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How does one with no experience learn to work on and fix up cars? Where to start?

I am a girl and I have been interested in fixing cars for a while. Quite a few guys at my school seem to know how to fix cars up, but they had to start somewhere, right? Often, I think peoples' fathers help them out, but my own father knows nothing about cars, nor shows any interest in helping me. If anyone has tips on where I could start, perhaps I could find a shop where people would help me? Or do any car co-ops exist? I know there is such a place for bicycles where I live. Any tips would be great! I am enthusiastic and have some background with fixing bicycles and doing wood and metal projects, so I'm not mechanically clueless. I am mostly interested in old cars, but anything to start would be alright. I have browsed Craigslist for cars and found a few I could afford. On that note, I have a teen's level of funding, so I could find something, but tips on making the best of my money when going about fixing up an old car would also be appreciated (especially considering the cost for parts and such). Any tips on where and how to start are what I am looking fore. Thank you!

Picture of How does one with no experience learn to work on and fix up cars? Where to start?
Find something really, really cheap and strip it down to its constituent bits.

Beg or borrow a good selection of socket wrenches and other spanners, get yourself a "cheater bar" - a length of thick steel tube you can increase your leverage on a wrench with, some bits may take more strength than you have to open. We tried to undo something in a friend's car yesterday that had three grown men jumping on the spanner !

Learn to get really seriously covered in oil and grease and live with it, learn how to bark your skin, because you held a wrench the wrong way round, learn how NOT to do it again ;-)

Buy some "barrier cream" - you put it on your hands BEFORE you start working, and it helps to clean them up afterwards. You can try wearing plastic gloves, but they tear quite easlily, unless you got for nitrile ones.

Now its in pieces, clean it up, and put it back together again. Make sure the same NUMBER of bits go back again, and you have nothing left over !!

A lawnmower, even a dead one is a darned good place to start.

Steve
toolgal29 (author)  steveastrouk3 years ago
That sounds like a good idea. On Craigslist I found this dream car I could've gotten. 86 Camaro T-top for $300 I'm so upset I didn't get it (my parents weren't too enthusiastic, though). I'll ask around if anyone has something they're planning on working on. My neighborhood isn't too community-like though, I don't know half of my neighbors, which is sad :( But maybe some people at a car shop would know. Thanks for answering!

Im a guy and im 16 my dad has taught me what i know. i wouldnt go for an older camaro tho. the bushing in the doors wear out and unless you get lucky and find good ones in a junkyard then youll have to pick the doors up every time you go to close them. 300 sounds cheap so im guessing the motor/trans isnt any good. but personally ive always liked mid 80s camaros. just more cons then pros unless your lucky or want to spend alot more.

Hey there!
I'm sort of in the same situation that you're in, maybe a step or two further on the road. I've found that the best thing one can do at first is really check the internet for what cars are out there, how they work. What different kinds of differentials can be used on the rear axle? Random facts like that really just help when you're starting, getting used to the lingo. I recommend that you not start out by getting an old beater to pick around on- pick something that's cheap but you actually like! I see you got that idea in relation to the camaro, but in terms of that I would really recommend anything pre- 1972. Most old muscle cars (dodge, ford, plymouth, pontiac, etc.) are built using the very same parts and components, they come from the age where you could fix your car with a hammer and a broken screwdriver. Past 1972, the car companies got away from the same old configuration and began using electrical components that were much more complicated in their cars. This came from the whole oil crisis around that time period, nobody could afford to drive a 7 mpg car when you can only get gas on Tuesday and Thursday!
Regardless, I would recommend just getting your name out in relation to your friends that you are into this sort of friend. I was lucky to have two connections, both of their fathers were old motor heads and they really helped me out. Surf the net for information on how different parts of a car work, and perhaps, once you'e tracked down an old tool chest full of automotive tools from craigslist for $100, and you have a place to put the car that's protected from the elements, then get your hands on some old american muscle. On a final note, stay away from old exotic cars like MG and Triumph unless you have someone experienced to walk you through it. They're on a completely different platform and usually are pretty wacky to work with.
If you have any more questions, feel free to ask! I'm learning too, so my word isn't gospel, but this is definitely a fun community to get into, and stimulates the mind more than any rubick's cube ever will.
jtobako3 years ago
If you look for them, the local community education programs usually have some classes for beginners-things like basic maintenance (or beginning car care) and how the different systems work.  Some high schools will have classes, some at night. 


