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A d v a n c e d   A u t o   M a i n t e n a n c e


Getting organised…

When it comes to auto maintenance, the name of the game is working smarter, not harder.  Anything you can do to make the work easier and to ensure a better result is definitely worth the effort.  Here’s a collection of things that I’ve found to be really helpful in making my own auto maintenance less problematic and more successful.

Obtain the tune-up specifications straight from the engine bay…

The label on the underside of the front of the bonnet of your vehicle titled, “Vehicle Emission Control Information”, records details about the engine in your vehicle and its tune-up specifications which can relied upon, such as spark plug gap, ignition timing and idle speed, provided that the engine in the vehicle is the original, factory-fitted engine or one identical to it (such as a reconditioned engine of the same type).

The specifications for the vehicle’s engine on this label under the bonnet will generally be consistent with the specifications for the engine in the owner’s manual for the vehicle.  However, due to the fact that some vehicle models are available with different types of engines, the specifications for the engine in the owner’s manual for the vehicle can sometimes differ from those on the Vehicle Emission Control Information label.  If they do differ, it is the specifications on the Vehicle Emission Control Information label that should be relied upon, because those specifications relate directly to the engine mounted in the vehicle, provided that the engine in the vehicle is the original factory-fitted engine or one identical to it (such as a reconditioned engine of the same type).

Obtain a high-quality workshop manual for your vehicle…

Obtain a high-quality workshop manual for your specific vehicle which provides detailed information on the procedures for maintaining and repairing your specific vehicle.  This can be obtained from your local automotive parts shop and generally provides more detailed information than can be found in the owner’s manual which came with your vehicle.  The owner’s manual generally doesn’t provide highly detailed information on workshop-oriented auto maintenance and repair procedures.

A workshop manual such as this, written with the home mechanic in mind, will enable you to see clearly what is the most advantageous way for you to maintain and repair your vehicle by outlining all the different routine maintenance procedures and non-routine repair procedures required for the different systems and parts of your vehicle.  The maintenance schedule in a workshop manual is usually highly comprehensive and will lead to a highly-reliable motor vehicle if the advice and instructions in that schedule are followed.

It’s worth obtaining a workshop manual even if you don’t intend to do any repair work on the vehicle yourself.  By having the workshop manual on-hand as a reference, you will be able to better diagnose what the problem is if something goes wrong with your vehicle.  This will enable you to better ensure that the mechanic you use doesn’t do unnecessary work on your vehicle.  The workshop manual will also help with your on-going familiarisation of how your vehicle works as it can be readily used as a reference book depending on what you need to find out about at any particular time.

It’s also possible to obtain the original, factory, workshop manual for your specific vehicle, as published by the actual manufacturer of your vehicle.  You should be able to track this down by calling your local dealership, otherwise you can generally find second-hand copies for sale online.  Usually, there are a range of different workshop manuals that are published by your vehicle’s manufacturer for your specific vehicle.  These cover different aspects of your vehicle such as the engine, the transmission (whether automatic or manual) and the vehicle body.

If you want to safeguard the workshop manual you obtain from quickly becoming dog-eared and worn with use (often being handled around oily or greasy automotive parts), it’s a good idea to cover it with clear, adhesive, plastic covering.

Scope out your work before starting…

If you work on your vehicle yourself, it’s a really good idea to get into the habit of scoping out the work that needs to be done fully before starting the work so that you have a clear idea of which parts will need to be replaced during the course of the work, even including existing, damaged bolts or nuts that should be replaced.  While it won’t always be possible to anticipate every part that needs to be replaced, if you spend some time thoroughly scoping out the work before you start, making some notes on parts required and actually going out and obtaining those parts beforehand, you’ll save a lot of time when you actually carry out the work and you’ll achieve a higher-quality outcome as well.

Use stackable, plastic cartons to store parts and consumables…

It’s a really good idea to obtain some clear, stackable, plastic cartons which have their lids held closed by the handles for protection from dust.  These cartons are great for storing the many different parts and consumables associated with your vehicle.  They cost about $5-10 each from a bulk, warehouse-type retailer and they’re an enormous help for keeping everything organised.

Here are the different cartons that I use to store all of the items associated with my vehicle:

Carton labelled “Motor Vehicle – Consumables”

This carton contains consumables such as all-purpose grease, silicon lubricant for rubber window tracks, upholstery shampoo and stain removers, brake cleaner, spare plastic funnels, engine oil, coolant, automatic transmission fluid et cetera.  (The cartons I use are not high enough to store engine oil and coolant (that I purchase in tall 5L containers) with the lid on properly so I put this carton at the top of the stack of cartons and put the lid on loosely as protection from dust.)

