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Jerry Flint and Doug Flint - two automotive pundits that we've spoken of here many times before - team up as father and son and tackle the topic of do-it-yourself auto maintenance in the elder Flint's recent column.

The theme that's woven through a few example is that times, tools, and technology have changed... making it just about impossible for owners turn a wrench.

From where we sit, while technology has indeed conspired against the shadetree mechanic, plenty of good work can still be done.

(More thoughts and a link to the Flintstones after the jump!)

The factory service manual (FSM) for most new cars is around $100-300, and they're available to anyone who asks a simple question at the parts counter. Rare indeed are cases where service information isn't available to the public, and in those situations, a polite inquiry to the same parts desk and a promise to buy your service parts there usually yields printouts of the necessary proprietary information. Cracking open such a book (or spinning up the CD-ROM, as is increasingly the case) can help demystify most aspects of automotive repair.

But what about this "scan tool" that's required to perform so many tasks on modern vehicles? This device, like any number of other expensive tools that reside in well-outfitted garages, can be purchased. Whether it makes sense to drop several hundred dollars on such a device isn't something that we can assess for each of our readers, but for many DIYers, it's just another drop in an large and expensive bucket.

Sure, some repairs will remain out of reach for the average home mechanic, but we simply do not buy into the idea that cars have become too complex to work on at home. Some here at Autoblog Towers feel that if anything, modern on-board diagnostics make it easier than ever for laypeople to determine what's got their vehicle ailing.

[Source: Forbes.com]



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  • 17 Comments
      • 9 Years Ago
      depending on what ectally you are trying to do many time people dont really need the "scan tool" at all. if you want to modify your engine because you think it doesnt make enough hp, or torque your an idoit because modern cars make more power than ever though possable. An example is the 2006 Corvette z06 with a 427 small block, and not a 427 big block as was in 1967. in just forty years, Chevy figured out how to shove 427 cu-in into it's short block. WOW!

      If you think your car is running odd and it is out of warranty, you can pick up a "cheep" sean tool for about 100 buck and it will give you coads for almost every year make and model up to the year you bought it. (if you buy one now, your new 2006 may not be programed in the scan tool) If your car or truck is not in programed in the tool, many of the over the counter (for a little more) will have a PC hookup where you can download any new vehicel programs.

      Also if you get the supper "I wanna lay rubber from here to Paris" type of scan tool, they all have idoit settings where you can "reboot" your car back to factory specs.

      When cars like the 2002 camaro and firebird becomre 30 or 40 year old classics the technology will be so far advanced, that computer scan tools will be like any other tool in your toolbox.
      • 9 Years Ago
      You cannot buy a 2006 Volvo manaual or from 2002 Volvo on up. They want you to rent web time what a rip I will never buy another Volvo or any other car that does not have a real manual. Talk about unfair trade practices they should be sued.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Well, I'll say something...

      For Volkswagen's cars, some things can only be done if you have either the VAS 5051 (PC-based) or 5052 (handheld) scan tool, or the VAG-COM (PC-based) or ProDiag (Palm OS-based) clones.

      VAG-COM costs $250-300, depending on the kit you get.

      Timing belt changes (at least on the TDIs), filling with ATF (yes, you have to have one of those four to FILL THE TRANNY FLUID), and some other things need it, and some things are much easier with it.

