Start doing auto repairs yourself

Disassembling E36 318is engine

Auto repairs

“What tools do I need for doing auto repairs, and what tasks should I start with?” is a question often heard by people wanting to start doing their own repairs..  It isn’t easy to answer such a question, but I will try my best to do so in this blogpost.

What tools do I need

Even the best mechanic in the world, needs a set of tools. However, what tools do you need? I believe this can be defined by the three questions below.

What auto repair do you plan to do?

First of all, what auto repair do you plan doing? This is directly related to what tools you need. Thoroughly inspect the part itself, and area around it if possible before starting.  A part is mounted to your auto using a variety of methods. Examples are bolts, nuts, glue, or hose clamps.

Googling the auto repair itself might also prove useful to find other people experiences. “What tools are needed for an oil change on my BMW E36 M3 with the S50B32 engine?” is a sentence I googled once.

Do you need to remove, or lift anything to gain access?

Some parts are mounted in such a way that removing other parts, or lifting is required. You can remove the bolts holding a wheel to the auto using a cross wheel spanner, but you require a car jack to remove and fit a new wheel.

What tools do you need if it doesn’t work out as you planned?

Auto repairs doesn’t always go as you planned. You almost always need to be prepared for the worst when working, and especially if you are dependent on your car. Rusted bolts may break its head off, and get stuck. Do you have the required tools to remove a broken bolt? Luckily though, this doesn’t happen to often, and the smaller bolts are often removed using water pump pliers.

Exhaust cut using angle grinder
Disassembly of the exhaust did not go as planned, and it had to be removed using an angle grinder due to rust.

Do I have the required knowledge for this auto repair?

Some auto repairs are more difficult than others, and require different amounts of knowledge. Imagine the difference between doing an engine swap, and changing your tires. Research before starting the repair is an important step, and has saved a lot of money and time through the years. However, learning by doing is one of the best methods for acquiring said knowledge.

I strongly recommend researching how to correctly use the tools used in the auto repair, how the part you are replacing works, and how to put it all back together again. All of this can be learned during the repair, but all pre-acquired knowledge helps.

Lastly, leave it to a professional mechanic if you believe that something is above your knowledge level. Wrongly doing a repair could cost you alot of money, and be a danger to you and others around you. What if the brakes stop working after you wrongly “fixed” them?

What parts are needed?

The parts you need are the last piece of the puzzle required to do an auto repair. Getting stuck in the midst of the repair due to a missing part happens more than often. You might break a part during disassembly, or simply dont know all the parts that need replacing beforehand. Correctly identify all parts that need replacing before starting, and acquire them through an auto parts store or the wreckers.

Getting the correct part is an important step. If you want to be 100% sure, check the part number stamped on the part itself. However, this isn’t always possible before disassembly. You should otherwise use the combination of car brand, year, engine, suspension, fuel and vehicle type(Sedane, pickup, etc) to find your part.

Should I replace other parts aswell?

Replacing related or nearby parts is recommended for future savings. A typical example of this is replacing the clutch, when you are replacing the gearbox. Removing the gearbox is a time consuming operation, and you might aswell replace the clutch along with it. Now of course, is the clutch looks like new, this is not needed.

Doing the auto repair

Now you need to complete the auto repair. It is quite simple when explained with words. Remove the broken part, and mount the new part in the reverse order.

Dont use to much force. If something seems stuck, it probably is. A slow moving bolt might have been inserted using the wrong angle, or have dirty threads. If a part is stuck, check that all mounting bolts and nuts have been removed. Cleaning dirt and rust using a wire brush and WD40 often helps.

Take a picture before disassembly. Remembering the exact location of a bolt, or wire can be hard. Taking a picture helps you put it all back together.

Picture from a serpentine belt E36 318is
A picture showing how the serpentine belt on a E36 318is should fit for later reinstallation. Would you remember the order without the photo?

Sort removed parts in chronologically the way you removed them. This allows you to put them back together in the right order.

Parts diagram E36 M3 drive flange
Parts diagram for a 97′ E36 M3 showing the assembly of the drive flange mounted to the differential. It also shows the chronological order for the parts. Photocredits to realoem.com

Pitfalls – If possible, research possible pitfalls. Some weeks ago I broke the bleeding screw on my brake caliper. “Hell, I’ll just drill it out like I usually do!“. Halfway through the drillingI ate dinner. Luckily I got time to think during dinner, and researched the topic. Turns out that the oval shaped part of the bleeding screw is what prevents it from leaking, and I would have ruined the entire caliper by continuing the drilling by flattening the oval shapeA torx bit on a socket wrench, and a hammer solved the issue.

A rusted bolt being removed by a Torx bit
The insides of the bolt got drilled out just big enough to fit a Torx bit. Then hammered down tight, and unwinded using a socket wrench.

Im stuck. What to do now?

I cant even begin to count the amount of times I have gotten stuck mid repair. However, this usually gets solved. Googling your problem often gives valueable information, searching through online forums, Haynes manuals, and looking at parts diagram proves useful to check what the next step is. However, you might sometimes have to accept defeat, and contact a professional.

Im finished!

Congratulations! Still, there is some more work to do.

Check all the bolts – Are ALL of the bolts and nuts properly tightened? Even though you are 100% sure that you tightened that bolt, check it once more.

Test your repair – Check that it actually got fixed as intended. If you worked on your brakes, then check that they work properly afterwards.

Check for leaks – Check for any leaks of any kind after the testdrive.  Maybe that one hose didn’t get tightened properly?

General tips

ALWAYS use the correct tool if you have it at hand. A rounded bolt might might require 5 hours more work.

Do it once, and do it right.

If you get tired/mad, stop and take a break. I dont know how many parts I have destroyed when mad.

Comments

What is your best tip for the starter mechanic?

If you could go back in time, and tell yourself something regarding wrenching. What would it be?

Author: Jehans Jr Storvik

A website with information on how to use tools, and do mechanic work in general with the main focus on cars. This blog is written by a 24 year old computer programmer and amateur mechanic. I have worked on cars since the age of 16, and I learned everything from scratch by myself working on 1990-2000 BMWs. I started with simple operations, and these days I can do engine swaps/rebuilds, suspension overhaul, and building amateur race cars with forced induction. I am a 24 year old computer programmer, and amateur mechanic from Norway. My interest for mechanics started as a child when I disassembled our familys lawnmower to study how it worked. I never got it working again. As I turned 15, I started working on two stroke dirtbikes, and I found the tuning part especially fun. However, a manual 94' BMW E36 325i acquired at the age of 18 turned this interest into a passion. I have since attempted to do all maintenance and mechanical operations myself, to gain further knowledge. These days I am able to do nearly all maintenance by myself, and other things such as: -Engine swaps -Tuning using forced induction, or cam swaps. -Suspension overhauls -Basic welding and cutting. -Basic wire and electric knowledge. -Basic ECU tuning

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