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Are today's cars easy or hard to work on?

lwflwf Member Posts: 223
If this topic already exist, sorry, I didn't see
it. So I'm starting it, because I'm curious about
the opinions of others.

I don't work on my cars very much any more, even
though I once did. But what I usually hear from
others is that today's cars are so complicated,
it's virtually impossible for an amateur to be able
to work on them and actually fix anything.
Yesterday I tried and was amazed at how easy it was
to do a repair and how little time it took
compared to the same task on any car made 20 or
more years ago. Nothing big……just replacing a
broken side-view mirror on my '98 Ford F150, but
that involved taking off and putting back the
inside door panel. It took only about 30 minutes,
but most of that time was spent trying to figure
out the procedure for removing the door panel.
Once that was resolved, it was nothing more than
one bolt for the door handle, 2 plastic pins, and
lift it off. I have to believe an experience
mechanic could do the whole job, including the 3
bolts for the mirror, in 5-to-10 minutes.

Odd thing is that I had arranged for the dealer to
do the job, but the service manager ignored our
appointment and took a very late lunch. After
hanging around for an hour waiting for him to
return, I gave my apologies that I had other
commitments, paid for the part, took it and left.
Earlier, it had been quoted as a one-hour job that
would cost me $67 plus tax. I wasn't really trying
to save the labor charge, but it is sort of
interesting that I had thought before I actually
tried to do the replacement that because this is a
late-model vehicle, it's going to be much too
complicated for me. Turns out it was a piece of
cake because of the way cars are designed nowadays.
But now I have a question. Where in the world do
they get these trumped-up labor charges?


  • jsh139jsh139 Member Posts: 42
    My old '88 Beretta had that problem all the time. Everytime the battery was disconnected the car had horrible performance for two days. rough idle, stalling, meager acceleration, etc ..
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    "just disconnecting the battery can create all kinds of problems."

    That's an interesting comment. One of the basic guidelines in days gone by was to always disconnect the battery before touching anything to do the electrical system. Well...maybe it doesn't apply to just changing a light bulb, but it always seemed like a good rule to go by. Like when changing a starter, for instance. What kind of possible problems are incurred if I lift the ground connection from a battery?

    And the guys (& gals) I've seen in Sears who replace batteries don't appear to be the most skillful technicians. Do these people all have advanced training to avoid causing damage when they change a battery? That's pretty hard to believe.
  • gusgus Member Posts: 254
    On fairly modern cars, technicians will attach a booster battery to the alternator to keep circuitry "hot" while disconnecting and replacing the battery. Something like radio presets are the least of your worries if you disconnect a battery while working on a car. If a car has an anti-theft radio that requires a code to turn it back on after it's lost power, then you'd better have the code. I've also heard stories of odd SRS and ECM problems after batteries have been disconnected.

    The diagnostic tools required to deal with modern cars cost more than they used to. Snap-On makes a scanner that costs in the $2000 range, and is the only thing that resets codes in some really new vehicles. If it's not more complicated than it used to be, auto mechanics is certainly more expensive to get started in than it once was.
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    Yeah! That's one of the things I commented on. They wanted $67 for something that shouldn't take an experienced mechanic any more than 5-to-10 minutes. And I would have paid it if the service mananger hadn't been a no-show.

    Thanks to both of you for the insights. If any more of you can add to this, it would be appreciated.

    I said I no longer work on cars anymore, but that's not completely true. I still do all of my own oil & filter changes, and brake pads too. All of that seems to have gotten easier over the decades. But not for all vehicles, I know. When I buy a new one, the accessibility of the oil filter is one thing I always check. My last purchase was the F150, but I looked at the Nissan Frontier too. I remember that it looked like an oil-filter change would involve first removing a panel inside the front left wheelwell. Not a very good design, in my opinion.
  • vivonavivona Member Posts: 410
    The first thing I buy with a new car is the factory service manual. Many seemingly simple repairs would be difficult to impossible without one. It is hard to figure out how some things are assembled just by looking at them, particularly interior and exterior body parts.

    Problem is, even the dealer many times doesn't look at the manual. For example, the dealer had scratched the door mirror glass on my new car and replaced the whole mirror pod under warranty. They said just the glass itself wasn't replaceable. They had to pay an extra $60 to get the new mirror pod painted to match the car. When I got my manual I found out how to replace just the glass. It would have taken seconds to do and saved the dealer money and saved me time.

    While the dealer was replacing the pod, they started to remove the door panel. I had already figured out that the mirror pod could be replaced by just turning it 90 degrees to expose the mounting bolts. Once again, if they read the manual... Luckily, I caught them in time and suggested that they try my method. Took all of one minute to replace the mirror pod.

