Car Repair Tips: Engine Problems, Fake Car Parts and Fixing Spare Tires

Car repair tips from MOTHER's Mechanic column includes a crash course in engines and maintenance, replacing a fuel filter and fixing a flat spare tire.


MOTHER's Mechanic Jon shares his car repair tips with readers.


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MOTHER's Mechanic Jon shares his thirty-five years of car repair tips and know-how . . . under the hood. 

Car Repair Tips

No matter what the guys in the garage business tell you about spending years in less than ideal working conditions, and almost always being underpaid for the increasingly technical nature of what they perform for the public, some of us just love what we do for a living. Many years ago, l had to make the fateful decision between wearing a shirt and tie every day for the rest of my life and doing what I really loved. With every passing day I am more grateful for choosing the garage. Every day is different from the day before, and poses an entirely new set of challenges. I don't have a million bucks, but I've enjoyed (almost) every day of my career for nearly 30 years. Name ten tie wearers who can say the same. 

My Ford Escort four cylinder with fuel injection plugged a fuel filter and even though I managed to replace it, the engine still wouldn't start. I eventually had a garage tow it in and the mechanics had it running in less than an hour. What did I miss and how did they fix it in such a hurry?
—Ken Edelsman
Fort Wayne, IN

Dig out your owner's manual and you will find reference to a "Reset Button" somewhere, probably in the "engine maintenance" section. This "Reset Button" is very much like any circuit breaker in your house, and is intended to trip off the fuel pump if there is a problem with the system. Because your fuel pump will continue to pump fuel even to a plugged filter, it has to be protected from itself, and you need to be protected from a potentially dangerous situation. For some cars without this provision, it is often necessary to buy a new electric fuel pump (which costs a good 300 bucks) even if the original problem is nothing more complicated than a fuel filter plugged with dirt and water. You will find the reset under the plastic panel on the left when the deck lid is lifted. If yours is like most I've seen, you will likely need a screwdriver to remove the plastic guard before you can press the button with your finger.

By the way, replacing a fuel filter underneath a car can get you in over your head in a hurry, so don't try it without all the proper tools and jacks. Line wrenches are a must, and be sure there are no ignition sources anywhere around that might ignite the inevitable small spills that happen during the filter replacement process. I recommend a yearly replacement of these critical fuel filters, which might be more often than your maintenance schedule suggests. Do it anyway. Some "dry gas" added to a fresh tank each month will also help get the most from your system. It will keep water from building up in the fuel supply, and one can will neutralize about a teaspoon of water. As a kid I once saw a gent coast down a hill in his stalled car to a copse by the roadside, run in to get a jug of the local "dry gas" hidden inside a hollow old tree, pour it into his gas tank and take off down the road again with the car running fine. From what I heard, that was a common use of bad "moonshine." It gives me chills just to think about anyone drinking it.

As a present for her seventeenth birthday, 1 gave my daughter our '89 Chevy Caprice. She loves it, but 1 feel a bit nervous about her driving it far from home when she knows so little about engines and maintenance. How would you suggest giving her a crash course?
—Peter Logan
Olympia, WA

Well, that's a good one! I married a farm girl who could drive the family tractors at 12 but still doesn't check the oil on our cars after being married to a technician for 35 years. So let's begin there. You can certainly show her how to check the engine oil level on the dipstick, which is best done in the morning when the engine hasn't been running all night. Next show her where the power steering oil reservoir is and how to check that, and then go to the transmission oil, stressing that the transmission is always checked with the engine running. Tell her how to recognize air filter, fan belt, and hose wear and to eyeball the engine for these problems every week. Change a tire with her twice, doing it first with her watching and then again with you watching. Make sure that she has both a breaker bar and a deep well socket in the trunk for such occasions, and show her how to stand on the breaker bar to break the lugnuts loose. The first time she comes home to brag about how she changed a tire on a girlfriend's car while they were away, you will know your own success. Make sure that you have the state registration and insurance card (in a zip lock bag) in the glove compartment along with the phone number of the local AAA agency, your membership number, and finally the phone number of an approved AAA towing service. The last thing you want is her stranded in the middle of nowhere, cold-calling "Joe's $10,000 Per Axle Towing Service" if a hose is punctured or a belt breaks and falls off.

Auto parts stores have or can get packages for a few bucks that contain jumper cables, a reliable flashlight, a set of signs which include one that says "Help," "Call the Police" and several other necessary items for stranded motorists. But be sure you know how to use a set of jumper cables before you try to teach her. I would also recommend that she keep an extra set of all belts the car might need, (a dealership parts salesman will hook you up with the right set). We carry fire extinguishers, as well, in all our cars in my family. A ten pound fire extinguisher will fit nicely out of sight, and if it doesn't, next time buy a bigger car. There can be no frustration like that of standing by helplessly while a fire ignites in your car that you are helpless to address.

Now she's ready for the road.

