So you say you weren’t born with a socket wrench in your hand? That’s OK. Here at Complex Rides, we’re all about helping -- especially if it’s helping you to further your obsession with cars. Right now is an especially great time to start learning about cars, because you have so much reliable information at your disposal. Before the Internet, you could hit up your gearhead family members or friends for info, or you could go to a library, or you could take some classes. Thanks to internet enthusiast forums, YouTube, and online databases, there’s so much more good information now that you can access without even putting on pants. Check out our detailed list of 10 Great Ways to Learn About Cars.
Disclaimer: We’d highly advise putting on pants before you start actually doing work on your car. Seriously. Pain in new places, dude. No.
Start out easy. Watch Top Gear (UK).
It's a certified gearhead show, made by and for certified gearheads -- but it's also incredibly entertaining, even if you couldn't possibly care less about cars. There's a reason why it's the most watched television program in the entire world. The great thing about it is, you can learn something about a lot of cars -- some of which we even get in the U.S. -- while you're laughing hysterically. Think of it like a much more fun set of training wheels before you try pedaling off on your own into the sunset. You can marathon unhealthy amounts of the world's greatest car show on Netflix.
Dig a little deeper and watch TV programs where people actually fix and/or modify cars, such as Wheeler Dealers.
If you haven't seen Wheeler Dealers before, it's a show where these two British guys named Mike Brewer and Edd China attempt to flip both vintage and modern classic cars that have seen better days by fixing them up in their garage so they can turn a profit. While it's a TV show, and we're sure Edd doesn't do all the garage stuff himself, where this show excels is in showing and explaining to you exactly what's going on with each of the repairs Edd (and possibly his production team) tackles. He's confident that you can DIY most things, but will not hesitate to tell you if he thinks that it's something best handled by a professional shop. He'll also walk you through special equipment you might need to get a job done. If you're a very visual learner, programs like this are an excellent way to get over any fear you might have of learning how to get your hands dirty under your hood.Wheeler Dealers currently airs on Velocity in the U.S.
Check out enthusiast forums for any particular make and model you love.
Any great car has at least one forum on the Internet devoted to talking about nothing but that car. What's great about these forums is that frequent visitors build up a great and helpful community, and are usually more than happy to share information -- including detailed photos of maintenance or modifications they've undertaken with their cars. Usually, everything from quirks regarding regular maintenance issues like oil and sparkplug changes to fine-tuning suspension setups is covered on one of these forums. You can learn about what ECU chips owners like for a particular model, as well as why they like them. You can spend days learning about tire choices for various conditions, depending on what you want to do with your car. You can also ask questions and get helpful answers, as long as you make sure that question hasn't already been answered before. A quick forum search for variations on your question will save you from the path of potential facepalms, public shaming, and rage-quitting.
Your local public library. Use it.
Many local public libraries have automotive sections filled with books that can help you. Some are pretty dry and straightforward, like Haynes and Chilton manuals for specific makes and models. Those will come in handy once you have a better grasp on what you're doing and are actually working on cars. Others are aimed at helping you understand general automotive principles a bit better. If you have an active library card, check out your library's online resources for database access to ChiltonLibrary. This online database has the most recent, accurate information available on every car it covers. If your library only has older car books in its collection, hit up this database for the latest and greatest.
Make YouTube your new best friend.
Want good visual step-by-step instructions on how to do a specific task, like replacing brake rotors? Just ask YouTube. If you click this link, you'll see a ton of different videos to help you, ranging from walkthroughs on replacing the rotors on specific models, to removing tough brake rotor screws that are fighting you. It's kind of like a one-on-one tutor that you can make repeat itself without running the risk of making it angry. Only downside is, if you have questions, you'll either have to ask a car guy you know or start making friends on an enthusiast forum. Still, by combining these approaches, you'll definitely find the information you need.
Start showing up at local car meetups and get social.
While there's no substitute for getting hands-on with cars, looking at and talking about cars with fellow enthusiasts is the next best thing. If you feel like you don't know a lot, just stay quiet until you feel comfortable. Most enthusiasts love to show off their depth of knowledge, so you have the opportunity to learn a lot. This is especially helpful if you want to learn more about modifying and customizing your car, rather than simply maintaining it.
Take a class or two at your local community college.
It's the dream of every hardcore DIYer to learn how to weld, right? Right. You aren't going for a degree here; you're going for hands-on knowledge and an opportunity to use tools you'd normally not have access to unless you spent a whole lot of money to put them in your garage (assuming you have a garage). Community colleges offer a wide variety of automotive maintenance classes, as well as things that may help if you want to learn to customize -- like welding.
If possible, buy a cheap beater car with a known and reasonably fixable engine problem. Grab the manual and go to work.
Don't get a total basket-case with a seized engine; something like that will come cheap, but will also make you swear off ever learning to do anything other than look up where your nearest repair shop is. If you have cash and space, get a cheap beater with a known engine problem that you can fix up in your spare time.
You don't want to take apart your daily driver unless you have to, for obvious reasons. Besides that, unless you're doing performance modification, most people don't completely take apart their cars unless there's something wrong with them. Having a specifically diagnosed problem to address will keep you focused. Borrow or buy some tools, make sure you have latex or nitrile gloves (nitrile are great for working on cars because they're pretty chemical-resistant) and plenty of shop rags handy, and go to town.
Be prepared to get bloody. Be prepared to swear more creatively than you've ever sworn in your life -- yes, even while playing video games. If possible, rope a reliable friend into helping you -- whether they know what they're doing or not. Some jobs need two sets of hands, and two brains usually make things easier, too.
One last note: don't get anti-seize compound, oil, or any other mechanical byproducts on library books unless you want a stern librarian to whip you senseless with a barcode scanner gun when you return it. Or do, since you're obviously masochist enough to want to learn to work on cars.
Fall in love with a car. Any car will do.
You know what happens when you fall in love, right? Suddenly you're eating, sleeping, breathing, and dreaming the new object of your obsession. The quickest way to learn all there is to know about any specific car is to love it beyond reason. If you really love it, it won't even feel like effort when you do far too much research on that car for your own good. It's like sports stats that way. Pretty soon, it just becomes a part of your daily life.
Get the shop manual for your car.
We're talking about the service manual that licensed repair shops use as a reference for your car, not the tiny owner's manual that's sitting in a small binder in your glove box, that you probably haven't looked at since you bought the car. You can get this from your local dealer, or online. Sometimes you can find a good deal on a used copy on eBay and save yourself a few bucks. Then, next time your car is due for some routine maintenance like an oil change, look up the procedure in the service manual, gather the necessary tools and supplies, and try to do it yourself. Give yourself time to screw up, because you probably won't get everything absolutely perfect the first time you do it. That's OK. You aren't the first guy to have to bleed your brake lines twice. The absolute best way to learn is by getting down and dirty and hands-on with your car.