    The only part that is hard to fix on new cars is the computerized electronics. Even though I have an electronics background, the systems require a code reader and scan tool that can cost $1,000 to $2,000. Too much for an owner to buy for their own maintenance. I avoid letting any mechanic touch my car. I can easily get over 100,000 trouble-free miles on my cars by doing all the maintenance myself. If I were to have a problem with an electronic system, I would bring the car to the dealer and just have it diagnosed with their scanner. Then I would do the indicated repair work myself.

    I have looked for aftermarket diagnostic tools, but only code readers are available and they are only for "popular" cars. Hopefully with the OBD-II systems in new cars, the standardization of on-board diagnostics (OBD) will allow aftermarket products to be available at a reasonable price.
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    I may take your advice and order a manual. They're pretty expensive nowadays, however. Does anyone know of a way of bypassing the dealer and going straight to the publisher?

    I used to always get a service manual after taking delivery on a new vehicle, and I have a shelf in the basement filled with them. Maybe they'll be collectors items some day, and my my great-great grandchildren will fight over them. Haven't bought one for my last three vehicles, however.

    But the ones that I have ususally didn't get into very much detail when it came to things like removing door panels or dashboard assemblies. I can remember reading instructions like "disconnect tachometer from engine side, and then remove tachometer from dashboard." Boy, that's a big help. Also, it seemed that the same useless information was copied in the manuals year after year. Well, maybe the shop-manual quality has improved in the last decade. If anyone knows how to get a discount on these manuals, be sure to let the rest of us know.
  • shawnmaloneshawnmalone Member Posts: 71
    Impossible. 20 years ago I worked on Ford Mustang Mach I and Pontiac GTO engines when my brother and I owned those cars. We did our own engine rebuilds, carb rebuilds, made a throttle linkage out of a guitar string -- all kinds of good, dirty fun.
    My new car, I opened the hood and wouldn't have known what was under there. There seems to be nothing strictly mechanical on it -- every door lock, radio button, etc. is electronic somehow.
    I remember reading that on the new Porsche Boxter, there's not even a hood to open! You have to put the vehicle on a lift to change the air filter! Insane!
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    It seems that this new-fangled concept of automotive electronics has a lot of people frightened at the idea even touching the components, and yet I know a lot of people who wouldn't hesitate a second when it comes to tearing into a PC. Modems, memory, sound-card, and processor upgrades and even mother-board changes seem to be intuitive to them. But if the processor is in their car or truck, that's different I guess. I haven't tried the latter myself either, but then again I haven't had the need to yet.

    Regarding repair manuals, how about those like Chiltons (is that how it's spelled)? Are they any good, at all? Or it best to use only the vehicle manufacturers manual?

    As far as the high cost of auto diagnostic tools, I wonder if there's any way of adapting a PC for that. There must be some cottage industries that have started down that path. Wouldn't it be great if you could resurrect that old 486 you have in the closet or down in the basement and have it do the same things that a 3-to-20 thousand dollar auto-diagnostic system is designed for?
  • gusgus Member Posts: 254
    Man, I just donated a 386 to charity!! It seems likely that diagnostics will be linked to PCs at some point. There is software that allows you to download saved info from a Snap-On scan tool to your PC.

    Until very recently, I was a bit intimidated by the electronic diagnostic stuff associated with newer models, but now I'm eager to check out a lot of that stuff. The data stream put out by a car's computer is absolutely amazing. Someone in an earlier topic mentioned 20+ pieces of engine/transmission information put out by some cars' computers. The data stream can actually contain 50+ pieces of info!! Modern diagnostic tools tell you nearly everything, from coolant temp to individual cylinder misfires to the output of O2 sensors before and after the cat. Earlier Snap-On scan tools even allowed Ford mechanics to check piston balance. The tools are something else, and the technology is mind-blowing!
  • lwflwf Member Posts: 223
    I apologize for what I asked in the 2nd paragraph of post 9, because I just found topic 40 which addressed that question. Manufacturer's manuals only appears to be the answer.

