Sunday, April 5, 2009

If you don't know what you're doing - Don't Damn Well Try!!!

I am very good at a lot of different things. There is very little involved in construction and home repair that I am unable to accomplish. I am fairly adept at microelectronic repairs and I am also pretty good at fine woodworking. When it comes to automotive repair however, my abilities are pretty limited - mainly because I have generally found it far more efficient to work trade with mechanics who can get it done more efficiently, while I can get work for them done more efficiently - but I can do the things I am capable of rather well - such as brakes.

The thing is, being capable of many things, I also am very aware of my limitations and I work within that framework. For example, while I am rather capable of certain basic appliance repairs, I don't even consider trying to tackle most of it. When I run into things that are obviously not something I should be mucking with - I don't muck with it. I have immense amounts of experience fixing the muck-ups of other people and I just don't go there. For my own part, if a homeowner made an attempt at a repair and screwed it all up, I would generally charge a little more. Because usually their attempt is going to make the actual repair more difficult for me. The exceptions to that are the folks who stop as soon as they realize that they're in over their head - or the folks who hired someone in good faith who wasn't capable - in which case I usually cut them a break.

Whoever tried to do the brakes on my van, seriously mucked them up. What should have taken me less than two hours and cost about a hundred dollars in parts, took the better part of yesterday and a few hours today - and cost nearly eighty dollars more than it should have. And this isn't the only muck-up of theirs I have had to deal with with this van. There is a lot of evidence of their incompetence.

So I have a few tips for DIYers out there, advice that will save you money, headaches and keep the person who comes along to deal with it if you can't, from being really cranky and charging you a lot of money.

First and foremost - The moment you realize that things are not working out the way they should STOP!!! Do not continue until you have ensured that you are doing it right, or have found clear directions that will move you forward from there. If you cannot make either of those things happen, call someone who can.

Second - If it does not look the way it did when you took it apart, you're probably doing something wrong. Unless you are changing a fixture out for one that is different, it should go back together the same way it came apart.

Third - Bolts do not need to be tightened down so hard that they will never come back off. If there is no specified torque, you should tighten it until you run into resistance and then go about a half to three quarters of a turn further. Over tightening is likely to cause damage either right now, or the next time that nut or bolt needs to be removed (This would be one of the problems I ran into with this brake job).

Fourth - Use like fasteners. Do not try to improvise fasteners, unless you absolutely know what you are doing and what will work instead of the one you took off. If the screw, nail, bolt or other fastening doo-hickey doesn't look like the one you removed - chances are you shouldn't use it. (The reason I had to do the brake job in the first place)

Fifth - Don't be afraid to go to online forums and ask for help. There are forums for virtually everything you could begin to try to repair and they are quite often frequented by pros who, mainly to feed narcissistic tendencies*, are happy to help you figure out what you're doing.

Sixth - If you are working on a car, on something involving wheels - symmetry is usually rather important. If you change one tire, change the one across from it. If you change shocks or struts - again change both. If you are changing brake pads and/or rotors, change the one across (calipers are a different story). If you are not sure if you need to change both sides, ask - the folks at your auto-supply store can probably tell you.

Finally, and I can't stress this enough. If you aren't sure - if something doesn't seem right - STOP!!! Do not continue until you have assured yourself that you are doing it right, or you have found out how to do it right.

* This is one of the motivating factors that drove me to do that sort of thing and trust me, I'm far from unique. Not to say that we're assholes - we genuinely like to help others, but narcissism is definitely a factor.


Comrade PhysioProf said...

I used to spend a lot of time hanging around in my buddy's bike shop shooting the shit with him and his mechanic. Every fucking Saturday, there'd be a parade of mooks coming in and asking for some obscure part that you could just tell the motherfucker had no idea how to install correctly.

Then each of these dumbasses would return for another part, and then another. We would all be taking bets on when they would bring the fucking bike in to get it fixed properly.

When the mook finally returned with the bike, the conversation would invariably start like this: "I've just about got this thing fixed, but I just need this one little bit of help. Do you have such-and-such tool?" The owner was a sarcastic former Euro-pro, and he would roll his eyes and say, "We do have that tool, but we don't offer help. We do have a professional mechanic who can fix your bike. We charge for parts and time."

There would then be three different possible outcomes: (1) The dude would be relieved and just turn the bike over. (2) The dude would sort of try to follow the bike back into the work area, as if it were going to be a collaborative effort, but would be cut off in no uncertain terms by my buddy. (3) The dude would storm out in a huff.

