It pays to be prepared for when your car breaks down. The right preparation will allow you to diagnose and potentially fix an issue yourself, saving a costly mechanic call out.

Of course, some issues may be beyond your own roadside capabilities. Nevertheless, with a basic mechanical knowledge, you can ensure that you are not overcharged by an untrustworthy mechanic.

First things first, safety:

Before you even think of working on your own vehicle, assess your situation. Are you in a dangerous location, for example by the side of a busy road?

If the answer to the above question is yes, then you may want to consider calling for help. You should always put your own safety above saving a few pennies and fixing an issue yourself.

Secondly, what do you need to fix your car?

While the below kit may appear costly, it is essential if you want to be able to diagnose and fix mechanical issues yourself.

And, the cost will soon balance out once you’ve done a few repairs (although here’s hoping you don’t have to!)

1) Haynes manual
Haynes manuals are available for virtually every car that has been on the market. These handy books instruct you on how to completely deconstruct your vehicle, and then put it back together. Text and images are included in each section, ensuring that the reader gains a full breadth of the job in hand.

2) Basic tool kit
After a Haynes manual, a basic tool kit is the second most important piece of equipment when it comes to fixing your car. This tool kit should be comprehensive, but not cluttered. It should contain items including, but not limited to: a car jack, support stands, complete sets of open-end and socket wrenches, complete sets of Phillips and flathead screwdrivers, a complete set of pliers and a drain pan.

3) A Multimeter
A digital multimeter is an important tool when it comes to working on your car. It is used to measure electric current, voltage, and usually resistance, typically over several ranges of value. It is one of the most important diagnostic tools to troubleshoot and diagnose any of the many electrical and electronic components in a car.

4) An OBD Code Reader
If you really want to be completely competent in diagnosing your car, an OBD reader is what you need.
It stands for an Onboard Diagnostics (OBD) code reader and while it may seem like an expensive piece of kit, it’s a must.
When you plug the small machine into your car, it gives you access to the status of the various vehicle subsystems, which will tell you exactly what the problem is when your ‘Check Engine’ light illuminates, for example. Some of the more high-tech readers can even wirelessly connect to your smartphone.

So, now you’re prepared, what are the five most common car problems and how can you fix them?

1) Flat tyre
If you have a flat tyre, your car will feel less responsive than usual and you may hear a thumping noise while driving. If the tyre is completely flat, the car will sit at a tilt.
Providing you have a spare tyre in the boot, this is a simple fix.
Using your jack (that you keep in your basic tool kit) and Haynes manual to identify the correct jacking point, hoist the vehicle upwards. Then, using the locking wheel nut and a ratchet, undo the nuts securing the wheel, and remove it. Replace it with the spare wheel and tighten the wheel nuts to the correct torque. As spare wheels are not usually full size, make sure to go and get a new tyre asap.

2) Lightbulb gone
For many drivers, the first sign that a head of taillight has gone is usually other driver flashing their lights.
Again, this is another relatively easy issue to resolve. Using your Haynes manual, ascertain which bulb you require and buy it from your local car parts suppliers. Once you have the bulbs, refer to the manual again to see how to access your lights. Normally, you can pop lights out of the back of the housing, but some vehicles may have tricky plastic coverings. When you have access to the bulb, unplug it, making sure the car is turned off before you do so. Attach the new bulb, replace the covers and test your new lights.

3) Flat battery
This is the easiest issue to diagnose, as if you have a flat battery, your car will simply not start. You may hear a clicking noise but the engine will not turn over.
If you don’t have a battery tester or charger yourself, remove the battery and take it to a local garage, where they should test it for free to ascertain whether it is the battery which has an issue, rather than the starter motor or alternator.
To removing a battery yourself, unscrew the negative terminal first, followed by the positive. There might be a third, ground wire which also requires undoing. Complete these steps in reverse when putting a battery back into your car.

4) Faulty spark plugs
If your car is having difficulty starting, or sounds rough when idling, then you may have faulty spark plugs.
Spark plugs are relatively cheap and easy to replace. Find out which are right for your car with your Haynes manual, and then remove the spark plug cover, and replace those that relate to the problem zone.

5) An oil change
While not a fault as such, an oil change is an important part of looking after your car, and one you should be doing every 3,000 to 5,000 miles.
Firstly, using your owners manual, find out what type of oil and oil fiter you need, where the oil pan bolt is, where the oil filter is, and how much oil your engine holds.
Got all that? Next, you need to loosen the bolt and drain the old oil, before replacing the oil filter, tightening the bolt back up and refilling the engine with new oil after. Remember to put a little bit of oil in the filter and lubricate the rubber ring with oil afterwards.

While we have only covered the basics of car problems here, we hope that with this guide you feel more prepared to tackle everyday motoring issues.

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January 13, 2017

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