The Driver's Seat

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Car Clinic Live ---- The Driver's Seat
FYI... before you DIY.

It's rumored that my first words were, "Hot car, Mom," so I can appreciate the passion that one has for doing his or her own work. There's an allure in hearing the whir of an engine whose oil you just changed or whose hood you just polished or whose leather you just conditioned.

Keep in mind the line between do-it-yourself (DIY) and do-it-for-me (DIFM) is a green one—as in $. This border can be wide or very, very thin, depending on the nature of the task, the available tools and the expertise of the owner. And what may seem like a DIY wallet-fattening move may result in a very costly DIFM wallet-flattening experience.

That said, performed correctly, checking tire pressure, monitoring fluids and changing one's own oil can save time and money while providing individual car owners with the satisfaction of knowing what services were done to their cars when--and how well they were completed.

So should you DIY?

For tire pressure, the answer is simple: Absolutely. Check often with a digital tire gauge and use the tire pressure noted on the inside of your door jamb, not the pressure recorded on your tire. That figure is the recommended tire pressure when the vehicle is at maximum weight load.

For monitoring fluids, the answer is: It depends. Some fluids—like oil level, brake fluid & coolant—are easily checked. Accessing others—like differential gear lube—is not simple, but these vital vehicular lifebloods need equal screening.

For changing one's own oil, the answer is: It depends on several factors.

  • Safety. Does the owner have "jack stands?" Since most vehicles ride only 6"-7" off the ground, access to the engine's oil pan drain plug and oil filter is virtually impossible without elevating the vehicle. And when changing oil filter, one must visually inspect and clean the filter's mounting surface to ensure proper sealing of the filter-to-engine block, another reason to lift the car. The safest method of doing this is to buy a couple of "drive up ramps." NAPA has ramps for less than $40 (part #5201206. NAPA also offers a drain pan for about $22 (part #8218038) that allows old oil to be properly stored until it can be taken to a local waste oil drop off for proper disposal.
    Also, consider protecting your body. As a DIYer, you're assuming the role of a professional, so use rubber gloves like a professional. Gloves shield your skin from the “nasty factor,” and they offer a better—and safer—grip for wielding your tools. Click here to check out the GRIP
    ® Gloves, which my technicians and I use daily for jobs in the shop and in our homes. My recommendation is Kimberly-Clark Professional's entire line of automotive products, which includes not only quality gloves, but also general-to-heavy-duty masks and overalls. Go to and click on "KLEENGUARD Head to Toe" for the complete line of personal protective gear. And if you're working on painting your automobile as a DIYer, use what professional paint shops use:  "KIMTECH Auto Paint Prep."
  • Oil disposal.  Used oil is humans, animals and vegetation. So when changing your own oil, make sure you dispose of it properly. Many gas stations accept used oil and filters, but for sure-bets, go to Earth 911 to locate a collection site in your area. With raised consciousness about the environmental impact of carelessly disposed oil, many state and federal initiatives reflect the shift in focus from "who cares" to "we care." For example, Sacramento's "California Integrated Waste Management Board" is allocating more than $1.2M to ensure the safe retrieval and collection of used motor oil from crankcases throughout the state.

Maintaining the Environment.  And speaking of disposing of materials, DIYers, consider the rags or cloths that you use. The contaminants collected on cloth can affect the environment as a by-product of wash water. For years, we used cloth in Car Clinic Service, my 15,000 square-foot automotive service facility. Two years ago, we switched to the SCOTT® product line. Depending on the nature of the job, our technicians use professional-grade SCOTT® Shop Towels on a Roll, SCOTT® Shop Towels in a Box, or SCOTT® Shop Towels Hand Wipes. To pair the perfect product with your project, go to  and click on "Automotive." Since seeing is believing, check out the “Bobby in the Shop” page on our website for a simple plug-&-play worksheet for $$ saved.

When performing DIY procedures, consider other venues to your driveway. Schools that offer automotive service & management training courses often allow students to work on their own cars inside the classroom / garage room. Pensacola State College and the Advanced Technology Center in Daytona are two examples.

