You work on $100,000 combines and tractors without fear, but opening the hood of your wife's SUV causes you to break out in a cold sweat. What should a mechanically inclined farmer be able to do on modern vehicles?
Tony Molla is an ASE-certified technician who spent 10 years under the hoods of vehicles before becoming director of communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).
"I don't even change my own oil anymore,” he says. "It's a matter of time—there are things that make me more money or I'd rather do than work on my vehicle, so it's worth it to me to pay a professional to do it.”
But for the inspired, Molla suggests what a vehicle owner should be able to do on modern vehicles.
Engine oil and filter changes. "You'll want a filter wrench that fits the new small oil filters,” he says. "Other than that, it's pretty straightforward. Newer vehicles have an engine oil change warning light that you'll have to reset. The owner's manual usually tells how to reset that monitor.”
Brakes call for caution. Anyone who can change brake wear components on pre-1980 vehicles should be able to handle newer vehicles. Be careful when working on master cylinders, slave cylinders or disk brake calipers with Anti-Lock Braking Systems (ABS).
"ABS work under extremely high pressures,” Molla says. "If you open a brake fitting without depressurizing the system, the brake fluid can squirt out at a high enough pressure that it acts like a liquid knife, actually slicing flesh. I'd leave anything beyond brake pads and brake shoes to a professional.”
Change spark plugs. Manufacturers brag modern spark plugs can go up to 100,000 miles between changes.
While true, Molla says, "chemical interactions between the steel threads of the spark plug and the aluminum cylinder head can weld them in place if they're left in there for a long time.”
- December 2009