Carton labelled “Motor Vehicle – Spare Parts”

This carton contains spare oil filters that I purchased in bulk on eBay, a spare fuel filter, spare sump plug washers, spare transmission plug washers, a spare rocker cover gasket that I didn’t end up using, spare vacuum hose, damaged original bolts that have come off the vehicle that have since been replaced with non-genuine matching bolts (due to lack of availability of genuine matching bolts), spray paint to match the vehicle’s colour et cetera.

Carton labelled “Motor Vehicle – Tools”

This carton contains fragile automotive tools such as torque wrenches, and miscellaneous automotive tools such as brake dust mask, brake calliper piston depressing tool, brake bleeding kit, battery charger, timing light, soldering iron et cetera.  Tools such as the brake system related tools which can become contaminated with brake dust or brake fluid can be stored in snap-lock bags to ensure that the other tools in the carton are not contaminated by brake dust or brake fluid.  This keeps everything in the carton tidy and orderly.

Carton labelled “Motor Vehicle – Parts for Pending Work”

This carton contains parts being collected for specific, upcoming work on the vehicle.  My carton currently contains rear brake hoses, brake shoes and wheel cylinders for an upcoming overhaul of the rear drum brakes, an oxygen sensor, as well as other miscellaneous parts relating to different aspects of the vehicle.

Keep spare parts and consumables in the boot of your vehicle…

Keeping a few key items in the boot of your vehicle in clear, plastic cartons will go a long way to making it easier and less time-consuming to keep your vehicle in great shape on a weekly basis when checking things such as the oil level in your engine.  (Note that there is no need to use lids on these cartons in the boot of your vehicle since dust is not really an issue in the boot.)

Here are the contents of the two plastic cartons that I keep in the boot of my vehicle:

Carton for all types of vehicle fluids and other miscellaneous items…

  • Engine oil - 5 litre/quart container containing only 2 litres/quarts of engine oil for topping up in order to minimise the weight carried in the vehicle and improve fuel economy.
  • Engine coolant pre-mixed in the correct ratio and ready to be dispensed in a suitable leak-proof container (such as one designed for camping, complete with screw-on pouring spout).
  • Automatic transmission fluid - 5 litre/quart container containing only 2 litres/quarts of automatic transmission fluid for topping up in order to minimise the weight carried in the vehicle and improve fuel economy.
  • Brake fluid - The normal 500mL (1 pint) sized container is ideal.
  • Two collapsible, cone-shaped, orange, reflective emergency markers for use in the event of needing to change a tyre at the side of a dangerous road, or some other type of emergency situation.  These can be placed sixty metres and thirty metres behind the vehicle to give other road users adequate warning of the stationary vehicle ahead at the side of the road which may be in the path of traffic.  (It’s highly advisable to turn the vehicle’s hazard lights on in this situation as well.)
  • Empty jerry can for collecting fuel in the event of running out of fuel and needing to walk to the nearest service station.  (It’s not advisable to actually carry fuel inside the vehicle because of its flammability.)
  • Bendable, metal funnel for dispensing fuel into the fuel tank in the event of having run out of fuel and needing to fill the fuel tank from the jerry can.
  • Lunch-box sized container containing the following:
    • Spare puncture-repair plugs for repairing punctures in tyres caused by nails or screws on the road, together with the necessary tools for putting this type of plug into a tyre.  All of these items can be obtained from your local automotive parts shop.  Please see the section titled, Fixing a Tyre Puncture, for detailed information on the procedure for fixing a puncture.
    • Spare tyre valves to replace leaking valves, together with the tool necessary for replacing them.
    • Spare light globes for brake lights, indicator lights and parking lights.  A collection of spare light globes can be built up over time as the lights fail.  It’s also worthwhile making a list of what types of globes fit which lights, if this information is not already readily available in the owner’s manual for the vehicle.
    • Spare fuses - Check in the fuse box of the vehicle for the different types of spare fuses you will need to carry.
    • Cable ties for fastening electrical wires and stopping them from moving around, particularly in the engine bay, which can lead to broken electrical connections.
    • Electrical tape for insulating electrical connections that need to be attended to.