The reality is that most automotive services are beyond the skill-and-tool scope of a car owner with a car key and gas card. From a technological viewpoint, electronics controlled only 2% of an automobile in the early 70's. By 2010, 50% of all vehicle operations will be electronically controlled. With so many car functions interconnected, the potential to create problems doing one's own services looms. While unscrewing a drain plug for oil change may be relatively simple, try safely replacing some engine air filters. You'll quickly learn that car makers cram too many car parts into too small a space. Talk about a jigsaw puzzle.

In Clint Eastwood style, the trick is "to know your limitations." When deciding on which side of the DIY/DIFM line you’re on for a particular procedure, keep in mind it’s what you don't know that can hurt you...and your vehicle. Each manufacturer has its own electronic architecture that keeps vehicle operations private--private to the point that "other than franchised dealers and the best trained independent shops," few can actually get into the car's computer-controlled operations. Procedures that seem “simple”—and indeed were in ancient history (that’s before the ‘90s)—are now much more complex. For example:

  • Resetting service lights—correctly.
  • Recalibrating tire pressure monitoring systems after a flat or low tire.
  • Even replacing mere light bulbs has too often become a sophisticated job requiring disassembly of too many car parts.

As evidence of the complexity of servicing today’s vehicles, some 60K e-pages of Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) are delivered monthly to service shops across the country by Alldata. So how can you capitalize on all this information? For DIFM consumers, it’s a no-brainer: ask your shop to search for and print TSBs for your particular vehicle. For DIYers, you’ll have to cross the line because, despite your DIY status, it's important to establish rapport with a dealer or up-to-date independent service shop. Sooner or later, your vehicle will need an operation that you can’t perform, so visit a few recommended shops in advance and "test the waters" by chatting with the service managers. Tell them you're a DIYer but are looking for a place for servicing your vehicle beyond what you want to do for yourself. Be bold. Ask for relevant TSBs. You'll get a quick feel for the fit.

For those who really want to get involved with their car's health, ask questions at the shop. Don't toss the keys to the service advisor and run (late) to work. The time you put in upfront (before repairs) will pay dividends beyond your expectations. Do this and you'll get "buy-in" from your service provider.

Whether DIY or DIFM, don’t neglect your 4-wheeled friend. In the world of automotive service & repair, there's a term called "slow death." Slow death happens to all machines (including cars) and is caused when the lifebloods of individual mechanical components deteriorate, causing extra pressure to shift from one car part to another, eventually overloading the system. For example, pressurized power steering fluid is the prime element in creating "power assist" in steering. However, when this fluid becomes contaminated (50K miles will do it) with small metal particles, the effect is the same as cancer that has metastasized, traveling through the automotive body and causing damage to other "healthy" components.

Ask consumers (ask yourself) what comes to mind if I asked what "Preventive Maintenance" (PM) means to you and you'll probably hear, "Changing oil & filter every 3K to 4K miles” and maybe “rotating the tires." This mindset is common across America. And little wonder, the automotive aftermarket has sung this "PM" song since the mid-60's. Today, "100K-mile This and Forever That" are commonplace...and necessarily unwise.

As a result of my 40 years under the hood and now in the electronics of cars, we've created and trademarked a new service approach: Pre-Repair™. I know "Preventive Maintenance is obsolete because it's incomplete." Engine oil, gear lube, brake fluid, power steering and transmission fluids must be included in short- and long-term services if a vehicle is expected to deliver thousands of miles of trouble-free operation. Truly, these fluids are the vehicle's Lifebloods.

Speaking of protecting your automotive baby, covering it is a must if you want it to maintain the factory shine, or better yet the glow from last weekend's elbow-grease wash 'n' wax. But not all fabrics do trick. Some trap moisture. For the best in car cover fabrics, BLOCK-IT ®  by Kimberly-Clark is the choice. Depending on your vehicle's environment and your requirements, you can choose a cover made from Evolution, Noah and Dustop. All my vehicles have BLOCK-IT® fabric covers, even my Viper which is carefully garaged.

And finally, whether DIYer or DIFMer, you have access to this website as a resource. We designed our site with the consumer in mind, and it's rich in audio, video & print content. Click on the "Email Bobby" link for a direct connection to moi. I've answered literally thousands of Car Clinic listener and viewer questions with direction that helps consumers make smart decisions at the service shop and retail store.

Bobby Likis, Host of Bobby Likis Car Clinic Bobby Likis Car Clinic Live
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