Gearhead 101 – Notes to 19 year old me (and anybody else who is just starting to love working on cars)

I am from the future, and I am here to bring you knowledge. Potential Future Spoilers are in parenthesis if you want to avoid paradox but it’s probably not a big deal. As I am you I will tell you one thing that only you and I know. For Squirrels Example was criminally underrated and their first-album-tour van crash cut short what could have been a shortcut to the future of rock (trust me I am here in the bleak totally fine post-apocalyptic renaissance-like future of rock and they were fucking on to something maaaan). OK so now that I have established my credentials lets talk about cars.

What are you driving right now? The Lincoln? Or is that guy already gone, that sucks dude. The Honda ain’t a bad car, and you should have taken better care of him while he was yours. You’re in a bad period, though, and it’s about to get worse. You’re about to take your fucking show on the road (you know this, already, in your heart. Arizona doesn’t get any better. It doesn’t change to magically be an OK place for you. Just go.) and you’re gonna drag a bunch of cars halfway across creation while you do it. Do it. Love them. Hate them. Throw wrenches, it’s gonna be great! (you’re gonna bust sooo many knuckles you dipshit) But anyways, here’s a list of worthwhile things to think about before you pick up a leaker and try to make it into a looker.

This is basically rule number one. Never trust that guy about the motor. It is not put together right, it wasn’t recently rebuilt, nobody went through it, it didn’t roll in purring like a kitten, it’s currently fucked, waiting to get fucked-er, and the longer you ignore that the worse a situation you will be in both financially and physically when it fails. Don’t trust that guy about the brakes, either. Don’t trust him about the carb, or the electrical. Assume you’re gonna have to tear into it early, or have somebody you trust tear into it. You are not going to have anybody you trust for quite a while, so here’s some big ass things to do, IMMEDIATELY.

Do you have a garage? Not a driveway, not a dirt lot, a garage, like a place with your tools and shit in it? No? You need to consider finding a place with a garage. Spend your precious time and learn how to deal with strangers and haggle enough to find one you can afford. If you can’t afford a garage, and you don’t have a driveway… you’re kinda screwed. I’m not saying you need to go buy a Tiburon (but you totally should turns out those Hyundais are fine! Despite all the ko-cars-are-crap talk. Who knew? No matter what Grandma Mickey says, don’t buy a “Kiva”. Not OK.) but maybe nothing French or pre 1950, OK? We’re not trying to buy up all the Francophile toolchest bits on, where the fuck are you working now, the school district? Yeah, you’re not buyin’ 2CV parts on you janitor bucks so calm the fuck down. Anyhow, my point is, you need a place to work on the car. So get working on that now.

In that garage, you need many tools, but the first tool you are going to need to buy is this. Yes, it costs more than a torque wrench, but trust me you’re going to need to use it thirty times more often. Don’t be tempted to get the little one, this packs down pretty small when you put the legs in it so it won’t get in your way (for example when you move to California next year with no plan and no money, smaaaart. No really it’s totally fine you needed to get out of there, it’s fine. God you dipshit.) when packed up. As a matter of fact it would store most of the tools you are gonna need right inside (since you will never, ever own or maintain a cohesive tool box or tool chest). Clean stuff. It takes more time than wrenching ever will but the difference between a fix made with clean parts and a “fix” made with parts that are soaked in grease will make a gigantic difference in how much you enjoy the cars you love. Add to this a giant bottle of the cheapest degreaser you can get for it, the big can of WD-40, some brushes and rags, a spray can of penetrating oil, a bottle of Naval Jelly, and an aerosol trio of paint stripper, black engine paint, and silver exhaust paint along with some masking tape to cover gasket surfaces. If you wanna really set yourself up right, go buy a box of nitrile gloves AND USE THEM. DOUBLE GLOVE FOR SPEED. KEEP A DOZEN IN YOUR POCKET. CHANGE THEM FREQUENTLY. This whole package will set you back about $200 and it will change the game as far as car work goes. You won’t have to snap off bolt heads (but you’ll do that plenty, dummy) or bolt rusty parts back on to an engine ever again. You won’t have black crap jammed in your cuticles. (And while we are at it enjoy that fucking hair buddy, grow it the fuck out and put some product in there, you have some great hair and I’m not gonna ruin the big surprise of “when” for you but it does NOT last forever, tiger) Gaskets won’t leak incessantly, things won’t rust into place, things that ARE rusted into place will be removable. You won’t cringe when you open the hood, and it’ll make it EASIER to identify leaks and track down problems. Tools you can borrow beg or buy, but having the right chemicals makes everything easier.

Second step… you need to learn where your local car wash with power wands is. Or you can borrow a pressure washer. This is where you’re gonna do your big degunking projects. And yes, you need to degunk that car. Unless you can see all the bolt heads and not just bolt-like-shapes beneath oil and dirt cake, it is not clean, and it sucks. Pressure washers aren’t quite cheap enough for me to mandate them like a parts washer, but for a couple bucks in quarters down at the car wash you can take care of whatever you need taken care of.

Third, start with a simple set of Craftsman tools. The warranty is great (now, not so great. Kobalt maybe.) and the tool quality is better than that dollar store home fix it kit shit you stole from Dad. As long as you stick with an American car, a basic set of SAE sockets, 3/8 drive ratchet with a few extensions, set of box/open end combo wrenches, screwdrivers, and a good pair of needlenose pliers, channel locks, and wire-cutter/crimpers will basically let you take apart any portion of the car and put it back together with confidence. If you go import, buy metric. If you buy British… (just… just don’t buy British right now. Wait till you have a shop with a welder and stuff man those guys… don’t buy British yet) Once you’re into bigger projects, get a 1/2″ drive set with a breaker bar and a torque wrench — do not confuse these two. There are some special tools you’ll want to buy — go cheap on these, don’t think Matco, think… the lobby of the Ace Tools on a rack — a harmonic balance puller, a steering wheel puller, a three arm/two arm combo puller. You are now equipped, plus or minus some cheater bar leverage to do basic repairs on a car.

Fourth, and this is important, so pay attention. Get a bike with fat tires. Put a basket on it. Trust me nobody cares if you have a basket on there (in the future it’s actually cool to have a bike with a basket. I mean, not in Arizona, I don’t think, but where you’ll be) and you’re gonna have to get to a parts store and back with some fairly heavy things. (Plus it’ll help you lose some of that chub there, Chubs McGubbs. Put down that Burrito Supreme and listen to me please.) It sucks to be stuck without your car. It sucks MORE to have to rely on some dickhole to run you to the Napa.

Fifth, and finally. Find a good parts store. Your local parts store is not only a highly efficient warehouse operation capable of bringing parts from across the country in just a few days, but also a tool library for stuff that you use so rarely or cost so much that you can’t justify it yet, THIS IS CRITICAL. FIND A GOOD ONE AND IT WILL PAY DIVIDENDS. Shopping online is great, and you can save a lot of money (especially as time marches on. Holy crap I can get anything delivered now hahaha sucker), but sometimes when driving — or specifically not driving — a project car there is a time factor which cannot be denied. This isn’t something you’ll ever regret doing.

That’s it. Every car is different, every project is different, they all have foibles, and they all have character. They’re all gonna require some kind of creative thinking to figure out. You’re gonna need power tools eventually and instead of just being in break/fix mode you should really be planning out maintenance in advance but that’s kinda 102 level shit so lets leave that for 22 year old us, OK?

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