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Tips for tackling your first big DIY car repair project

You’re a pro at oil and tire changes, but are you ready to tackle a bigger DIY car repair project like fixing your brakes or engine? Take the time to make sure you’re prepared.

Do Your Research

Aftermarket shop manuals are great for learning the tools and parts you’ll need, but they sometimes read like a general overview (step one: remove radiator, front bumper, and windshield washer reservoir). Internet forums can offer detailed instructions and tricks specific to your car, usually with step-by-step photos. Unless you drive something really outlandish, there’s probably a site like VWvortex or JeepsUnlimited to help you. But don’t forget that Web forums, while helpful, are just Web forums. Get a factory service manual from your manufacturer if you’re diving deep into a big repair.

Set Up Your Workspace

I started my teardown in the corner of my parents’ two-car garage. I got all set to pull the engine when I discovered I had no room to maneuver my engine hoist. Even with two muscular brothers, moving a half-disassembled car was a masochist’s game of Tetris. So don’t make my mistake: Clear plenty of space before you start the job, and position your car for maximum elbow room. I found the best spot was right in the center of the garage, though not everyone in my family shared this view.

Expect It to Take Time

The first time doing a repair always takes the longest. Tinkering on nights and weekends, my adventure lasted nearly a month, far beyond what I’d anticipated. There were lots of trips for parts, tools, and advice, and times when sheer frustration halted my progress. Make alternative transportation plans before taking your car out of commission so you don’t get fired when your Saturday project is still in pieces on Monday morning.

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