What car maintenance project can any idiot do?

Illustration for article titled What car maintenance project can any idiot do?

These days, drivers are hanging on to their cars longer than in the past. Luckily for them, with proper maintenance, modern cars last longer than a set of Samsonites. What car maintenance project can any idiot do?


We're going with brake-pad replacement. It may be daunting at first, but changing brake pads is one of the simplest maintenance jobs a ham-handed car owner can do. A jack, some jack stands, a lug wrench, a couple of simple tools and you're in business. And if you're brave, you can even change the rotors, then lure a friend over with a six-pack and bleed the lines. Damn, you're half a mechanic already.

(QOTD is your chance to address the day's most pressing automotive questions and to experience the opinions of the insightful insiders, practicing pundits, and gleeful gearheads that make up the Jalopnik commentariat. If you've got a suggestion for a good Question of the Day, send an email to tips at jalopnik dot com.)


(Photo: Sudheer Sakthan/Shutterstock)

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I honestly think it depends on the car.

-Spark plugs are super easy...unless you're working on a late-90's Land Rover or a mid-90's 3.8l V-6 Mustang, where it literally takes more time to change the plugs than the water pump. And the plug wires on a late 90's Land Rover require a band of Hobbits and a shrinking potion just to reach the distributor cap.

-Oil changes are super simple...for some cars. My 1991 Audi 80? 5 minutes. Max. My old Saturn? Yeah, have fun putting your elbow back in socket trying to reach the oil filter.

-Brakes? Not a problem...unless you're doing drums with ABS and TPMS and then it's like "....uh....hmmm....right. Well...let's get out the Google."

-Changing headlight bulbs? Well, in every car I've owned, it was very easy. So I assumed it was easy for all cars. WRONG. Oooohhh I've nearly lost a couple friends over doing them a 'favor' and changing their bulbs for them. Were you aware that on some GM vehicles you have to remove the air filter, the air box, battery, engine cover, headlight housing rear covers, and a rubber protective boot to even get to the wiring harness clip?

-Flat tires! Changing flat tires are easy! Unless you're working on a Semi or an open-wheeled racer and thus need special tools...

-Ok, ok ok. I got it! Air filter!

*Looks outside at his Audi*

Oh. Right.

You see...my Audi was one of the ones endowed with Bosch's CIS injection system. Meaning the air filter is behind the passenger side headlight, under the injection system, connected to the intake manifold and throttle body by half a dozen extra hoses, screws, hose clamps and clips galore.

The adventure started as soon as I bought the car. There first thing I did was I went out and bought plugs, wires, oil filter, air filter, brake pads and oil for it.

Oil change was easy peasy. Plugs and wires were an eyes closed job. The brakes? Well...the old ones have some life yet in them and I'll be needing new rotors soon, so I'm holding off and doing it all at once and upgrading while I'm at it.

As for the air filter...

Take a look at the picture and tell me where the air filter is. You have 3 seconds. Why 3 seconds? Because that's about how long it should take on pretty much any other car from this era.

You guessed didn't you? You just went "Uh...um...um um umumumummmmm- THERE!" and pointed to all the shiny hoses and the big metal thing to the left.

I know you did, because that's what I did. If you say otherwise, it's because you've seen a CIS system before and thus cheated. Asshole.

As for me? It took me half an hour to figure out where the air filter is and how to get it out. Then another half hour getting everything disconnected and carefully maneuvering the CIS system out of the way. I took out the air filter and it was BLACK. Apparently I'm not the first to be daunted by this German magik.

So I remove the old one, hop in the Miata, head down to O'Reilly's, get a new filter, go back home and drop in the new unit and try and close the cover.

It won't close flush. Flash forward to 10 minutes later and I'm sweating and swearing at the thing like a sailor on leave swears at his empty glass. I have to get out a long standard screwdriver and slowly align the gasket of the filter with the seating channel of the box and then hold that in place as I clip on the top of the box (which is attached to the CIS unit, by the way) and then I have to reattach everything in order and pray to god I didn't mess anything up.

SPOILER: I didn't. Runs like a dream. Except the ticky lifters...anyone know where I can get a Blau 272 cam? I can't find one anywher- Oh right sorry. Back to the topic at hand.

Total time the first time around? 90 minutes. I've hence done it twice more for practice. Once you know where everything is, it's about a half-hour job. Which isn't bad. Until you consider that changing the air filter on the Miata take 27 seconds. I should know. I timed myself. The Saturn? 2 minutes. My old 1994 Subaru Legacy? 5 minutes. My 1988 Toyota Corolla? 2 and a half minutes. My 1994 Hyundai Excel? 1 minute.

This Audi? 30 fucking minutes. If you already know what you're doing and are familiar with the layout. 90 minutes if you don't.

Ironic part? Changing the timing belt on this car is also a 90-minute job. Go figure.

I guess what I'm trying to say is nothing is black and white when it comes to cars. Some things are easy on some cars, or even most cars, but there's always the exception that leaves you standing in your driveway at 10 o'clock at night screaming at the top of your lungs and throwing clumps of grass at your car because you just spent 6 hours getting your oil filter removed only to find out your arm somehow magically got bigger and no longer fits well enough to install the new one while your neighbor across the street changed the oil on his car without even finishing his cigarette. That jerk.