      I drive a 1985 Jetta diesel. The only electronics are in the radio, and no, I don't mean "part of the ECU is in the radio". No ECU to get in your way at all. :D
      • 9 Years Ago
      For those who think working on your car is hard now just wait about ten years when the market is flooded with hybrids. Then you'll see what getting ripped off at the dealership is all about.
      John Rish
      • 9 Years Ago
      From reading the previous comments from the Neandertal types who wrote them, it is easy for me to see why the auto makers don't want them monkeying with their personal cars, the money notwithstanding. Maybe if they could read a manual or a web site, they would not have to take their cars to the dealers. Take a class, guys! I read them and I could not understand what they were trying to say. Also, I have bought scan tools, and used them!
      • 9 Years Ago
      I have been saying this for years, and the reason is that working on your own cars means that you have to take it to the dealers to fix a simple problem, such was headlights. The reason is that dealers wanted a new way to make a profit (and so did the car makers), so they made their cars impossible to work on by the owners in fact the owner manuals don't even show any more how to check your fuilds nop more. One side effect is that many mechanics are leaving the automotive field because the cars are just getting harder and harder. This issue is more on the high-end Imports right nowm, and its working its way down...But this is where the domcistes have a the upper hand (somewhat) is that the big 2.5 are somewhat easier to work on and troubleshoot
      • 9 Years Ago
      BMWs don't have dipsticks anymore. Audi's need a VAG-COM to diagnose random number codes. The days of saving money on a DIY job are almost over. Companies have so many special tools now for routine things like oil changes, it makes it hard on guys like me who not only work on my own car to save $$ but I actually ENJOY it. If there's one thing I like about domestics, its that they are much easier to DIY than imports. I own an Audi A4, and I can't get anything more complicated than an oil change done without having to pay the stealership. Even if I wanted to do it myself, for more complex things I would probably need a Bentley (brand not the car) repair manual which is about $80. The only thing saving DIYers is the internet. With forums and message boards, we can learn from other enthusiasts and figure out how to continue to figure it out ourselves.
      Tom
      • 9 Years Ago
      I may be a diehard, even if I mess it up and have to suffer the glare over-the-bridge-of-magnifiers and the comment on how diyers make their job so difficult and the BIG extra charge for changin' the air in the tires. Hey I learn, education is not cheap, I'll pay. Next time .... they will never see the car, 'cause it's MINE!
      • 9 Years Ago
      I don't understand what all the fuss is all about. Since 1996 vehicles have been running OBD-II and nothing has changed as far as vehicle diagnostics are concerned. There is a standard in which vehcile manufacturers are required to meet specifications for OBD-II in which will make diagnostics readily available for everyone.

      Now as far as far as complexities and advances in engineering in modern cars, that may take specialiezed mechanics who specifically understand those intricasies.

      Do not buy into some conspiracy that automobile manufacturers are plotting to weed out the DIY mechanic because there is none. It's a simple fact of advancing technologies that require specialized training.

      If you really want to learn how to fix/modify/diagnose something with your late model car, you can easily pickup a scan/diagnostic tool on Ebay for a fair price and use the internet to search for your specific issue.



      +C.P.
      • 9 Years Ago
      #11, a lot of dealerships and garages also simply replace parts rather than diagnose.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Fixing cars has gotten easier in many ways. Given our demand for more gadgets and toys along with emission and safety devices, if we used the old method of tinkering and adjusting, we'd never get out from under the hoods of cars to drive them. It took experience to fix the old cars, but now we can hook up a scanner, and jump on the internet without having to cast back in our memories about past fix-it jobs that might have parallel.

      How many people remember the yearly carb rebuild? How about setting points? How about setting timing? Adjusting valves? Chassis lube that required you crawl under the car with a grease gun and fill various nipples?

      Now it often takes thinking before doing something, rather than just fiddling with something until it works. That thinking involves a diagnotic tool and a shop manual. As for dealers just replacing parts instead of repairing them, well the idea is that the car needs to stay fixed. There are very few rebuild kits, and in the time it takes to custom repair something that may or may not be the root cause of a problem, is often just not worth it.

      As for one nationality building easier cars to work on than another, that's hogwash. It's a matter of trying to understand the national mindset of the engineers who designed the car. Once you grasp their style of doing things, working on any brand is pretty much the same. Sure, they all have foibles and weak points, but it all went together and it can all come apart again. It's in the design of the faulty part and it's longivity that we can question.

      I've owned Japanese and European cars for much of my life and I've done my share of head jobs and tranny swaps. They are different, but one is not any more difficult than the other to work on. My first action after buying a car is to get the shop manual. Not some cheapie Chiltons Guide either (which has limited use in more complex cars because they cover details). But before buying the car, I usually research the problem areas of a car, and keep those in mind during ownership. That has helped head off many potential snafus.

      If you don't work on your own car, find out from local clubs where the best independent shops that specialize in your car are located. Make a point to visit some time and introduce yourself. Even if you do simple stuff like change the oil yourself, have them do it once or twice to establish a relationship should anything larger loom on the horizon.

      • 9 Years Ago
      I'll argree with ya on the oil filter thing. haha mine is directly above exhaust. Even when they put in accessable places it seems like it never occurs to the engineers that oil could possibly flow out when you remove the filter. how hard would it be to put some little trough on there to collect the oil and direct it to one location??
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