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Car noob: want to be a car hobbyist. Where to start?

FuzzyDunlop

Diamond Member
Jan 30, 2008
3,262
12
81
Much like jme5343 (http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2153299) I am inspired by Jlees MR2 build.

I have no experience at all with rebuilding cars or engines or what not, but it has always been something I wanted to do but never had the time/cash to learn. Now that my career is doing fine and I have expendable cash and time, I've been seriously considering picking up this hobby.

Im just wondering where a guy like me should start? Should I start with a lawnmower/garden tractor or a dirtbike/quad... take it apart and rebuild it, just so I can get an idea of what exactly Im in for? This may be the cheapest route of finding out if I am actually capable of doing this kind of work.
Or should I buy a $300 jalopy and just start banging away? Is there a certain make/model of car that would be an ideal starting place. I was thinking of buying a pontiac firefly or geo metro. Thoughts?

If I do start this, I may start a thread here and keep it updated like Jlee. I find his thread very interesing and would like to see others like it.
 

jlee

Lifer
Sep 12, 2001
48,500
213
106
Are you looking to gain general car knowledge, i.e. how to change oil, spark plugs, rotate tires, etc, or do you want to get more involved such as engine rebuilds, etc?

What's your ultimate goal - just to learn, or to have something specific when you're done? I.e. are you into motorcycles, offroading, fast cars, autocross racing...anything in particular that really draws your interest other than wanting to learn? That'll help us give you a direction to go.

I highly doubt you are incapable of turning a wrench..it may look intimidating at first, but it's really not "hard" to do. Just take it one step at a time, and LABEL EVERYTHING. I have a box of ziplock bags with a Sharpie stuck in it sitting on a shelf in the garage. I have a tendency to forget where stuff goes, so I am very specific with my labeling so I don't forget a bolt somewhere along the way.
 

exdeath

Lifer
Jan 29, 2004
13,684
10
81
Get a car you like but find one that someone is giving away because of a blown engine, and do the work yourself and take your time. Get a copy of the service manual. The biggest limitation to a beginner is not having any tools and not knowing what tools you'll need right away.

Just remember it has to get worse to get better. You can feel nervous and intimidated taking it apart and putting it together following the specs in the manual and not know if you are doing it right, but all that goes away when you turn the key and it just "works".
 
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punjabiplaya

Diamond Member
Nov 12, 2006
3,495
1
71
as long as you have another car so you're not worried about breaking stuff and have money and available parts, get in there and learn by doing

service manuals are verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry useful as long as you know basic repair techniques
 

FuzzyDunlop

Diamond Member
Jan 30, 2008
3,262
12
81
Are you looking to gain general car knowledge, i.e. how to change oil, spark plugs, rotate tires, etc, or do you want to get more involved such as engine rebuilds, etc?

What's your ultimate goal - just to learn, or to have something specific when you're done? I.e. are you into motorcycles, offroading, fast cars, autocross racing...anything in particular that really draws your interest other than wanting to learn? That'll help us give you a direction to go.

I highly doubt you are incapable of turning a wrench..it may look intimidating at first, but it's really not "hard" to do. Just take it one step at a time, and LABEL EVERYTHING. I have a box of ziplock bags with a Sharpie stuck in it sitting on a shelf in the garage. I have a tendency to forget where stuff goes, so I am very specific with my labeling so I don't forget a bolt somewhere along the way.
Changing spark plugs, rotating tires, oil change, those are all things I am capable of doing now. Where I get lost / intimidated is the engine modification/rebuilding. I see your thread and am like, "that is awesome, I wish I knew how to do that".

I want to eventually have the knowledge and capability to take a car (or truck) and get some balls out of it (like your MR2). My ideal truck would be a 1969 C10 Chevy (i think this is badass http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEDpVvxgdc4&feature=fvwrel) or for a car a pre 80's camaro/mustang/etc.

I just need general knowledge at this point. I honestly have very little knowledge of how an internal combustion engine even works other than from youtube videos I have watched.
 

FuzzyDunlop

Diamond Member
Jan 30, 2008
3,262
12
81
as long as you have another car so you're not worried about breaking stuff and have money and available parts, get in there and learn by doing

service manuals are verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry useful as long as you know basic repair techniques
ya, i have a company car that i use for daily. this would be strictly for hobby / project.

im just wondering if there is a specific make/model that may be a better to learn with than others? I dont want to go buy a beat up porsche and find out that its impossible to fix.
For now I think ill search locally for cars for sale under $1000 and go from there. For instance there is a 1990 honda accord with 200k miles for sale at $600 - good learning experience?
 
