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5 scary-sounding jobs that are actually easy

5 scary-sounding jobs that are actually easy

Chris Pollitt is an award-winning automotive word-wrangler, editor of the website Not 2 Grand and a keen collector of crappy old cars.

It’s understandable why you may be intimidated by the mechanical goings-on of your car. Thousands of metal and plastic parts all have to perform in the right way, in the right sequence and at the right speed in order to deliver faultless running. It’s an orchestra of engineering, and that’s not something the uninitiated would want to get in the way of. We understand that.

Furthermore, there is a vast network of garages out there, that will happily help should that orchestra start playing off-key. However, the garages would like to have you think that every single job on your car is one for the professionals, and as such, you should go nowhere near.

But that’s not true. If it were, our guides would be useless. But your trusty Haynes manual isn’t useless, because there is so much you can do to keep your car in rude health, and you can do it yourself, on your driveway, without a mechanic sucking air in through his teeth first.

1 Brakes

Brakes are a wear and tear item, a service part that will need replacing at some point. But they’re not difficult to change. It looks like a lot of work, because you have to get the car up in the air, and you have to take a load of parts off, but in reality, it’s nothing more than a handful of bolts.

You can change the brakes on your own car with the most basic set of tools. It really is that simple. If you’re still not convinced, have a look at the Haynes manual for your car. We’ve been through the brakes in step-by-step detail.

The only extra you should consider getting is a calliper wind-back tool, which should set you back about £20. This will push the piston back into the calliper so you can fit new pads in.

2 Exhaust

Exhausts are generally made of mild steel, at least in OE specification. Being on the bottom of the car, they get hammered by road salt, water, grit and dirt, so eventually corrode and fail. Then you need to fit a new one because if you don’t, your car will sound like a tractor and it will fail its MOT.

Exhausts are not difficult to change. It’s a pain, because you need to get the car up in the air (but we’ve done a guide on that), and you have to work on your back, on the floor. But that’s it. Much like the brakes, you can change an exhaust with a basic set of spanners.

You can buy new exhausts online for a fraction of what a garage will charge, and you can swap a complete system in an hour. Just don’t forget to use exhaust paste in the joins of your new exhaust, so as to avoid any blowing once it’s all fitted up. And also, use new rubbers – never mount a new exhaust on old ones, they’ll just break.

3 Spark Plugs

Some people treat spark plugs like some sort of nitro-glycerine that should only be touched by trained professionals, which is weird because they’re about the simplest thing to change. You literally need one socket (a spark plug socket, with a rubber insert to help prevent damage), and that’s it.

Where people go wrong is with the ignition leads, normally by putting them on in the wrong order, making the car run like a bag of bolts if it runs at all. Simple solution? Just do one plug at a time.

The trick with spark plugs is to know you can be firm when loosening them – they’re subject to many fluctuations in temperature, so they’re going to be wedged in there. They’re designed with this in mind though, so when loosening them, be firm. And when putting new ones in, put them in finger tight first, if possible. This way you know you’re not crossing the threads. Simple.

4 Oil Change

Again, changing the oil is one of those jobs that people think you need a PHD for. You don’t. You need one spanner and some axle stands, and that’s about it. You jack the car up, put it on stands, slide underneath it, then crack off the sump plug on the bottom of the engine.

Do this, catch the oil in a suitable container, put the plug back in, take off the filter, put a new filter on, look at your Haynes manual to find out what oil and how much you need, then fill it up via the hole in the top of the engine. Takes half an hour, tops.

The only considerations to make are that you need to dispose of the oil responsibly, so make sure you have a sealable container in which you can take it to your local recycling centre. Also, the oil filter (your Haynes manual will tell you where this is) may need some persuasion.

Buy yourself an oil filter spanner for a tenner and save yourself a world of swearing and skinned knuckles. But remember; only put the new one on hand tight.

5 Suspension

While not a service item, the suspension is wear and tear given the amount of work it has to do. As such, it’s going to need replacing at some point over the vehicle’s life. Many people think this is a specialist job that should be left to a garage, but that’s not the case.

If you are reasonably confident on the spanners, there is nothing specialist about the suspension. What’s intimidating is the amount of work you need to do just to get at it. You need to remove the wheels, the brakes, the brake lines, the wheels hubs and so on. It a lot of work. But none of it is complicated and none of it is a specialist. It’s all nuts and bolts stuff.

Have a look through your Haynes manual, in which we have already taken apart the suspension, and you’ll see that if you take your time, and if you watch what you’re doing and make an effort to keep all your nuts and bolts in order, it’s not a difficult job.

Garages love it though, because it’s labour-intensive, which means big bills. But why pay out when you can do it yourself? Have your Haynes manual on hand, a ball joint splitter and plenty of penetrating fluid and you’ll be fine.