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How'd you learn what you know?


CFrance729
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Just curious to see where most of you guys learned what you have about working on cars. Whether it be all-self taught, maybe you had an apprenticeship somewhere, or went somewhere like UTI? I'm learning what I know by working on my 85 Riv, but I would like to further my knowledge by doing something in addition to that, like working under someone or taking a course somewhere. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of opportunities around me, so I'm just curious to know how you guys learned.

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              My Dad taught me how to work on cars when I was a kid . Growing up, my Dad always did his own car repair, house repair,

plumbing, electrical work , carpentry, etc. I was rebuilding engines when I was 14. I never went to any school for auto repair, although

I have a business degree from the University of Texas, and opened up a car repair business when I graduated because that's what I enjoyed doing the most. I used to work as a mechanic at car dealerships and at body shops during my summer break from college.

One thing I've learned is that some people have mechanical aptitude and most people do not. I've hired mechanics that went to

automotive trade schools for several years and couldn't fix anything without a disaster of some sort. Luckily, I inherited my Dad's mechanical  aptitude.  Growing up  on a farm, he used to rebuild tractors when he was 14 years old.

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I grew up always wanting to know how things worked.  If you have that mind set it goes a long way.  My dad had zero interest in cars or anything mechanical so I had to repair my bikes and fix things myself.

 

Mechanical aptitude also helps a lot.  I worked at a Golf Course for 30 years as a Supt. that did everything.  So turning wrenches and working with your hands a lot helps because you develop a good feel for how things should be handled.  Hard to explain.

 

I also had a few good mentors which go a long way speed up the process of learning things.  

 

I read a lot of hot rod, mechanical science, and other mags when I was young and still do.

 

Now Youtube has so many do it yourself videos that if you know how to work and think well with your hands you can tackle most any project.

 

As much as I know how to do things I'm not the best at most things either.  I can restore, weld , and put together a car but I take a lot longer at doing it than others.  (Ex.  Bodywork.  I can do it but it would take me a week to smooth a panel that someone else could do in a few hours)

 

But when it comes to adjusting, cut, height, and bearings on reels and bedknifes that cut grass on greens.  I'm sure I'm better than most people.  We cut greens at 118 to 130 thousandth's of an inch.  And there are 3 reels on one mower so thay have to match perfectly. 

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Since I was a little kid, I was a modeler, tinkerer and a maker. I've always wondered what made things work. As I grew up, that interest naturally evolved into bikes, motorcycles, boats, cars etc. My Dad was handy and a do it yourself guy but not really into it. Sort of a reluctant fixer. I was primarily inspired by my grandfather Rene who was an engineer and an epic character. He was never afraid to tear into anything and confidently felt he probably could fix most things. That confidence was a major component of his overall character. He was known as a guy who could fix stuff and that was very appealing to me and most people who knew him. He always contended that machines are built by men who probably weren't that much smarter than him so why couldn't he dive in and try to work on it?  It didn't matter if it was a speedboat, a car or a blender, he was up for the challenge. He also taught me the high you get when you fix or restore something. Talk bit a confident guy! I think most people who really embrace working on cars as a hobby were probably inspired by somebody who brought that same confidence. I am not a professional mechanic and I know it. Sometimes, things go wrong and I really know I am not a pro. That said, I think of myself as a guy who can fix things. Whenever I am vexed by something I'm working on, I stop and wonder what Rene would do in this situation. He's been dead for 15 years, but he still lives large in my head. PRL

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My dad was a Buick mechanic up until I went to high school. During that time he'd do something and I'd be right by his side. I built model cars, soap box racers, rebuilt old bicycles, and had an Erector Set that I played with.  I guess the things I learned from him were patience, take time to analyze the problem, always use the correct tools,  and  know what your choices are. I think that the last one is the most important. As an amateur, many times the best choice is to take your project to a professional.  The other things that I remember most are take pride in what you do, and the one I pass along to the kids that I teach is "If you can't find time to do it right, when are you going to find the time to do it over."