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exdeath

Lifer
Jan 29, 2004
13,684
10
81
You can start without a single tool or dollar: pop the hood and and sit there for a day exploring and ask yourself what every hose and wire is for. Over time, you'll get the general knowledge and be able to do so for any engine. Even ones you've never seen before, because once you take off all the plastic and emblems, it's all the same 100 year old crap.

Being able to build and wrench on an engine is the easy part, any monkey can do that. It's troubleshooting and identifying problems to begin with that takes experience (eg: having heard a certain sound 100 times and knowing for certain "yeah it's this", etc)
 
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jme5343

Platinum Member
Nov 21, 2003
2,333
0
71
Hey, start your own thread (wait, you did.) :)

jlee's on the money, label things. draw a rough picture of the area before you dismantled it.

Another point is one that I mentioned in my thread. Get something that has strong forum support. A GM car with the pushrod 3800 motor is about as straightforward as it gets. Some of them have a blower on them, and that will really add a lot to the learning curve, but the forum support is there (or at least used to be) so that you never get hung up.
 

FuzzyDunlop

Diamond Member
Jan 30, 2008
3,262
12
81
You can start without a single tool or dollar: pop the hood and and sit there for a day exploring and ask yourself what every hose and wire is for. Over time, you'll get the general knowledge and be able to do so for any engine. Even ones you've never seen before, because once you take off all the plastic and emblems, it's all the same 100 year old crap.

Being able to build and wrench on an engine is the easy part, any monkey can do that. It's troubleshooting and identifying problems to begin with that takes experience (eg: having heard a certain sound 100 times and knowing for certain "yeah it's this", etc)
I dont own my own car. I drive a company car and am a little cautious about tinkering inside of it since its not really mine. THAT and its a 2009 GM so its got alot of things I look at and say "what the hell is that?"
Wouldnt an older car have less electronics and 'parts' to fudge up, if I do happen to fudge up?
 

exdeath

Lifer
Jan 29, 2004
13,684
10
81
I dont own my own car. I drive a company car and am a little cautious about tinkering inside of it since its not really mine. THAT and its a 2009 GM so its got alot of things I look at and say "what the hell is that?"
Wouldnt an older car have less electronics and 'parts' to fudge up, if I do happen to fudge up?
It can go both ways. Electronics require more tools and understanding, but can simplify engine operation and require fewer and longer lasting parts to achieve the same basic function.

Contrast: coil on plug with solid state controller and engine position sensors VS distributor, points, rotor, cap, high tension leads, coil, vacuum and mechanical advance, drive mechanism, oil seals, etc.

Typically newer engines with more electronics are actually simpler and have less parts. Of course I say that coming from being a programmer and electronics person before I got serious with cars :D
 
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FuzzyDunlop

Diamond Member
Jan 30, 2008
3,262
12
81
It can go both ways. Electronics require more tools and understanding, but can simplify engine operation and require fewer and longer lasting parts to achieve the same basic function.

Contrast: coil on plug with solid state controller and engine position sensors VS distributor, points, rotor, cap, high tension leads, coil, vacuum and mechanical advance, drive mechanism, oil seals, etc.
ya, that just went right over my head.
 

exdeath

Lifer
Jan 29, 2004
13,684
10
81
ya, that just went right over my head.
No worries, I was just trying to make a case where electronics simplify things. eg: you have software that controls the spark based on engine sensors, vs: lots of high maintenance moving parts that wear out and corrode and break all the time. Think digital watch vs. a Rolex. The electronics only seem mysterious if you don't understand them, but when you have to take the Rolex apart and 100 springs and gears explode in your face, you'll appreciate the simplicity of electronics :)
 

punjabiplaya

Diamond Member
Nov 12, 2006
3,495
1
71
if that accord is busted, it wouldn't be a bad choice. cheap and the parts will be readily available and cheap too
 

zerocool84

Lifer
Nov 11, 2004
36,049
469
126
Just a word of caution, you need to be prepared to spend tons of money if trying to fix up an older car because things will happen and you'll find new things wrong and you'll end up spending much more than you ever anticipated. It's happened to me and many others.
 

Throckmorton

Lifer
Aug 23, 2007
16,833
1
0
If I were you I'd buy a relatively new car but one based on an old platform. For example, my Jeep Cherokee is from 1999 yet the vehicle debuted in 1984. Because of that, most of the components are simple and easy to understand. Other examples would be the Ford Crown Victoria, previous generation Mustangs, and Camaros, and a lot of trucks.
 

Throckmorton

Lifer
Aug 23, 2007
16,833
1
0
The electronic stuff doesn't really matter either way. You don't fix electronic components, you replace them.
 

