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Old 02-06-2008, 11:46 PM   #1
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Question Backyard Mechanic 101

I am just curious about how you guys first got comfortable/competent in working on cars? Did you grow up with your head under the bonnet with your dad or just start fiddling on your own steam or what?

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Old 02-07-2008, 12:03 AM   #2
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I started restoring my first car, a 1973 Porsche 914, when I was 15 years old under the guidance of my uncle. This is what first got me going. He was there every step of the way during the build, but after the car was drivable, he almost avoided helping me, and at first I was frustrated, but this was the "push out of the nest" that I needed to get really going on my own. After I sold the Porsche, I got into Hondas and did my first engine swap on a buddy's car knowing NOTHING. The swap took about a week, but we finally managed to get it running. It's all down hill after you get confidence - now I'll jump head first into something I know nothing about (ahem, airplane), but the outcome is usually at least acceptable, and if not, chalk it up to a learning experience and fix the problem.

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Old 02-07-2008, 12:48 AM   #3
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I always hung out with my dad whenever he worked on anything, and I've got a mechanical aptitude which I inherited from him but it apparently skipped a generation according to him. (His dad had the mechanical aptitude, my dad just tried to avoid having to pay the repair guy, but he can do some simple repairs if he has to.) He gave me a roll of electrical tape, a few screwdrivers here & there, eventually my own small set of tools, and he always let me try to work on anything. He eventually gave me the tools he got for his wedding - Craftsman from 1964 and they outperform today's tools by a long shot.

I was actually studying to restore classic cars for a living after I found out I truly enjoy cars, but there was a nasty incident at the auto parts store I was working at and suffice it to say permanent back injury, so I have to pay for most things more complicated than an oil change or a simple tune-up now, unfortunately.

I've always been sort of intuitive with vehicles. My favorite fix on my dad's car was a Ford straight six engine which had a HORRIBLE squeaky alternator belt. He used belt dressing, changed the belt, cleaned every pulley, etc. This went on for a couple of weeks. Finally he asked me to look at it. He popped the hood, gave it a little gas, it squealed like crazy. I told him to shut it off, asked him if it was sluggish lately. He said yes. I said to pull the #3 and #4 plugs - they would be fouled, #3 more than #4. Clean/replace those plugs and the belt squeak goes away, power & mileage go up. He couldn't figure out how I knew this would fix the belt - after all - not intuitive.

I turned it on to show him - gas the engine and it torqued one way in the front (changed the geometry WRT the crank pulley & alternator & water pump IIRC) and turned the other way in the back. No fire in the middle - it really twisted a lot!

It's much easier with the internet - can learn things I never dreamed of before, and sharing all this information about FE is wonderful. My current project is finding a CRX and trying for 80-100+ MPG.
Looking to trade for an early 1988 Honda CRX HF (Pillar mounted seat belts)
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Old 02-07-2008, 01:02 AM   #4
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seriously school and books is the way to go. theres so much misinformation floating around from mechanic to mechanic, the web, etc.
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Old 02-07-2008, 02:00 AM   #5
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I started because I was too poor to pay to repair my first car. The oil sending unit blew I went to the library, rented a helms manual and then went out and fixed it myself. I just told myself "it's broken already, so I can't make it any worse, and it's just some bolts/nuts that go back on when I'm done"

So now I can do anything to a Honda with the exception of rebuilding an automatic transmission. I just plain don't have a want/need for that as I've dabbled with the innards of a GM 4T60 trans before.

I also had mechanical aptitude from a very young age. I was always modifying toy cars by putting motors in them from other faster vehicles. Heck, I even made a propeller driven (air) car when I was 5 or so.

Good times, good time.

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Old 02-07-2008, 02:23 AM   #6
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Well my dad is a "jack of all trades" and I learned what I could from him. He knew the basics of changing starters, oil, alternators, etc... And I have done 3 engine swaps on my 2 CRX's. I understand what I am doing but the mechanic at work understands a lot more then me. I just know enough to get by without paying someone else.

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Old 02-07-2008, 02:38 AM   #7
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My dad (a farmer and an awesome mechanic) showed me things a little at a time.
I started by taking apart junk lawnmower engines.
Then started tinkering with running lawnmowers.
Then making crude go carts.
Then in junior high I got my first old dirt bike (motorcycle) that needed repairs to keep it going.
Then I bought and drove cheap fixer upper cars through high school and college and learned a little from each one's issues. In college, I was always the "friend" who would change brake pads, water pumps, starters radiators etc in exchange for a pizza or a little cash.
I guess I am still driving old cars and keeping them running, but I have moved on to working on bigger things- 4WD trucks, tractors and dump trucks.
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Old 02-07-2008, 04:01 AM   #8
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Talking Old Pharte Story.

My uncle bought a '61 Corvair the day he before he shipped out to Viet Nam just so he could see his future bride one last time. He drove the car from San Diego to his girlfriend's, then tossed me the keys. That was my first car.

The car ran so rough it was practically undriveable.

My dad brought a Chilton's manual and a box of tools out and set them next to the car, smiled, then went back into the house.

I took the top off the motor (those old, fat Chilton's were amazingly complete. Wish they still were ). I was a little unsure about what I had found, but there were only 5 connecting rods according to my count, which didn't seem right according to the picture in the book. Dad finally let me know that in fact there should be 6, smiled, then went back into the house.

Someone had thrown a rod, then shoved the piston up into the cylinder to get it out of the way and kept driving it.

I read and reasoned my way through rebuilding that car. Within a couple of year's time I built Corvairs that would outrun some of the then new big block Chevelles, at least til the Powerglide ran out gearing. lol.

READ, REASON, then DO. Today's cars are a bit more complicated than my first one, but once you understand how a component operates when its working RIGHT you can eventually narrow down what's causing it to work WRONG.

No one is born knowing how to fix things. You now have the added advantage of forums like these where hopefully no question is treated as stupid and someone will help you understand or verify your findings. I ask lots of dumb questions. Some of you are less than half my age and due to your familiarity with a particular car over mine you just happen to know twice what I do about them.

Don't be humbled, be grateful.
Everyone wants to live inTheory. Because everything works THERE.
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Old 02-07-2008, 04:51 AM   #9
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I had some reasonable aptitude, but I didn't get many opportunities at home to play with much. When I started racing motorcycles, I had help from the people that I was traveling with, and then I started to become self sufficient. Eventually, you just start to recognize what you can tackle, what you want to tackle, and what you recognize you can tackle but isn't valuable to tackle because of cost or risk.

Often, it's a matter of doing it. There is no substitute for getting your hands dirty.
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Old 02-07-2008, 08:15 AM   #10
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yea ive had an intrest in cars for a long time. i helped my dad change the oil on his cars and fix stuff. then when i got my first truck my dad bought a haynes manual and went down the list of stuff that should be replaced. he sat back and supervised lol. taking auto mech in my HS helped alot too. learned how everyhting really works and fits together. ive never had my truck or car in a shop besides for tire replacement and balancing (just dont have the proper tools/equipment to do it)

i dunno i like doing stuff like that on somewhat older engines. this new crap is more annoying to work on. havign to use weird tools and have arms like gumby to get to stuff or take off 50 other things.

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