 

I'm 69 years old now and my dad died when I was 33. There's not a day goes by that I don't feel that he's still guiding me in some of the stuff I do.  One thing he wouldn't like though is that I have a tendency to tackle more than one project at time and it seems that the more projects I have, the less I get done on any of them.

 

Most projects take the three T's - time, talent, and treasure.  I seemed to be blessed with only two of the three at any given time.

 

Ed

Edited by RivNut (see edit history)
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Just curious to see where most of you guys learned what you have about working on cars. Whether it be all-self taught, maybe you had an apprenticeship somewhere, or went somewhere like UTI? I'm learning what I know by working on my 85 Riv, but I would like to further my knowledge by doing something in addition to that, like working under someone or taking a course somewhere. Unfortunately there isn't a lot of opportunities around me, so I'm just curious to know how you guys learned.

Not sure about the question you asked, but one of my biggest problems is taking shortcuts where they shouldn't be taken. Also doing things on a "for now" basis. as if I might somehow get away with not doing them by putting them off to get by "for now". Edited by prs519 (see edit history)
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My father did his own maintenance on cars, so I learned to do spark plugs, set the dwell, gap the points, brakes, etc. from him.  

 

My brother was a self-taught gear head who pushed the envelope into rebuilding engines, transmissions, carburetors, etc.  I learned a lot from him.  He had a Hollander junk-yard interchange manual, which was a wonderful reference back then.

 

Hot Rod magazines, talking to other people, reading books, internet forums - all of those helped, but at a certain point I just had to jump in to some projects with the thought that I'd be able to figure the way out, or find enough help from others to finish the job.  So far, so good.

 

Engineering school helped some too...

 

For you, I'd suggest getting manuals, reading forums, and watching youtube videos.  There's nothing like step-by-step instructions and pictures to help.  Follow the cookbook...

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OK Buick People: For mechanical work I had no mentor. I ground out everything, made mistakes you wouldn't believe and at 64 I'm just starting to correct many of my bad habits.  Body work? For some reason I couldn't get my head wrapped around that trade although I've done my share of it.

 

My trade? Finish Auto detailer. I started a car wash route in the neighborhood when I was 11 and it was take no prisoners when it came to finding out the best and quickest methods using the very best equipment and supplies. Doing a fantastic job? I was my own harshest critic. Wholesale to the trade/retail to the public, I seemed to have a knack for it.

 

 

The most important thing?  Ya gotta like that kind of work!!!!!    Mitch

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Thanks for all the replies guys, I liked reading them and seeing how everybody learned the trade. I haven't really had anyone to teach me any of this stuff so one of the reasons I got my 85 was so I would have a good car to work on, and so far I have rebuilt that carb, changed the fuel filter, spark plugs, and rear shocks, and I'm replacing the lock cylinder right now (which is proving to be a hassle, but I think I will have it worked out tomorrow)

I really like working on this kinda stuff in general, even after all the frustration is over and done with, it's always rewarding.

One of these days, maybe after I get my Army bonus, I would like to find an old 67 Eldorado that I can work on while I use my Riv as my daily. It would be nice to have a car where I can tear apart the engine and all that without having to worry about getting everything back together so I can get to work the next day.

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We didn't have the internet and forums back when I was first learning. And a lot of the old timers were full of crap..... actually, most of them. It didn't take me long to buy the 1959 edition of William H. Crouse's mechanic's books. They are on the shelf above me now.

 

Develop your own logical steps of diagnosis and NEVER deviate from using them.

 

MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: We all have at least three reversible ratchets. Always be conscious of the clicker position when you pick one up. It should be in the tighten position every time. If it is not that means whatever you worked on last time was not put back together. If you find that most of the time you take stuff apart and don't put things back together you probably won't be much of a mechanic. And that unfinished business probably spills over into the rest of your life, as well.

