OK, Tubbs, first off, let me apologize to you. That shit with that girl was not very fun, right? You’re pretty depressed and that makes sense. But don’t sublimate it into anger. That’s a shortcut to a really shitty couple of years (OK like ten years, seriously, get some therapy or something, you take WAY too long to figure that shit out yourself). But now we’re back to cars. Last time, we had a very nice talk about how you need a place to work on stuff and we got you a basic toolset, along with the required support shit to do almost everything you need, right? You’ve probably picked up a few oddball tools along the way as required to do some bigger jobs, maybe like an 1 1/4 socket for crank bolts and a drill (why did you buy a sawzall before you had an angle grinder, dumbass?). Well, stop buying stuff right now and I’ll tell you what you should do. (aside from continuing to enjoy that hair, I know you’re finding it on your pillowcase right now and that’s a bummer, but you still have PLENTY up top. NOBODY NOTICES YET. KEEP HAVING HAIR. Enjoy your tan, too, you will never be that color again except for the skin around your asshole.) Parts washer is pretty great right? I know it’s a pain in the ass to drain and refill and the shelf bent but who cares, it’s better than wiping shit down with your shirt before bolting it back together.
Alright, so you have your basic toolset, and you have your consumables, and you’re looking for the next big upgrade to your project handling capabilities. Trust me it’s not a bottle-brush hone and it’s not a tubing bender. It is an angle grinder. This thing is good for dozens of otherwise impossible fixes, like hacking through rusted in place bolts or putting a wire wheel on to clean up nasty undercoat. This thing is gonna run you like $50 if you shop around and you’ll end up using it everywhere. Be careful with grinding stones and cutoff wheels, you can very easily fuck yourself well past being able to fix, but sometimes it’s invaluable to be able to delete metal from a part or delete a bolt head from something that’s truly stuck. If you don’t have a quality drill, get one now, find one with a keyed chuck, and get the following accessories: a set of drill-to-socket adapters, a set of step-drill bits. You also need a good plumber’s torch (you already have one you pyro, but this isn’t JUST for you, OK) because heat is Doctor SpaceJesus’ magic blue/yellow wrench, and you will end up burning some rubber bushings clean before it’s all said and done. A vacuum gauge (and a vacuum pump/brake bleeder), and an oil pressure gauge and sender are pretty invaluable. This is another couple hundred bucks in tools that will multiplex your capabilities hugely. Still have money left over after smokes and beers? Lets take care of that now.
Build yourself a workbench. Set the top of it right around your beltline, make the top out of two layers of 1/2″ plywood. If you can find an old laminate countertop or something to use for this, so much the better. Make sure the legs are sturdy — stop looking at those 4×6 timbers, some 2×4′s will be fine, and adjustable, so you can level the damned thing. Then go out and get ready to spend some serious money on a vise.
I know, I know, a vise is just a big pair of channel locks you can’t stuff in your pocket, but it is SO much more. It’s the key to drilling and cutting stuff square and not, for example, tearing off your thumbnail, snapping off drill bits and dulling their ends, or gouging a hole in your palm while you do it. It’ll help you install all those seal savers straight — you are installing seal savers on everything, right? And a high quality one, with some creativity, can do everything from driving out balljoints to bending tubing. If you want to do these jobs regularly, and right, what you really want is a 20 ton press, but that thing is HUGE LIEK XBOX (do you… I don’t know if you get that or not. The Xbox really is quite big. Oh and the cords are gonna catch fire? So keep an eye out for that recall.) and will not be friendly to your free wheeling lifestyle. It’s a great tool, and one you’ll want eventually, but right now for intermediate-level car repair, you want a bench mounted vise in the “large cat to small dog” size range. Don’t cheap out on this one, get something with a warranty that isn’t written in crayon.
Want more? Of course you do. You don’t have Smokey’s Speed Shop Mobile yet, so you’re still looking for more capability. Well, look no further than a compressor. This is another one that will weigh you down, so get something in the 3 gallon range and recognize that you’ll never be able to run a DA or body saw full time off it, this is strictly for filling tires, running a small paint gun, and short blasts of power like the impact gun for loosening stuff that you can’t quite get leverage on with the cheater and the breaker. Know that with this increased torque and impact, you are gonna shear off more bolts than ever, so always start with the tools from 101: penetrating oil, then wrench, penetrating oil, then breaker; before moving to 102 tools: oil, then torch, then oil, then impact, then grinder. Grinder don’t need oil. Grinder don’t care. Get a long hose and quick connects for whatever tools you have. Learn the maintenance schedule for your compressor, and pay attention when it’s leaking. Upgrade to a bigger one when you feel like you can swing it (I am at 20 gallons now and it’s just a teensy bit small for full time use but as long as you wait for it to catch up it’s fine).
Now, this is the biggest, most important lesson for 102. Documentation. Write down what you’re doing. Take pictures or draw diagrams of what you disconnect. Don’t count on your memory to save you, don’t count on hoses pointing in the right direction, take the extra couple of minutes to tape a label to some shit. Trust me here, this is going to save you some serious embarrassment and frustration down the line. The “there’s always parts left over” joke is good for a chuckle, but that turns to a groan when you hear a terrifying PLING on the freeway and you lurch to one side, or can’t ever get a carburetor to idle right. When you’re doing little shit like replacing a shock or an alternator, you’re gonna be fine just winging it but once you have to dismantle two or three major systems to get at your repair, you will wish that you had a little note that told you which of two wires was on the 12 o’clock stud on the alternator versus the 3 o’clock one instead of trying to divine position from where the crudded up things hang.
And while we’re on the topic of wires. You’ve not jumped into too much electrical, just because the systems are complicated and you hate trying to learn, but mastering the art of wiring replacement is critical. You’ve already got a cutter/stripper/crimper, now it’s time to add some smart accessories: a soldering iron, some flux, some solder, some heat-shrink tubing, and a variety pack of wiring connectors, along with a cheap digital multimeter. This won’t cost you more than $30-40, buy four or five different colors of wire and take the time to learn how to use it, and you will transform from the guy who can replace his alternator to the guy who can fix the car that mysteriously turns off when you hit the dash in this one place. IF YOU CAN’T FIGURE IT OUT, READ A BOOK. IF THAT DON’T HELP, TAKE A CLASS. Find somebody to teach you. This is a stumbling block for you now and unless you fix it soon it’s gonna leave you fed up and out of patience for cars altogether.
About the wires, and the documentation — if you can, find the factory service manual. If you can’t, buy a Haynes or Chilton, but don’t expect much out of them. FSM’s are precious like gilded Angel eyebrows. Hayes are like… listening to the guy at the parts store tell you how to do something over the phone. It’s better than a kick in the balls but for the most part you can figure out whatever the H/C is gonna tell you by just staring at the part you need off. Remember, these are SUPPLEMENTS to your documentation, not replacements. They tell you how stuff “should” be, your documentation will help you realize how stuff currently IS. And with those docs and some troubleshooting methodology with your multimeter, your vacuum gauge, and your oil pressure gauge, you will be able to track almost any problem down to its root within an hour or so. Knowing what is wrong before you start disassembling the motor is always a good thing.
That’s basically it, that’s all I can offer. Welders and benders and fishmouthing and metal work and all that crap? That is off in the distant future. You need a place to work on your cars, and then you need to build up your toolbox, you need to work on your patience, and everything from there on up is cream. It’s building experience and confidence on a solid foundation of tools and techniques, not just running to the tool store every time trying to buy the biggest, most badass thing you can find and then manufacturing a reason to use it. Trust yourself to find people who can do what you want, learn how to ask questions and judge answers. (serious about the therapy too, you need it)