Grease Monkey: Do It Yourself or Pay a Mechanic (4 of 4)

Grease Monkey: Do It Yourself or Pay a Mechanic (4 of 4)

Grease Monkey Feature

In the final installment of “Grease Monkey” we take a gander at the last group of problems that can be tackled at home and those that need a trip to the mechanic.

By Jesse Stern | Photos By Jeff Buras

This is Part 4 of the Grease Monkey series. Be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


There are two basic sides to the tire issue. One is replacing them. The other is changing a flat. Everyone should know how to change a flat tire.

Verdict: In case of emergency, Do it Yourself! Otherwise, Pay a Mechanic!

If you don’t know how to change a flat, here is a quick tutorial. Practice at home in a t-shirt before you have to do it on the side of the road in a tuxedo!

To change a flat tire, you need:

  • a jack
  • a lug wrench
  • a spare tire

These items tend to be stored together in the trunk of your car.

Spare Tire

Step 1: Put the jack under the strong metal frame of the car, just in front of a rear flat tire (or just behind a front flat). Don’t put the jack under the aluminum door panels — make sure it’s under the strong part. Crank the jack so that it expands. To make the next step easier, don’t raise the car yet.

Step 2: Using the lug wrench, loosen the lug nuts (the five or so nuts that hold your wheels in place. Some of them may be very tight, but don’t worry — you can do it! Don’t lose, throw or swallow the lug nuts; you will need them again in a minute.

Step 3: Use the jack to raise the car fully off the ground. It must be high enough so that you can pull the wheel off, and then put on the spare.

Step 4: Pull the wheel off, and then put on the spare.

Step 5: Put the lug nuts back on, and tighten by hand. The spare will wobble around a lot, and you will get frustrated. Then, you will take a deep breath and realize that the tire wobbles less if you thread the top nut first. The rest is cake.

Step 6: Tighten the lug nuts with the lug wrench. This is best done in a star pattern: tighten one, skip one, tighten one, skip one, etc. This will help ensure that the wheel is on straight, and not lopsided.

Step 7: Use the jack to lower the car. Put all this crap into your trunk, along with your flat, and immediately go to a place that repairs tires. If you didn’t drive on the flat, it will cost you 10 or 15 bucks for the nice mechanic to remove the nail or whatever from your tire and repair it. If you drove on it, you might have to buy a new tire.

Body Work

Body work on a 1985 Nissan Sentra is different from body work on a 2008 Escalade, which will be different still from body work on a 1963 New Yorker.

Body Damage

Unless your car falls into the general body work category of the 1985 Nissan Sentra, we suggest you leave it to the professionals.

Verdict: Pay a Mechanic!

For bigger dents some people like to break out the Bondo, but unless you know what you’re doing, this can end up looking worse than the dent.

Oil, Air, and Fuel Filters

This is part of basic maintenance, and is really easy. The main thing to keep in mind is that these filters are part of a system. Changing the filters regularly will help keep that system running well — for example, changing the fuel filter when needed helps prevent problems with the fuel pump. However, you still need to pay attention to the other parts of the system. With that in mind….

Verdict: Do it Yourself!

The fuel and oil filters are a little trickier, simply because they tend to be harder to reach. In the case of the oil filter, just pop it off and replace (after draining the oil, as described here). If you have trouble unscrewing it, parts shops sell oil filter wrenches to make the job easier. When changing the fuel filter, just remember how many tubes are attached, and where. And be ready to clamp off these tubes, because when you remove the fuel filter, gas tends to leak, drain, and/or spray all over the place.

Oil Filter

Tip of the Week: Check the oil!

It is essential to check the oil regularly, to make sure your car has enough lubrication. If you drive without oil, your car will become an expensive paperweight. This is especially important on older cars, which tend to burn or leak oil.


When you’re at a gas station, open the hood and find the dipstick. This is usually near the front, and near the oil cap (used for adding oil). Pull the dipstick out, wipe it clean, put it all the way in, then pull it out again. The dipstick has two lines on it, one for full and one that indicates you need to add a quart. If it’s low, add some. If it’s dry, add a lot. Doing this regularly will save you a lot of bus money.