I want to buy a car. http://usedauto.com.ua/48137 ))) Sorry that is not on))) 
onrust3 years ago
Start with books, model cars, and your lawnmower.
Understanding an internal combustion engine on paper,
learning how cars work and are put together,
and farting around with your own lawnmower is a cheap start.
Good luck
toolgal29 (author)  onrust3 years ago
Thanks! I think I'll see what my library has...last time I looked they really only had manuals for specific cars, but maybe something more general would help. Do you have any recommendations for where I could learn those things on paper first? And where I live there are no lawns, but I'll see what random stuff I can tinker with. :) 
For all we take the p*** out of Haynes manuals, they really ARE very good.
They have quite a few "general" books, and even supply a working engine model kit. www.haynes.co.uk/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/StoreCatalogDisplay

Good luck
My in-laws bought me this for Christmas.

All I need now is an engine.  Steel stock.  Wheels.  An angle grinder.  A welder.  Skill to use the welder.  Space to use the welder....

Can do welding lessons too.....

Steve
Unfortunately, around here, all the welding lessons I can find (a) cost hundreds and (b) happen during school hours.

.  General welding (using,eg, 6018 rods) is not all that difficult once you get some practice under your belt. Try to find someone who knows how to weld and buy them a few pints to show you the basics. Buy a used DIY-grade welder and start practicing. For non-load-bearing stuff (decorations, &c) you should be able to make decent welds with just a few hours practice. Might want a little more practice if you are building stuff that will be supporting ppl or will be under pressure.
Buy them a few pints, and then get out the welder...

... and reserve yourself an entry to the Darwin Awards!  :-)

I'm definitely after load-bearing welds in the end.  Things are in motion, though.
toolgal29 (author)  steveastrouk3 years ago
Awesome, Haynes seems like a pretty helpful site. Thanks again!
Weed eaters are fun to tinker with and you can apply a motor to a bicycle very easy several ways.
I did say "on paper" but as you know anything is on the internet.
caarntedd3 years ago
Old car is definitely the way to go. Simpler systems. Easy to see and get at everything. Easy to remove/dismantle stuff.
Repair/workshop manuals are also quite good, especially where old cars are concerned. Basic engine and driveline stuff, basic wiring such as ignition, lighting and charging circuits are all pretty much the same. You could use a manual for a completely different car and still get enough of an idea to do the basic stuff.
A collection of old manuals is very handy if you don't have the right one, as you can look through them and find whatever is most like the the task you are trying to perform on your car and use that as a guide.
Get the best old car you can, (something common so you can get plenty of used parts from wrecking yards) and hunt down some old manuals from junk/garage sales, used booksops etc.

Speaking of wrecking yards, if you have access to one which allows the customer to strip their own parts, you will learn alot doing this. Maybe  they will even let you strip parts for them just for the experience. It's easy to see how stuff comes apart when half of it is already exposed. 
yokozuna3 years ago
If you buy an older car, you should learn plenty quickly. :)  Whether it's your Dad or not, finding someone who knows about cars that you trust helps tremendously.  Oddly enough, because there is simply so much information, and it's difficult to sort out by years/models/etc. the internet doesn't really seem to be overly helpful in this regard.  The best way is to just dive in and get your hands dirty.
toolgal29 (author)  yokozuna3 years ago
I've found the same about the internet. I think it is possible to get a manual for a specific car, if you know which one you need. My mom has a friend who has some MG from the 50's, it's pretty nice. He also told me to work on an old car, because they have much simpler systems. I don't know him too well, but I might call him up and ask if he has any advice. I'm hoping I can get some car this summer to work on, and dive in as you said. Thanks for the input!
"He also told me to work on an old car, because they have much simpler systems."

True.