    I thought it was pretty interesting that GM provides a CD (free it seems) with all of the 98 & 99 service-manual info on it. I don't have a late-model GM, but if I did, there's no doubt one of my old PCs would get a CD installed and be set up in my garage instead of occupying space in the basement. No one said anything about Ford providing the same courtesy, but I'm definitely going to look into that. If anyone already knows, please share it with us.
  • ralph124cralph124c Member Posts: 36
    I think a lot of the repair complications are produced by the desire to make the engine compartment smaller. I recently rented a Dodge Cirrus (2.4 liter). Just for fun, I looked under the hood-everything is buried-I would assume that replacing the serpentine belt would involve removing some major components.
    Kinda makes me long for the days of fore-and -aft engines, $25.00 water pumps, $5.00 fan belts, etc.
  • gchernya1gchernya1 Member Posts: 43
    Just as expirience: replacing belt on the Buik Roadmaster (5.7L) I've removed small belt, fan, hose bracket and accidentaly disconected one coolant hoses. 2 hour job, at least if you never done it before.
  • rea98drea98d Member Posts: 982
    Remove the battery, and th engines forgets things like idle speed, shift points, ect. If you don't geta technician to reprogram this stuff, the car's computer has to find it by trial and error. It will eventually re-educate itself, but expect several dys of rough running, poor perofrmance, and bad economy.
  • gusgus Member Posts: 254
    I'm not sure that this is a problem that can be cured by a simple "reprogram". Radio codes, yes, but I'm not sure about driving data such as shift points, etc. Does anyone know for sure?
  • spokanespokane Member Posts: 514
    Perhaps some of the high-cost diagnostic systems can look at the ECM and save such data as shift points and air-fuel mix curves; to be used later after the battery replacement.

    I'm not sure if it's possible but I have not found it to be necessary. My experience has been that about a dozen starts and stops are needed to reestablish rather good performance...even for an old worn engine which requires settings which are quite different from the ECM's default settings. Have you guys found that some cars require a much longer re-education interval than this?
  • gusgus Member Posts: 254
    I don't work on many cars that have this problem. When we do a battery on more modern cars, we try to hook a booster battery up to a "hot" wire, like the positive lead going to the alternator, so that radio codes and other stored info doesn't get lost. I suppose that this would keep stored drive data in the memory as well.
  • autoexamsautoexams Member Posts: 4
    gus is correct, if voltage is not lost. ecm-pcm will retain memory. cars are harder to work on now due to OBD II. example if fuel caps are left loose this will trigger a check engine light. which in turn means a trip to your local dealer @ an hourly flat cost to reset. between $50.00 to $70.00 depending on geographical location. i highly suggest that reading the owners manuel will help prevent a lot of unwanted trips to the dealer, that why the car companies publish them.
  • xfilesxfiles Member Posts: 132
    I believe 100% in owning the original manufacturers manual for any car you buy. You can't do many repairs without it because:

    1. They specify the steps in performing the
    repair, and more importantly the torque
    settings for retightening the bolts, the
    most basic of information we require.
    2. They provide warnings (eg- personal safety,
    protecting the computer, etc).

    In fact working on cars I find is much easier today. The most difficult job is not the repair, but the diagnostic stage. The diagnosis if incorrect by the professional can cause the consumer to overpay in further repairs till the problem is corrected., or waste your time guessing and buying the wrong parts if you do your own repairs. Manufacturers recognize this and made use of computer and sensor technology to make life easier for the mechanic. The ECM computer is not to be feared, but is our friend....especially for amateur repairmen who are going to have a heck of a time trying to figure out whats wrong. The only thing more difficult now adays is trying to get your hands in there. What we need I guess is a trained mouse with a wrench to access the parts. My way around this problem is to pick the car I purchase carefully ....I start with what is under the hood. Either I do the repair or someone else must, if it's busy under the hood your going to pay the mechanic dearly for 5 hours instead of 2 hours of work. There are a lot of cars still out there that are extrememly easy to repair..... CAMRY, ACCORD, 93-97 INTREPIDS, and many more with so much room under the hood you can virtually step inside the engine compartment area to sit down while your working. Take a look at one of those cars under the hood and get ready for a big surprise, it's like the 1970's with the exception of our friendly computer added(with sensors).

    Note: Some manuals will even explain how to use a 1/2" piece of wire to jump the contacts at the service plug to allow you to access the computer from your dash (eg-92 Buick Regals are ultra easy).
  • avs007avs007 Member Posts: 100
    Why go to the dealer to reset your SES light if you left the gas cap off? It will turn off after 5 cycles... If you care, just get an AutoTap, which costs 200 bucks, and you can clear it yourself, and even explore and look at all the OBD-II Codes, and read the engine sensors... Pretty snappy device, IMHO...
  • professoredprofessored Member Posts: 1
    I agree with Xfiles' comments about Camry and Accord under-hood elbow room. Are there any other domestic cars that are easy to reach into?

    I leased a Taurus for a while and shuddered when I had to change the oil. It looked like downtown LA under there. Lots of wiring and 1/2 inch gaps between components - very little finger room.

    Any other cars with more engine acreage (other than 70 vintage Buicks??

  • tancajtancaj Member Posts: 2
    I recently bought a used 1996 Buick Regal and I need to replace the battery. I've never had a problem getting a battery out, but this thing is in there deep. Now I'm reading about the computer losing information if I disconnect. Can anybody give me a step by step on this? I'm hoping to get this done without the dealer! Thanks.
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