Sunday, November 14, 2010

Automobile Maintenance

There are hundreds of automobile parts, and knowing how to maintain/repair/replace all of them constitutes a huge body of knowledge. Furthermore, there are hundreds of different vehicle models, and this greatly complicates things because, for example, the location and workings of a 1978 Camaro's transmission will be different from those of the transmission on a 2003 Honda Odyssey. Thus mechanics have more to remember than just about anyone else, including doctors. Think about it: your primary care physician has cursory knowledge about a number of body parts, but if any of those parts need repair or replacement, he sends you to a specialist because he can't possibly help you. We expect a mechanic – who makes less than half of what a doctor makes – to fix anything he finds wrong with our vehicle, but if a doctor making six figures refers us to a dermatologist because he is unable to remove a wart, we excuse him because we understand that it is impossible for him to keep abreast of modern medical procedures or actually heal people while working to keep his golf score below 90.

I am not one of those macho idiots who think that the inability to perform automotive maintenance means that you're either a woman or gay (not both – gay women can fix cars). For example, I'm not at all ashamed to admit that whenever I buy wiper blades, I very discreetly ask the salesperson to come out to my car with me and install them. I also tip very well.

If you do nothing else for your vehicle, maintain the engine oil. This is the most important and most cost-effective thing you can do to avoid automotive problems. Actually the best way to escape vehicle headaches is to not own one and take public transportation, but how many suburban and rural people are gonna do that? This is America, and the one thing that sets us apart from the rest of the world is that we are selfish, impatient, wasteful consumers who drive the biggest gas-guzzlers we can afford so we can drive our kids to soccer practice and ride to work alone. Even "environmentalists" burn gas and pollute the air as they drive to rallies, and frankly the rest of us are sick and tired of their hypocrisy. If you really want to do your part, go live in the woods and eat berries. But you know what? It won't make a bit of difference because the rest of us will continue to air condition our homes and run our lawnmowers, and we'll honk and laugh as we drive by you on our way to the mall.

Changing oil is one of the easiest automotive tasks to perform. It involves unscrewing the old filter and screwing a new one on, removing the oil filler cap and drain plug, draining the old oil, replacing the plug, filling with the appropriate amount of oil, and replacing the filler cap. Used motor oil should be taken to a recycling center. Some gas stations will take it as well. Unfortunately some doodyheads pour it down the sewer or on the ground, thus polluting wells, rivers and other water sources. And let's not forget the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which contaminated a large area near Alaska. The company tried to clean it up, but its employees left after a short while because the nearest liquor store was ten miles away.

I changed my car's oil once. I bought five quarts of oil and an oil filter and an oil-filter-getter-outer, and in less than two hours I had not only changed the oil and filter, but also brought the used oil to a local gas station, where they charged me a mere fifty cents to take it. While driving a few minutes later, smoke started billowing out from under my hood. I pulled over and lifted the hood to discover – and this is why I work in an office – that I had forgotten to put the oil cap back on. Luckily it was still there, sitting on top of the engine block, and I managed to reinstall it, coming away with only second-degree burns.

Sometimes a car that's sluggish on a very cold morning can be started by keeping the accelerator pressed while turning the key. A lot of people think that this will flood the engine, and that might be true for a vehicle with a carburetor, but fuel injected cars don't flood. Depressing the accelerator assists in attaining proper airflow or something like that. I don't know. Maybe it works because it gives the hamster under the hood a food pellet.

Don't worry if your brakes squeal. It might be annoying, but it's purely cosmetic, as the squeal has no effect on braking effectiveness or the life of the pads and rotors. Squealing has become more common since asbestos was removed from brake pad material for health reasons. I read up on brake squealing and found several possible remedies:

• put Teflon shims between the pads and pistons
• cut a diagonal hacksaw kerf through the friction material
• glue the pads to the pistons with epoxy

Isn't this information helpful? I don't know about you, but I'm going to run out right now and epoxy my pistons to my pads! Or insert Teflon shims (which of course we all have at home)! Or cut a diagonal hacksaw kerf through the friction material! As soon as I find out what a kerf is!