speaking, people are generous with sharing their experience, and commiserating.

There is also a lot of know-how sharing that goes on in autoparts parking lots, at least in my area. I've helped people doing minor replacements/repairs in the local autopart lot, and have been helped in return. It's a fun little subculture.
posted by nacho fries at 12:00 PM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Haynes manuals for your own car, as well as Youtube videos for basics.
posted by the_wintry_mizzenmast at 12:40 PM on August 3, 2013

Pretty sure I've seen a course like this offered by SAIT in the past, but it doesn't appear in their schedule at the moment. Might be worth checking every once in a while; I don't know if their fall continuing education schedule is out yet.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:56 PM on August 3, 2013

You should also read the manual that came with your car, if you have it (and usually you can find these on the internet for free, if you don't). It won't go into the depth that 3rd party repair manuals go into, but it should provide instructions for most basic maintenance tasks like checking and replacing the various fluids and coolant, changing the oil, changing the headlamps, fuses, spark plugs, air filters, etc. It should also contain information on the various maintenance tasks that should be performed on the vehicle and a schedule of how often they need to be performed.
posted by Aleyn at 1:15 PM on August 3, 2013

Do you have something like Junior College or Continuing Education where you are? That's where I took it. Some High Schools have an automotive class, and sometimes they offer an evening program for adults.

No idea if these are local enough for you...
NAIT Automotive courses in Continuing Education
posted by CathyG at 2:37 PM on August 3, 2013

Most used book stores will have a automotive service textbook in their stacks and your local library certainly will. There is a lot of car stuff that you really need to have someone teach you hands on, but to get much out of it you need to understand the basic operating principles involved in a car, like how 4 cycle engines work, how brakes slow the car, how the suspension works to smooth the ride and how the different transmission types transmit power and the basics can be learned easily with a book. In fact some of the better books are in the kids section and something with cross sections are the best. With the basics down you will get a lot more out of community college continuing education course on car maintenance and the haynes manual for you car.

Also start reading some of the websites out there. The most accessible for someone getting into car culture is Jalopnik (part of the gawker universe but just about cars, not celebrities). Skip the car gossip stuff and stick to the technical articles. Opposite lock inst horrible. One of my favorites is Curbside classics but it is about old cars found on the street without a lot of technical articles.
posted by bartonlong at 7:21 PM on August 3, 2013

My daughter got her license last week. I handed her Auto Repair For Dummies several days later.
posted by COD at 8:34 PM on August 3, 2013

In order to be able to repair cars effectively, you must possess a body of knowledge beyond just the technical understanding of how the parts and assemblies of an automobile ought to work in theory. Partly, this is additional general mechanical knowledge of a theoretical nature, like how the application of torque to screw type fasteners causes controlled elongation of the fastener that is useful in keeping precision parts together in operation, some metallurgical knowledge, some chemistry and lubrication theory, and quite a bit of "muscle memory" that you develop by handling and using appropriate tools to disassemble and assemble parts, and by using precision measuring tools in doing so. There is also a good bit to know about tools themselves, and how to choose and use the correct ones properly, to effectively transmit your muscle power, or the force generated by electric or air powered power tools, to the parts and fasteners you are working with, without damaging either the parts, the tools, or yourself.

Generally, you get this kind of knowledge by wider reading of texts on various sub-topics like lubrication, theory and practice of gearing, theory and practice of belts and chain drives, spring steel metallurgy, theory and practice of using precision measuring tools, and most important, by doing quite a bit of assembly and dis-assembly procedures under the supervision and help of a more knowledgeable mechanic. Until you have this kind of knowledge, you'll strip bolts and nut threads willy nilly, use the wrong lubricants with generally disastrous results, fail to tension belts and chains properly causing their early failure, and just generally make a mess of even small jobs you try to accomplish. Now you may be of the mindset that making those kind of mistakes is going to be your tuition in the School of Hard Knocks, and with patience, perseverance, and a deep enough pocket, you can eventually learn auto repair by just plunging in, making mistakes, and working your way out of the holes you dig yourself. But if you're learning on your own car, and that car is your main mode of transportation, you'll have a much easier and less expensive route to learning the basics, if you do find a trade school course with practical sessions.

If you can't find that in your area, look around for car clubs where at least some owners are doing restorations of older cars, and volunteer some time with them, in exchange for learning what they can teach you. If you can't find such a club or auto hobbyist, and you're starting from scratch on your own, consider buying an old 4 stroke lawnmower, generator, or boat motor that you can tear down and try to repair, as a learning platform. Better you ruin an old $50 project small engine learning to use tools and getting your "mechanics feel," than break off bolts on your car's air conditioner bracket trying to get the squeal out of a loose accessory belt, because you lack basic knowledge and muscle memory.
posted by paulsc at 9:48 PM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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