A few weeks ago, 1 had a garage put new tierod ends on my Buick and no more than a week later, one fell off on one side, causing a minor accident. My insurance paid but I'm still disturbed by this. How can this happen?
—Dolores Fenik
Augusta, GA

Actually millions of tons of fake replacement parts are shipped into this country every year by "junk makers" all over the world. Simply stated, junk makers do not have to meet international standards to export junk, and the parts have found their way into virtually every shop in the country. I acquired a handful of junk nuts and bolts myself at an auction, so even a relatively trained eye can get tricked. One of the worst problems we have in our business is junk sheet metal. We are habitually checking if the replacement parts were actually approved by the car maker, or if at least they were made in this country by a reputable company. We try to watch as we assemble your car on our racks but some unmarked nuts and bolts are going to get through. It is a continuing problem especially where the guy doing the work doesn't buy the nuts and bolts himself. But please don't make the technician into a scapegoat. Most state inspection agencies have already made him a permanent scapegoat without your help.

The problem ultimately lies at Congress's doorstep. Making manufacturing specifications a necessity and not just a suggestion will mean a lot less tierod ends falling off.

I found the spare in my 1988 Chevy flat when I needed it but when I took it in to be repaired, nobody would fix it for me. I tried three different tire shops and all refused, saying they were not allowed to fix them. Why?
—Mike Nelitto
Trenton, NJ

Believe it or not, the shop's refusal to fix temporary "donut" tires is something you might ultimately be thankful for. Small spares are inherently dangerous and were only invented to increase trunk space. Better to replace the factory donut immediately with a normal sized rim and tire. It is not only infinitely preferable in the case of a flat, but can also be rotated into the mix and extend the life of your tire set.

If your car or truck is getting you down and you need some practical answers fast, write Jon at "MOTHER's Mechanic," c/o MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Arden, NC or via E-mail at MEarthNews (at) Don't forget to include your phone number and a photo. 

2/11/2015 9:32:52 AM

I had an experience pretty similar to Ken's, where I had tried to fix my car, and then my car broke down again. I finally caved and took my car to the mechanic and they had it up and running within the hour. I was really frustrated with myself at first too, until I realized that sometimes you just need the proper tools to complete a task, and without those tools it's almost impossible to fix your car yourself.

11/21/2014 4:16:49 AM

Well car repairing is not an easy work because it requires skills and proficiency as well otherwise it may cause harm. Most probably, A person who doesn’t holds knowledge of auto parts can make mistake on selection of it. But this problem can be easily short out due to aftermarket part. All such parts can be purchased from of companies like or others. One can directly go for replacement instead of repairing because aftermarket auto parts come with quality warranty stand proficient on all quality measurement.

8/27/2014 12:51:55 AM

Car repair is very much important to any car user. The repair & service keep the engine in good condition for a long period of time. User can use his car for fulfilling his needs as long as he wants. The service is just like health care activity. If you don't care about the car then it will show problems like engine failure, brake failure etc. The problem may cause a reason for car accident. So it is better to checkup the car in regular basis. Here some tips are described fro car maintenance.

7/22/2014 2:27:26 AM

Luxury cars like Audi are the alternate finding for people to choose now a days.They have all the options for luxury so selecting the best features rich car like Audi is not a big issue for them. But problem is the car parts replacement if any accident happens or going for regular servicing, so that time you should select the best alternative for the car issues like servicing of it in a regular time interval. Audi Repair Victorville

6/5/2014 5:02:53 AM

If your cars any part is giving trouble, you should get it replaced as soon as possible. The best thing is to purchase new parts but not everyone can afford to buy new one so in this situation buying used auto parts is a nice idea. It’s cost effective and if chosen wisely would sustain for a long time. Few days ago I bought a used engine for my car from and saved a hell lot of money from buying expensive parts.

5/10/2014 4:40:40 AM

The first step is to be insure why your car isn't functioning properly, then to look for the best service center on whom you can trust. One thing should be taken care of that not all service center is good for everything so according to your need find the appropriate service center. Choose the and feel relaxed.

4/30/2014 8:07:10 AM

Fixing spare tires is perhaps one of the least cost repairing you need to do. it have been visible at many a few service centers that they charge you extra bucks for a repairing service they do. the worst thing is on call they tells so a different estimation then the actual they charge. So it's always very important to reach a good center if you don't want to loose extra bucks.

2/20/2014 1:19:43 AM

Our automobile market is now so developed and the level of competition also high. Show rooms for automobiles are so unique and want to have well decoration, latest model, and good customer service. Show rooms or retail shops come to direct contact with customer so attract customer by an attractive outlook is very important. With respect to this also try to decorate and attract their customer. But it is our responsible to choose the best one for us as these are one time investment and long term service.

2/7/2014 6:50:47 AM

Car parts are the essential elements of a particular car. Without it a car can't run. So,proper maintenance of the parts is necessary. Regular check up of fuel pump,brakes,changing of engine oil is necessary for running the car smoothly. Good quality are essential to increase the life span of the car.

willie tho
2/6/2014 2:01:45 AM

Car repairing is very much essential as like, Blood to human body.It is very much essential, as to keep our car fully furnished. As, we will repair and maintain our car during the right period of time or an interval of time , then we can easily save money . We can save our self from a big collision or a large disastrous. We can save our vehicle from worst bad condition. Easily , we can save money . There are many car repair tips like check the brakes, check tire pressure, change the oil with in a period of time , check all the spare parts properly.