Keep your motor running: an ode to vehicle DIY

March 05 2020
Keep your motor running: an ode to vehicle DIY

Second-hand Style, with Richard Cooke

TWENTY years ago I needed two tools for any DIY job: My phone and the yellow pages.

Today my phone can do it all, and getting a man in has never been easier.

Or a woman, of course. I’m not ashamed to admit that all practical tasks in my house are performed ably by my wife: painting and decorating, putting up shelves, even designing and constructing built-in wardrobes. I’m utterly hopeless, all fingers and thumbs and ‘let’s have a quick coffee break’.

Until quite recently it was the same story with cars. If anything at all needed fixing, the garage got the job. That was until I was shown how some jobs are so easy that even an incompetent like me can manage them.

So, in the interests of keeping your older motors running for longer, and saving you money into the bargain, I urge you to have a go. By the by, this is also the environmentally-friendly option, as ordering a new car is far more damaging to the planet than running an old one.

You will need some basic tools though, and your phone is just one of them.

First up is the easiest of all: changing an air filter. This piece of fabric gauze can be bought for about £10 and replaced in less than 60 seconds. The box housing it is usually right there in front of you under the bonnet, and opens and closes via metal clips. No tools needed, immediate savings made.

Pollen filters are often tucked away and harder to access (behind the glovebox? You’ll need a screwdriver). That said, they are fairly easy to replace and as cheap to buy. Both usually need doing every 20k miles.

Next up, spark plugs, which will require a socket set. They sit under coil packs, the modern replacement for the distributor. Rather than bore you with a ‘how to’ here, take a look on YouTube – I guarantee there is an English language video that will guide you through every nuance of the process for your exact vehicle.

If you are feeling brave, buy some axle stands or inspection ramps and do an oil change yourself. Garages make good money on this work (check out what they charge you for oil!), so on a dry day or in a well-lit garage, this is one job you can do yourself if you are safe and confident.

Let’s put the oily stuff to one side and focus on technology. The best tool you can buy, and it has served me very well over the years, is an OBD II fault code reader (see this month’s picture).

OBD stands for on-board diagnostics, and it allows you to read your car’s electronic brain and see what’s wrong.

That engine warning light you’ve been ignoring can mean all manner of things, and a garage will charge you £25 just to diagnose the problem. The OBD reader only costs £20, and you can use it again and again. If your car is less than 20 years old, the reader is likely compatible and plugs into a socket often found down by the pedals. Put the diagnosed error code into the internet and you’ll know in seconds what the problem is. No need to book in at the garage. The readers are powered by the car, so won’t need a battery.

I saved a family member bundles of cash when we jointly diagnosed a misfire using my reader. The Vauxhall Meriva he wanted to flog is a niche car in the first place, but add in an undiagnosed engine warning light and no-one would have touched it.

Vauxhall would have charged £200 for the diagnostics and resultant fix. We diagnosed it immediately (for free), cleaned a couple of spark plugs and replaced some corroded springs for £11. My invoice is in the post, old son.

I do understand that a lot of you don’t have the time for all this under-bonnet fettling. But with the inclination and some practise, you can save yourself oodles of time and money.

Now, I would offer to help – but it’s time for that coffee break…