Working on Your Rig


Greyscale Photography of Car Engine So you’ve decided to do maintenance or a repair on your rig. Good for you! You’ll not only save money, you’ll have the satisfaction of learning more about your rig. I bet you’ll also fee more confident and self-reliant.

But what can you do if you’re an absolute beginner who’s never spent a day of your life working on a motor vehicle? Today I’ll share a dozen tips to get you started working on your rig.

#1 Buy a repair manual specific to your rig. Chilton and Haynes manuals are probably the best known options. The Motor Bookstore sells repair manuals for a wide variety of makes and models of cars, trucks, and vans. Some auto parts stores also sell manuals for popular vehicles.

CH28642 Chilton General Motors Full -Size Vans 1987-1997 Repair Manual
The internet and particulalry YouTube can be extremely useful (see #2 and #3 below), but there’s nothing like pouring over a detailed diagram big enough to see clearly while never worrying about running out of battery power.

In researching this post, I discovered the Chilton DIY website. By filling in blanks for the year, make, and model of a vehicle, then paying either $24.95 for the 30 day plan or $29.95 for the one year plan, one ostensibly gains access to an online manual. I have not used the manual provided by this website, so I cannot recommend it or warn you against it. Personally, I would rather plunk down $25.50 for a paper copy of a manual that I could utulize for however long I have my van, but I suppose the electronic version works best for some folks.

#2 Do internet research. There are a vast number of automotive repair articles on the web. You can certainly find at least basic information on how to diagnose and repair most problems. (Just remember, anyone can write an article about anything and post it online. I recommend reading several articles on the same topic and comparing info before jumping into a repair or maintenance project.)

Automotive forums can also be a big help. Search forums for questions and answers about the problem you’re having or how to do the job you want to undertake. Don’t see any information about your particular task? Join the appropriate forum and ask for the help you need.

If you’re a vandweller and belong to any of the many vandweller Facebook groups, ask the folks in the group for advice. Sure, there are lots of trolls in those groups, but there are also many helpful, knowledgeable people in the groups too. Reading about the experiences of others can be quite helpful in diagnosing a problem or making a repair.

#3 YouTube videos can be invaluable. My guy recently learned how to replace and adjust drum brakes by watching videos on YouTube. Seeing the actual physical actions you need to make can be extremely helpful to a novice mechanic, while being able to rewind and rewatch a critical component of the process can be indispensable.

(Again, remember anyone can post a video saying anything s/he wants about any aspect of car repair; people aren’t necessarily experts just because they post videos. Watch several videos on any topic and make sure crucial information is basically the same from differnt sources.)

#4 Get the right parts. In my experience, folks who work in parts stores are very helpful and knowledgable and can pull the right parts based on basic information provided by the customer like the year, make, model, and engine size of the vehicle being repaired. I usually go to AutoZone if I have a choice, but I’ve received fine service (and usually the right parts!) at all the chain parts-supply stores I’ve shopped at.

Some people buy their auto parts off the internet. I’ve never done that, so I don’t have much advice, other than do your research carefully so you can order the appropriate items.

#5 Have the right tools for the job before you start. This is an area where your research will pay off. What toolsSet of Tool Wrench are recommended by your manual? What tools are the people in the videos using? Don’t hesitate to ask workers at auto parts stores about the tools you will need for the job you want to do. If you would rather not buy a new tool you hope to never use again, ask a worker about any alternatives. Recently when The Man did a brake job on my van, the guy at AutoZone suggested he use a C-clamp to compress the calipers instead of buying a fancy tool to do the same job.

#6 Gather everything else you need to get the job done. Replacing a radiator hose? You may need coolant to replace what leaks out when you remove the old hose. Doing a brake job? Don’t forget brake cleaner and anti-seize lubricant. Again, do your research, ask at the parts store, and make sure you have all your supplies on hand before you get started.

#7 Enlist a helper. Believe me, you are not going to want to get up and down 15 times during the course of your repair or maintenance work. Tools will need to be fetched, you won’t want to touch things that need to stay clean with your dirty hands, and you will probably want a cold drink during some part of the job. Things will go faster and more smoothly if you have a helper willing to fetch and hand over tools and parts.

#8 Take safety precautions. Engage the emergency brake. Chock the tires. Use a jack that’s strong enough and high enough to lift your rig. Once the rig is lifted, hold it up with jack stands that are strong enough and high enough for the job. (See the Arrive Alive website for more safety advice when working on your vehicle.)

#9 Be prepared to make another trip to the parts store. You might not have a tool you need. (For me and The Man, it was an extender for a rachet while trying to tighten a radiator hose.) You might discover the part in the box isn’t what it’s supposed to be. (This happened to me once when I provided the parts to a Sears service center; the manufacturer had put the wrong part in the box.) You might forget the oil filter or the special lube or the extra coolant. Plan to make at least one additional trip and be pleasantly surprised if all goes well and you don’t have to go back to the parts store.

Stainless Steel Close Wrench on Spanner#10 Take photographs of the status quo before you start pulling things apart. You many think you’ll be able to remember how the components fits together, but you may find yourself confused after things have been pulled apart. It’s easy enough to take a few photos from a few different angles with your phone. Use the technology you probably already have on hand to give yourself a visual reference of how everything actually fits back together.

#11 As you take things apart, put pieces down in a logical fashion. If the spring came from the left side of the brake system, set it down on your left. Again, you many think it will be easy to remember where everything goes, but keeping parts organized will probabaly save you time and aggrevation in the end.

#12 Don’t throw your tools or new parts in the dirt. If you can’t work on clean concrete, put a tarp or a large piece of cardboard or a thin piece of wood under your work space. Keep your tools and new parts as clean as possible.

There you go! That’s everything I know about preparing to work on your rig. The rest is up to you. Good luck!

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Blaize Sun is not an auto-mechanic. She’s offering you suggestions in this post. You have to figure out for yourself what works best for you and your rig. Blaize Sun assumes no responsibiliy for your actions.


About Blaize Sun

I live in my van, which makes me a rubber tramp. I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. I like to play with color. I make collages and hemp jewelry and cheerful winter hats. I take photographs and (sometimes, not in a long time) write poetry. All of those things make me an artist. Although I like to spread joy and to make people laugh, my wit can be sharp. I try to stay positives in all situations, to find the goodness in all people. But I often feel compelled to point out bullshit when I smell it. I like to have fun, to dance, to eat yummy food, to sit by a fire and share stories. I want to know what people hold dear and important, not just make surface small talk. This blog is a way for me to share stories. This blog is made up of my stories, rants, and observations, as well as my photographs.

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