The #3 outcome dudes always returned on Sunday to turn the bike over for proper repair. And the shit that some of these assholes did to their bikes was horrifying, including totally stripping pedal/crank and bottom bracket threads because they had no concept of backwards threading.

I miss hanging out there.

leigh said...

yep, be prepared to pay out the fucking nose for not just sucking it up and having a pro do it in the first place.

especially when shit like brakes are involved, there are SO many ways to invisibly fuck shit up, that leave you in a dangerous situation...

also, if you haul your car into the shop with all the engine parts north of the head gasket tossed onto the backseat in total disarray, you're paying double labor, dumbfuck. yes, it happens often enough.

Toaster Sunshine said...

To Point #2:
Digital cameras are great for that. Take a picture before you start and review as you're putting it back together.

To Point #3:
The exception being flat-pack furniture.

DuWayne Brayton said...


My very favorite was a guy who I did rather a lot of work for from time to time. He was keen on doing as much as he could himself and what I was usually hired to do was get him started and give him a good idea as to whether a project was just better off in my hands. Early on in our relationship things were a little bumpy at times and he didn't always listen to me when it came to whether or not he should even try.

When I told him that replacing his kitchen faucet with a rather fancy new one was something he should just leave to me, he didn't listen and about had a conniption when I charged him $150 to pull off the job I was on to come across town and turn off his water at the main. He did manage to convince me to throw on gate valves to the lines running to the kitchen, so they would have water in the house until I could actually get to the job - at about forty percent more than I would normally charge.

After he talked with the person who had referred me, he did calm down a bit about the insanely high price. I had a couple of grunts with me on the other job, who I really couldn't leave to their own devices, but who also needed to get paid for their time. Not to mention that I really don't like mucking my schedule on jobs I'm in the middle of.

Funny thing is, he became one of my better clients and that was the definite turning point. Especially when he called a actual plumber about getting the faucet finished and found out not only what that would cost, but what they would have charged to come over in an emergency and do what I did. He told me that they would have charged $250 for the first hour and a hundred-sixty after, for emergency repair service.

leigh -

Thankfully they didn't actually leave them in dangerous condition, just fucked. When I went to coax the fucking bleeder valve - after twenty-four hours plus soaking with break a way, the fucking thing sheered off. Mind you, I used a fucking socket to break it loose and I know damn well how to do that sort of thing carefully.

I'm not sure that actually pissed me off more than the caliper bolts being completely wrong on the same side of the van. They were almost three quarters of an inch shorter than the ones on the driver side and required a 8mm allen, instead of a 3/8 allen - I didn't have a 8mm allen for the ratchet - four fucking dollars just to take out two fucking bolts that shouldn't have been there in the first place and another six to get the right bolts - the trip before sheered the bleeder and knew I needed a new caliper.

They also only did the drivers side, replacing rotor and pads. Still not sure exactly what it was causing it, but there was a major shimmy when you hit the brakes.

Toaster -

Having put together more than my fair share of flat packed furniture, trust me, you don't want to over torque that either. It's a pain in the ass to get single panels replaced when you blow out the MDF seat for the various doo-hickies and plugs...

DuWayne Brayton said...

I should probably admit that I am tackling something that I really am unfamiliar with, which would be my fucking wipers. But I am definitely making sure I know what I need to do before I hit it and have a friend on standby for an assist - I just don't want to bother him unless I have to and his only contribution would be in the disassembly of the dash. Gotta replace the pulse module, which requires knowing where the damned thing is and then getting to it. Unfortunately, most auto-manuals are less than forthcoming with the explanation and diagrams of how to deal with electrical issues (couldn't have anything to do with the absolute hatred most mechanics have of the electrical system).

JLK said...

If I look at something that needs to be fixed/put together/whatever, and it appears that I don't instinctively know what to do, I turn it over to someone else. Usually my husband.

This has made me a bit lazy over the past couple of years, abiding by the rule that if I haven't ever done it before, I'm not going to start now.

That said, I managed to fix my Dyson vacuum a couple days all by myself (like a Big Girl). I think it's only because those things are put together in such a way that even a moron can't fuck it up.

leigh said...

that was either a halfass brake job, or a cheapass job. nobody in their right mind who knows wtf they're doing, does that.

if it's a toyota i can hook you up with some repair info- if not, check out alldata.

ha, don't get me started on mechanics and electrical/electronics diagnosis...