 

When I pick up a ratchet I am conscious to the position I find it in and quite satisfied to find it in the tighten position. If it is not I immediately question what I did last time I used it. That's very rare.

 

Do you know how your ratchets are set?

Bernie

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)
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Bernie, your post really made me think. I think I agree and interpret as follows:

 

First, old timers can be false gods. Just because you are from back in the day and can talk the language of the car hobby, doesn't mean you are an expert and worth mentor status. I bet there are a lot of old guys out there who were hack mechanics when young and still are today. I was lucky with my grandfather because he inspired me to get into the hobby, regardless of his true aptitude. In fact, he probably wasn't the most disciplined mechanic ever but I was inspired by his confidence and attitude. The rest is up to me.  

 

Second, your point about ratchet position made me question the situation in my own tool box. Honestly, I have a lot of ratchets and I'm not completely sure all are in the tighten position right now. I'll check tonight. Regardless, I am huge believer in logic, organization and finishing  projects. Its sort of a mechanics ethos. A messy, disorganized garage or workbench with unfinished projects all over the place can be the sign of a disorganized mind and a questionable mechanic. Not always, but fairly often. As I've gotten older, I've even gotten organized about projects in progress. Never turn the lights off at night without straightening things up etc. Yep, I've become a "Knoller". Look up "Knolling" and you'll see what I mean. Meanwhile, I'll let you know how I did on the ratchet position thing. PRL

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We didn't have the internet and forums back when I was first learning. And a lot of the old timers were full of crap..... actually, most of them. It didn't take me long to buy the 1959 edition of William H. Crouse's mechanic's books. They are on the shelf above me now.

 

Develop your own logical steps of diagnosis and NEVER deviate from using them.

 

MOST IMPORTANT OF ALL: We all have at least three reversible ratchets. Always be conscious of the clicker position when you pick one up. It should be in the tighten position every time. If it is not that means whatever you worked on last time was not put back together. If you find that most of the time you take stuff apart and don't put things back together you probably won't be much of a mechanic. And that unfinished business probably spills over into the rest of your life, as well.

 

When I pick up a ratchet I am conscious to the position I find it in and quite satisfied to find it in the tighten position. If it is not I immediately question what I did last time I used it. That's very rare.

 

Do you know how your ratchets are set?

Bernie

Bernie,

 

I'm in the midst of a tear down; shelving and cataloging parts.  I would imagine that all of my ratchets are in the lefty loosey configuration.   What's a body to do?  If my ratchets are in the righty tighty configuration, I'll be wondering what I put back on that I should have taken off.  :unsure:

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Over time I realized that I learned the most by actually 'doing'=getting some dirty and greasy=much to be avoided by many it seems! It turns out that my health world educator wife saw similar as many of her best students as measured by 'test taking' were not particularly good clinicians and the reverse of that. Probably a good measure of both makes for the most success 

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Well, here's the observation that I should have kept secret.

 

Until the years 1000 to 1200 the occupational propensity for a person was based on family ties, tradition, and genetics. It was probably based on the inherent skills of these key people: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Seven_Daughters_of_Eve.

 

At the beginning of the second millennium that tradition was broken by the rise of universities in Europe and the fitting of "square pegs into round holes". Anyone can be anything, just take the study. With a millennium of that mixing tossed into the human experience we end up with a lot of dissatisfied people doing jobs they passed the test for but are not suited for. Frustrated doctors who should have been mechanics and bumbling mechanics who may have been better doctors.

 

When you question your work satisfaction or venture into a new field it may be advisable to follow your family tree back to 400 to 800 CE and get an idea of what you are supposed to be doing.

 

I bet you get a response from the health world educator with that. :) And that's just the concept, not the details.

Bernie

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)
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Bernie,  I've become a "Knoller". Look up "Knolling" and you'll see what I mean. Meanwhile, I'll let you know how I did on the ratchet position thing. PRL

I used to lay down spoons by the coffee pot in disarray if I knew Bill O'Brien was coming in for the next shift just to watch him straighten them out.

