Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easy Auto DIY Projects

At the Metrorail station one weekday morning recently, I failed to turn off the lights on our 2006 Toyota 4Runner after parking it for the day.  Of course the car would not start when I came back at the end of the day.  With Carol's car, we jump-started the 4Runner and got it home, but the battery was at the end of its useful life and would not hold a charge very well thereafter.  We learned a couple of things from this experience.

One is that our 4Runner's "hood lift supports" had worn out.  This made it a bit of a challenge to run the jump cables from Carol's car to the 4Runner, but we managed.  I had a dowel at home in the garage that I could use as a prop on a temporary basis.

Another thing I realized is that I never check the oil anymore on our automobiles, as I once did as a matter of practice when I gassed up.  If I had been doing that, I would have noticed that the hood lift supports had worn out.  It would have been more convenient to learn that during a stop at the gas station than at the end of a workday, dressed in a business suit and in the midst of a minor emergency.  When you have the practice of lifting the hood periodically to check the oil, it gives you a moment to focus on what is happening to your car generally.

I learned a little more how an auto battery works and its limited purpose of supplying ignition with a big burst of energy that pretty much depletes it and some lighting, both of which need a decent drive to recharge it for the next starting challenge.  After awhile the things simply wear out.  I refreshed myself on the chemistry, looked at our records to see how long we had owned the one that had failed and what it cost.  All of those things helped me make the decision to simply replace it.

So faced with the need to replace the battery and replace the hood supports, do I take the 4Runner to the Toyota dealership?  Ugh.  Just the cost in time of taking the car to the dealer is heavy these days.  Is this, then, a reasonable DIY project?  It proved to be, with the availability of information on the internet.

This video suggested to me that replacing the hood supports might be very easy.  The internet has plenty on changing a car battery as well, but I had done that project before.  So I pulled the battery out, and, on my second try, found an auto-parts store where English was adequately spoken and North American customs of  service and customer attention are reasonably observed

There I learned that it is important to know some details about the automobile for which you are buying the battery.  For example, does our 4Runner have a V6 or a V8?  (Not a clue.)  Another: what are the dimensions of the little rectangular pan on which the battery sits?  (Still no clue.)  However, I did have the old battery with me and the NAPA sales person, who was very helpful, matched what he had in stock with what I needed to replace.  (The transaction at the NAPA store included their disposal of the old battery.)

However, he did not have in stock replacement hood supports that would fit.  So back to the internet, to Amazon, and to exactly what I needed via mail order.  In a matter of 20 minutes yesterday afternoon, with Carol holding up the hood, we replaced the hood supports.

In terms of time and money, how did this work out?  I would estimate that a visit to the Toyota dealership has a cost of about 2 hours, going and coming, although that time expenditure occurs during a work day.  The time cost of this particular DIY project was probably about 3 - 4 hours, but that was during down time.  If I had not had the false start with the first auto parts store, it would have been 2 to 3.  If the NAPA dealer had had the hood lifts as well as the battery, I would have been down to 1 to 2.  The cost of the parts were probably comparable.  The labor costs?  Much lower at the dealer, assuming my alternate use of that time would have been productive. 

On the other hand, it was fun and different to putter with the car.

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