Carton for all items associated with the maintenance of vehicle fluids…

Every item in this carton is in a labelled snap-lock bag to identify the purpose of the item (e.g. "Engine oil").  Snap-lock bags also serve to keep all items clean of dirt and other contaminants and to prevent cross-contamination between items relating to different vehicle fluid types.  When a snap-lock bag for a particular item develops a hole in it due to contact with the pointy end of a funnel, for example, or for any other reason, it’s important to not only replace the snap-lock bag with a fresh, labelled snap-lock bag but also more importantly to inspect the item in the broken bag for contamination with dirt, dust or anything else.  Any item which is contaminated should be cleaned or replaced.  Absolute cleanliness is vital when checking or refilling all types of fluids in the vehicle.

  • Supply of spare snap-lock bags of all sizes in their cardboard containers as replacements for the snap-lock bags in this carton which will develop holes over time and risk allowing dust and contaminants in.  It’s a good idea to keep a permanent marker with this supply of spare snap-lock bags for the purpose of labelling the bags that you use.
  • General rag for mopping up any fluid spillage such as engine oil, coolant, automatic transmission fluid or brake fluid.  Note that it’s important to wash spillages of brake fluid or coolant on paintwork off with water immediately to avoid damage to the paintwork, rather than wiping them off with a rag.  Brake fluid and coolant both eat into paintwork so that wiping them with a rag could smudge and damage the paintwork.
  • Clean, lint-free rag for wiping the engine oil dipstick.
  • Sealable, air-tight container with volume measurements up to 500mL (1 pint) for dispensing exactly the right amount of engine oil in relation to the engine oil level reading on the dipstick.
  • Plastic funnel for dispensing engine oil into the engine without spillage.

    (You can obtain plastic funnels inexpensively in a set of funnels of different sizes from your local automotive parts shop.  It’s well worth having two or three sets on hand ready to be used since they’re indispensable for keeping the fluid levels in your vehicle correct and they’ll inevitably need to be replaced over time.)
  • Plastic funnel for dispensing coolant into the coolant reservoir tank without spillage.
  • Very clean, lint-free rag for wiping the automatic transmission fluid dipstick.
  • Plastic funnel connected to longish 8mm internal-diameter clear, plastic tubing for dispensing automatic transmission fluid into the automatic transmission fluid without spillage.  If you want to really make things easy for yourself, you can make a hook out of wire and fasten it with cable ties to the steel rod that holds your bonnet up.  When you’re not using the funnel and tubing to dispense fluid into the transmission, you can hang it on the hook to keep it upright and to prevent messy spillages of fluid.  The funnel normally has a tab with a hole in it that can be used to hang it on the hook.
  • Plastic syringe of 25mL (1 ounce) volume connected to long 3mm (1/8 inch) internal-diameter clear, plastic tubing for extracting automatic transmission fluid out of an over-filled automatic transmission.  This type of plastic syringe is available from your local pharmacist.

    The best way to push the plastic funnel or plastic syringe into the plastic tubing is to heat the end of the tubing up by holding it under a running tap of very hot water with the open end of the tubing pointing nearly vertically down so that no water gets inside the tubing.  This makes the tubing expand and become more pliable so that the end of the plastic funnel or plastic syringe can be pushed far enough into it that the two won’t separate once the tubing has cooled down and contracted.

    If desired, the end of the plastic tubing can also be secured to the syringe with a cable tie.  However, it’s important to tighten the cable tie very securely so that it won’t come off and potentially fall into the transmission.  Although the risk of this happening is quite remote, the problems that it would cause are so gigantic that it’s important to safeguard against this happening.  Basically, the entire transmission would probably have to be dismantled to retrieve the circular cable tie which would be enormously expensive and inconvenient.
  • Small plastic funnel for dispensing brake fluid into the brake system master cylinder reservoir without spillage.
  • Plastic syringe of 25mL (1 ounce) volume connected to 3mm (1/8 inch) internal-diameter clear, plastic tubing for extracting brake fluid out of an over-filled brake system master cylinder reservoir.
  • Very clean rag for wiping the power steering reservoir dipstick.
  • Small plastic funnel for dispensing power steering fluid into the power steering reservoir without spillage.
  • Plastic syringe of 25mL (1 ounce) volume connected to 3mm (1/8 inch) internal-diameter clear, plastic tubing for extracting power steering fluid out of an over-filled power steering reservoir.

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Copyright 2016 Andrew Mackinnon.  All rights reserved.