 

I'm a pragmatist. Everything is organized according to its sequence of usage and designated location. Even the task bar; Outlook is always first, then browsers, etc. However! a couple of years ago I had to ride about 100 miles in a 1941 Cadillac and all the Philips head screws that held the windshield molding in place were in total disarray; drove me nuts! I was close to an anxiety attack from wanting to correct the axis.

Bernie

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Ha. That is very funny. My wife comes out to my garage sometimes and re-aaranges stuff I have laid out just to mess with me. Also, I had the same experience with hex head screws about a year ago. Was working on a boat which was upon a trailer. As I walked around the boat I noticed that every stainless hexhead screw on the rub rail was off kilter. It is a 26 foot boat. One hour later, I'd "corrected" them all. I didn't used to be this way. How did this happen? PRL
 

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 With a millennium of that mixing tossed into the human experience we end up with a lot of dissatisfied people doing jobs they passed the test for but are not suited for. Frustrated doctors who should have been mechanics and bumbling mechanics who may have been better doctors.

 

 

Bernie

Reminds me of the time I spent in personnel in the military.  A soldier would have time and grade in a certain rank then get promoted to the next rank.  At his new rank, he was not qualified but the system would never demote him.  You wound up with a bunch of unqualified leaders trying to accomplish a misson.  A perfect example of the peter principle.  You'll rise to the height of your incompetency and stay there.  And in the military that means that you retire and the taxpayers support you until you're buried (and even that's paid for.) 

Edited by RivNut (see edit history)
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A certain amount of OCD is a good thing when restoring cars but it can go overboard as well. I had to get rid of an employee who was severely OCD to the point where the other guys would mess with him. He would sneak around and organize other guys' tool boxes when they were at lunch. Felt sorry for the fellow but had to let him go when I found him 20 feet from the building picking up rocks in the yard.

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i did an apprenticeship just short of 30 years ago when automotive technology in australia was making the blind, misguided leap from carb to efi and all of sudden it mattered how much fuel we used and what came out the tailpipe. there was a lot going on at the time and car makers had lots of temporary technology to get your head around. alot of that knowledge, whilst important at the time is now mostly irrelevant. for several years i've run my own business and there still isnt a day where i dont learn anything new.  i've built several trophy winning show cars and successfully raced in 2 different motorsports. even now, i recently bought this buick, beautiful car and you would think by its age that its all simple technology. i couldnt be more wrong, its nothing like anything i'm familiar with. i'm like an apprentice again at the base of a massive learning curve.  i'm loving it.  i love what i do and for that reason like to think that im good at it. i reckon my body will fail me long before my passion.  not sure i agree with the statement about having a plan and strictly sticking to it. i prefer to think there is always an easier, better and more efficient way of doing things.  i love Ed's three T's line and can relate to it 110%.

 

the best thing i can suggest that hasn't been mentioned already is dont be afraid. the fact that you're interested and keen to learn already puts you a millions miles in front of a lot of highly-trained people. no such thing as a stupid question and there are plenty of people around who will always answer anything you've got. cars are just a bunch of nuts and bolts and there is nothing to be afraid of. nothing is complicated if you break it down into several smaller jobs. lastly, cars like any machine were designed, built and assembled by a another person. they pull their pants on one leg at a time just like you do.  they're not super-human, nor do you need to be to repair their stuff.

 

good luck!!

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My Dad was a car guy in the sense that he loved cars. He did not, however, work on cars. He always took them to a mechanic. I grew up surrounded by different cars all the time, my Dad would always be bringing something different home. He bought and sold many many cars and I was always right there with him. When I was in 7th grade I met another 7th grader who was also into cars. His dad had a machine shop/ car hobby shop on 4 acres just outside of town. I spent my summers there learning anything I could about cars, and working on them, from my friend and his Dad. We built and worked on many cars together. When I learned to drive my Dad helped me find and get cars and my friends helped me keep them going and looking good. I attended a local community college for auto mechanics. I changed my major to engineering and design when I discovered what a hard working life that was.

