The Philosophy of Car Care

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Why define philosophy in a guide about car care and maintenance? Because we want to introduce an entirely different way of thinking—a new philosophy about the way you take care of your car. It is important that you understand the material in this section if you are to successfully apply the theory and recommendations contained in the remainder of this guide.

In our philosophy of car care, we attempt to provide guidance and to resolve questions on car care so that your car can have a long and relatively trouble-free life. In effect, we are striving to formulate the standards against which you may judge your own actions in regard to caring for your car.


Detroit has learned a lot from the Japanese auto manufacturers, who in the not-too-distant past learned a lot from Detroit. There was a time when American cars were just about the best assembly line automobile available in the world at a price the public could afford. The Japanese learned our secrets of pride of workmanship and quality in the early 1950s, and they have built upon it ever since.

Detroit, however, got sidetracked and began to neglect quality. Why did it happen? Because Detroit felt the Japanese and European auto makers would never offer any serious competition. Also, after World War lithe only thing that seemed to matter to big businesses was the bottom line on the accounting sheets. No matter that the cars Detroit made were not the quality product they used to be, just so long as they sold and the money kept coming in. Fortunately, that attitude has recently been changing for the better. But back to the Japanese.

The Japanese people are proud of what they have accomplished and of what they own. They are an island nation with a large population, little land area, and nowhere to expand. Most things need to be imported—such as fuel, raw materials, and food. The Japanese cannot afford to waste what they have; they don’t live in a throw-away society as we do. They have to keep their cars in good condition because it simply costs too much to do otherwise. There’s more to their story, however.

Public pride and community standing are extremely important to the Japanese. Their culture is such that to be shamed in public is a terrible thing. The car owned by a Japanese family is an important extension of that cultural pride. To be seen in public with a dirty car or one that smokes because of burning oil would be shameful, indeed. In Japan you see very few dirty cars on the roads, mechanical repairs are taken care of quickly by the owners. The “old bomb” trailing a smoke screen, a common sight in the United States, is seldom seen in Japan.

In sum, the Japanese retain pride of ownership, pride in themselves, and pride in manufacturing a quality product—admirable qualities. Have we lost these in ourselves? We think not. Perhaps, like a Sunday afternoon pass receiver in the football game with jittery hands, we’ve just fumbled the ball a little, but retained possession.


The philosophy and economic principles outlined here will apply to any purchase or situation. They apply whether you own a refrigerator, air conditioner, motorcycle, or house. The better care you take of what you own and the longer you keep it, the better off you will be financially. Remember: the more you own, the more you have to maintain and fix. So live the simple life. Don’t buy three cars when one or two will do.

Car care is simple. You don’t have to be a college graduate with an engineering degree or a licensed mechanic with 25 years experience to properly maintain your car. This guide, beginning with Section 3, tells you what has to be done, why it has to be done, and when or how often a particular maintenance activity needs to be performed to obtain long car life. If you’re going to tackle your own maintenance we suggest you buy a good how-to book on the subject. However, stick with the intervals of maintenance recommended here. Also, there are many fine auto repair courses available through community colleges, high school evening programs, vocational-technical schools, and correspondence courses. Section 16 then provides some basic instructions on performing some of the easier, routine maintenance we discuss throughout the guide.

It’s not so important who does the work as that the required work gets done properly and at the required time or interval. If you want to do the work yourself and you have the time and tools, by all means go ahead and do it. There are advantages and disadvantages you will want to consider.

You will get satisfaction and save big money by doing the work yourself. Knowing you can handle most maintenance jobs without a mechanic will give you a sense of pride and independence. You will be the only one, for the most part, who touches your car and you will know its idiosyncrasies better than anyone. There are some jobs you might not want to handle, like transmission maintenance, but they are few in number. The only disadvantages in doing your own work are the time you will have to invest and the additional financial burden of providing yourself with some extra tools. Of course, you can always perform the simple maintenance items yourself, leaving the more difficult or time-consuming ones, or those that require special tools, to your mechanic.

There are advantages in having your car care work done by your mechanic. First of all, the time you save might be more valuable to you than the money saved by doing your own work. That’s a personal decision you will have to make. Plus, if you’re not comfortable with tools or you don’t feel sufficiently qualified, perhaps allowing your mechanic to repair or maintain your car is the best option.