I have a 15 year old classic Mini, with single-point injection instead of a carburettor, but everything else is manual - windows, brakes, steering, gear-box will all work if the engine quits.  Even the odometer is mechanical.

My first Mini was even simpler - the most complex tool I ever used on it was a phillips screwdriver, often the blunt end.

If you have an old car, it is also often easier to get help (because long-served mechanics will look on your pre-computerisation car with great nostalgia), and parts for popular classics (like VW Beetles and Classic Minis) are manufactured by all sorts of people.

As an American teen, I would recommend you try and get an old VW Transporter - simple mechanics, easy to get parts and information, plenty of options for modification and personalisation, and if you end up spending your college fund fixing it, you'll still have somewhere to live.


toolgal29 (author)  Kiteman3 years ago
That sounds like a good idea. Not the most attractive VW though, I think...I'd been considering a VW bug, which I think is also a pretty typical car for a teen to fix up. Thank you :)
NachoMahma3 years ago
.  I got my start by reading magazines/manuals and working on my own and friends' cars (for the most part these were all junkers that barely ran, even on a good day). But this was back before computer-controlled drivetrains and when fuel injection was rare.
.  I learned a lot by volunteering to help professionals. Show up at a small garage and ask if you can watch. Offer to sweep, &c if you can actually help. I picked up a few tools by bartering for menial labor (eg, old torque wrench for 10 hours of cleaning shop).
.  Contrary to yokozuna's experience, I have found the Internet to be an invaluable source of info when repairing/restoring cars. Not all the info is free, but it's out there. I had to pay for the PDF of the owner's manual for my 1998 Grand Prix, but most of the manuals for my 1967 Mustang are available for free. If you just need a set of manuals for a particular make/model, they can usually be found for a reasonable price.
toolgal29 (author)  NachoMahma3 years ago
I think I'll plan on talking to a mechanic. The guy my mom goes to for her car seems like a cool guy who wouldn't mind if I hung around. This summer I'll probably buy some other old junker to mess with. :) Are there any magazines that you would recommend? All the ones I have looked at aren't very beginner-friendly. I will try, though. Thank you!
.  I haven't read many car magazines in the last two decades, so I really can't make any recommendations. :(
.  I have found a lot of misc manuals and books at yard sales and when libraries sell of their old books.
.  There is no substitute for getting grease under you fingernails and busting a few knuckles. The manuals are just to provide the details.
.  You'll have a hard time finding an air-cooled VW nowadays, but " How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" explains a lot about how ICEs work in friendly, non-technical terms.
toolgal29 (author)  NachoMahma3 years ago
Oh I hadn't thought of the library book sale idea. My public library chain is having a big one next weekend, so I'll definitely check it out. Thank you again!
Kiteman3 years ago
The cheapest way is to help somebody else.

Those boys you mention - they would probably enjoy showing off their knowledge to an interested girl.

Does your school have a "shop" class?  Do they have a class car?

Find a neighbour with a car that needs a bit of work - offer to help.

Have a look at Haynes - there are model-specific manuals and video tutorials.

(I'm assuming you are American - there is a British Haynes site as well.)

Well, that amused me.

L
Truth there is much.....
toolgal29 (author)  Kiteman3 years ago
The closest thing my school has to shop is theater productions (which I have been taking and do after school as well, it's really fun!) The teachers are super cool and helpful, and they've let me come in and use the shop for school projects and such. Unfortunately my school doesn't have an auto mechanics class :( I may check in somewhere outside school if my town has something of that sort. I have asked those boys for advice about cars before, and they were helpful. I feel it might be awkward to ask for them to teach me, but maybe I'll just go for it, or see if they have advice. I fear I might have to buy my own car to work on, and then ask someone to help me...I mentioned in another comment that I don't know many of my neighbors that well, and I'm not sure any of them have an old car to work on, but I plan to ask around. The Haynes website looks very promising, and I'll be poking around there to see what I can find. Thank you for responding!

lemonie3 years ago
Try to find someone who's already doing this and offer them free help.
It's a bit harder to try on your own than to learn from someone else.

L
toolgal29 (author)  lemonie3 years ago
I don't know anyone close that does, but I plan to ask around. Thank you!
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