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DIY auto repair has its risks

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Friday, April 26, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
 

Q: Really? Struts? Quick struts are a good choice but still a major undertaking, not for any amateur.

Do-it-yourself days are over; get used to it.

Also, quoting prices from the Internet gives the impression that the dealer and repair shops are ripping people off. You know this is not true.

Johnny

A: I should add that Johnny is an ASE master technician and shop owner who certainly knows his stuff. He brings up several points about my recent column that are well worth addressing.

Johnny is right: Renewing struts is not a job for an amateur. But there are many folks out there who fall between those who have trouble screwing on a gas cap and a professional technician.

Thinking about tackling a strut replacement? Here are some things to consider: If you need to buy the tools to do this, or yours aren't yet sufficiently greasy, this job isn't for you. Will you safely support the vehicle on jack stands rather than just a floor jack, and wear eye protection when appropriate? Is there someone experienced you can call should things go awry? Do you fully understand the physics and safety concerns involved in removing this nut versus that one? (For example, the large nut atop a strut should never be removed without a spring compressor in place.) Do you understand the importance of cleaning, then tightening fasteners with a torque wrench to specifications? Do you have a Plan B if something breaks and you need to drive the car to work tomorrow morning?

Auto parts can certainly be purchased at prices less than those charged in a repair shop. A shop's parts markup includes the time they eat to renew a defective part— ever do a Cadillac or Lexus V-8 starter twice, because the remanufactured part failed during the warranty period? It also includes choosing the most appropriate part — say, out of six choices of brake pad composition, and the Chinese manufactured brake rotors versus the far more expensive OEM version. Is there a service bulletin or redesigned part available that better fixes this pattern failure issue? And electrical/electronic parts are typically not returnable. It's nice when someone else becomes stuck with an expensive part that was vaguely catalogued or didn't fix the problem.

Cars have changed a lot and require a much more skillful, professional approach to virtually all service needs. But I believe there are still many ways an owner or home mechanic can participate in servicing a vehicle, if homework is done and limitations are realized.

Brad Bergholdt is an automotive technology instructor at Evergreen Valley College in San Jose, Calif. Email at under-the-hood@earthlink.net; he cannot make personal replies.

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