Finding a Good Mechanic

In a recent study done by the Department of Transportation, 53% of the money for auto repairs was spent on unnecessary or improper repairs. Brock Adams, Transportation Secretary at the time of the report, said: “When we took test cars into repair shops at random, we found we had only a 50-50 chance of getting a car fixed right, and for the right price. We found it was almost a sure thing that the shop would do something wrong on the engine.”

You can see why choosing a good and honest mechanic is important. And by performing the recommended service outlined in this guide, your chances of keeping your car out of the shop in the first place are much improved. It is the best way to avoid incompetent auto repair and even fraud.

When choosing a mechanic, the recommendations provided by friends are a good bet. Most people won’t stick with an incompetent mechanic or one they feel they can’t trust. Also, check on the mechanic’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau. They can tell you about any customer complaints registered with them. In addition, check for mechanic certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (NIASE).

The NIASE conducts programs of testing for auto mechanics on various automotive systems. A mechanic can be certified in one or all of the subject areas. Certified mechanics wear a patch on their sleeve testifying to their areas of expertise. Recertification is necessary every 5 years.

The shop should be neat and uncluttered but not necessarily spotless. There should not be tools scattered all over the place. Parts should be next to the cars they belong with. You can’t expect a good shop to sparkle like your bathroom, but you should expect a shop to be efficient and well organized.

What about personal qualities? Is the mechanic willing to spend time with you? Does he give you flippant answers to your questions? Is he courteous? Does he make you feel as if you don’t know anything about cars? Does he leave you with a “take it or leave it” attitude? Ask yourself these questions when deciding on a mechanic.

A good idea is to get to know a prospective mechanic slowly. Start by buying some replacement bulbs or a fan belt from him. Get to know him on a first-name basis. Then give him a small job to do like changing your oil or spark plugs. Judge his work and his price and go from there. Construct a mutual trust and you will never regret it.

For some jobs like front-end alignment, and for tire, muffler, and shock absorber replacements, check out the many specialty shops that do this kind of work. Their work will be faster and their guarantees might be good for the life of the car. Chances are their prices will be lower, too.


The following is a list of tools you will need if you decide to do your own car maintenance.

1. Shop manuals—available through new car auto dealers

2. Socket set—6mm to 19mm or 3/8 inch to ¾ inch

3. Open-end wrench set—6mm to 19mm or 3/8 inch to 1 inch

4. Box-end wrench set—6mm to 19mm or 3/8 inch to 1 inch

5. Allen wrench set—2mm to 10mm or .050 inch to .250 inch

6. Flex-head 3/8-inch drive ratchet

7. 3-inch and 6-inch drive extensions—3/8-inch drive

8. U-joint connector—3/8-inch drive

9. 0- to 150-pound torque wrench—3/8-inch drive

10. Adjustable wrenches—½-inch and 1½-inch jaws

11. Flat blade screwdrivers—1/8 inch, ¼ inch, 3/8 inch, and stubby

12. Philips screwdrivers—Numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and stubby

13. Slip-joint pliers

14. Needle-nose pliers

15. Wire cutter/stripper

16. Set of tubing wrenches

17. Distributor wrench

18. Oil-filter wrench

19. Nut driver set—metric or U.S.

20. Spark plug wrench

21. Feeler gauges—metric or U.S.

22. Tire pressure gauge—0 to 60 psi

23. Tire tread depth gauge

24. Belt tension gauge

25. 16-ounce ball-peen hammer

26. Soldering gun

27. Timing light

28. Tach/dwell meter

29. Compression tester

30. Continuity tester

31. Distributor-points file—not applicable for electronic ignitions, but can be used as a spark plug file

32. Grease gun

33. Battery hydrometer

34. Scissors jack—2-ton capacity

35. Four jack stands—1½-ton capacity each

36. Oil drain pan

37. Oil can spout

38. Inspection mirrors

39. Pocketknife

40. Toolbox

41. Chamois

42. Rags

Don’t buy cheap tools, they just don’t last and night even cause damage or injury when used. If you can amass the above tool collection, you will be able to perform any maintenance activity described in this guide, except where noted. You can plan on spending up to $500 on these tools. They will pay for themselves in perhaps as little as a year or two.

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