7window

Golden Member
Nov 12, 2009
1,533
1
0
I thought the electrical stuff would be harder to diagnose as oppose to mechanical such as pre 77 cars
 

Kirby

Lifer
Apr 10, 2006
12,041
2
0
I was in the same boat as you OP. I knew how to change plugs, oil, etc., but that was about it. I bought a 78 280Z that I'm working on in my spare time. Just find a factory service manual, get to be friends with your local mechanic or someone else knowledgeable, lurk in some forums, and work on it as time and money allows.
 

Pinepig

Member
Feb 25, 2000
195
3
81
Get yourself an aircooled VW, the earlier the better. Get the idiot guide for repair and have at it. There isn't a more simple car on the road. Hell I could tear one down to it's nut's and bolts in a day.

It's a cult/classic ride, huge amounts of information ( get subscription to HotVWs ), cheap parts and there are millions of folks that use them as a social circle. I'd bet there is a VW group within a hour of your location unless you live on the dark side of the moon. Those people will help you work on it if you feed them beer. You'll make friends learn about cars and have a good time.

Enjoy

ETA, http://www.thesamba.com/vw/
 
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cprince

Senior member
May 8, 2007
963
0
0
For tools, I would go with a Sears Craftsman Mechanics tool set(154pc is onsale right now for $99). That should cover about ~60% of your tool needs. A 2ft long metal pipe is also necessary. You will also need jackstands, floor jack, different types of pliers, etc... Ebay is a good place to look for service manuals. I bought a few of those pdf ones and they worked great for me. I just print the pages that I need.

As far as car, call me crazy, but I would go with front engine, rear wheel drive. Something like a BMW e30 would be great(I know the parts will be more expensive...). The reason is that FR cars have more room in the engine bay to work on than front engine, front wheel drive cars.
 

SViper

Senior member
Feb 17, 2005
828
0
76
Op,

I saw in one of your replies that you are interested in learning about the internal combustion engine. Here is a really easy to follow post explaining it: http://www.vtxoa.com/forums/showthread.php?t=21749

It's on a motorcycle forum I frequent, but it is general enough to get an understanding on how all internal combustion engines work.
 

jlee

Lifer
Sep 12, 2001
48,500
213
106
For tools, I would go with a Sears Craftsman Mechanics tool set(154pc is onsale right now for $99). That should cover about ~60% of your tool needs. A 2ft long metal pipe is also necessary. You will also need jackstands, floor jack, different types of pliers, etc... Ebay is a good place to look for service manuals. I bought a few of those pdf ones and they worked great for me. I just print the pages that I need.

As far as car, call me crazy, but I would go with front engine, rear wheel drive. Something like a BMW e30 would be great(I know the parts will be more expensive...). The reason is that FR cars have more room in the engine bay to work on than front engine, front wheel drive cars.
Could always go mid-engine RWD..plenty of room..

or not. :hmm:



:p
 

JCH13

Diamond Member
Sep 14, 2010
4,979
65
91
If you want to rebuild something, get a small, light car. An old air-cooled VW is a great choice, and an E30 BMW isn't too bad (as mentioned previously). A Miata is also cheap to work on, I even have an old 1.8L Miata engine that needs a rebuild if you'd like something to play around with :awe:
 

Pinepig

Member
Feb 25, 2000
195
3
81
If you want to rebuild something, get a small, light car. An old air-cooled VW is a great choice, and an E30 BMW isn't too bad (as mentioned previously). A Miata is also cheap to work on, I even have an old 1.8L Miata engine that needs a rebuild if you'd like something to play around with :awe:

E30's aren't bad but for simple the 2002 would be better.
 

exdeath

Lifer
Jan 29, 2004
13,684
10
81
For tools, I would go with a Sears Craftsman Mechanics tool set(154pc is onsale right now for $99). That should cover about ~60% of your tool needs. A 2ft long metal pipe is also necessary. You will also need jackstands, floor jack, different types of pliers, etc... Ebay is a good place to look for service manuals. I bought a few of those pdf ones and they worked great for me. I just print the pages that I need.

As far as car, call me crazy, but I would go with front engine, rear wheel drive. Something like a BMW e30 would be great(I know the parts will be more expensive...). The reason is that FR cars have more room in the engine bay to work on than front engine, front wheel drive cars.
Depends entirely on the car. The engine bay in my 03 Cobra is 10x more cramped than my 95 Camry. The Cobra only comes with a huge DOHC V8 and every cubic inch of the engine bay is utilized for something. The Camry on the other hand has an engine bay built to accommodate a V6 but has a 4 cyl instead.
 
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