 

Ed, I know what you mean I am 50, my Dad has only been gone for 7 years. I miss him every time I see or buy a new car, or an old car for that matter. My friend's dad is still around and I see him alot I am greatful for that, but its not quite the same as having my own Dad around. As you guys know my Riviera Project actually belongs to my son. I sold a Corvette I inherited from my Dad to buy it for him. We have been taking on projects as they come up and are having a blast. He has been going to shows with me since he was in a stroller and is becoming a well rounded person and very much a car guy! I think my Dad would approve of our purchase, even though it meant letting go of the Vette! It helps that my Chevelle was owned by my parents as well.

 

I owe my love of cars to my Dad, My Hot Rodding side to my Friend's Dad and the most fun I have had with cars to my Son. I'm just here enjoying the ride!

 

T

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When I pick up a ratchet I am conscious to the position I find it in and quite satisfied to find it in the tighten position. If it is not I immediately question what I did last time I used it. That's very rare.

 

Do you know how your ratchets are set?

Bernie

 

I know what I'm doing and I certainly have done it long enough that my hands know what they need to do. If I have to question what I did last, I probably should not be doing what I'm doing. All my ratchets are set for "stun" unless I'm really mad, then I can re-set for "kill". I automatically set it for the job at hand not what I did 30 mins ago.

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When I was 12 Dad bought the Overland and we joined a local car club. He backyard wrenched and I was around with him. Then I took four years of Auto Mechanics in High School. During that time when I was to get my drivers license Dad gives me his 1958 Buick Limited which had a broken Universal joint saying, I'll give you the car if you help with fixing it.

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Never became a licensed mechanic but sure have saved some money keeping things going.

Of course, those were cars long before all of today's technology but the basic principles are the same. :)

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My dad worked with Buick for nearly 60 years. Started out as grease monkey, worked his way up to dealership. I was one of 4 boys, but only one really interested in cars. I went back with him to the garage often after supper, I watched him work in cars, can't say he ever really explained what he was doing, but watching I learned a ton. I also went on wrecker runs, and learned a lot from that experience too.

I always enjoyed working on a car, and never steered away from a project, no matter how large. I took a lot of cars totally apart, body off, and rebuilt to make it a driver. Only one car never was finished, and that was when I was 14. Still involved, can't say YouTube ever was used, hehe. I winged a ton of projects, I enjoy doing those things I don't know how to do.

Dale in Indy

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I started out with my grandfather helping me replace a timing chain on a 78 camaro. The do-it-yourself bug skipped my father for the most part. My grandfather could fix or tinker with anything. IT wasn't always conventional. His way of checking fire was to stick his finger in a plug boot. I did not put that in my bag of tricks. After leaving the military i went to automotive school and was lucky enough to have a 1 of the 4 instructors be a mechanical genius who was actually a great teacher. From there it was dabbling with rebuilding transmissions and home hobby jobs for a while as side work while i worked as an electronics technician. Now i work out of a shop and have a network of knowledgeable guys to bounce things off of. The internet has also been a huge help. Alldata doesn't have all the information you need no matter what they say. The internet usually has the rest even though you may have to slog through a bit of crap to get to what you need. Car club sites such as this help immensely on older cars, and there are sites that pertain to most of the newer ones. Youtube covers the rest usually but you have to get around some of the nitwits at times.

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I have always been interested in cars and how they worked.  As a young man in the 7th grade I wrote a descriptive essay about the joy of making/fixing something with your hands.  I thought I nailed the assignment but I got a C+. My teacher felt I should aim higher.  As I grew my passion grew too.  At 15 I was repairing my brother's '58 TR3 on an almost weekly basis.  I got lots of encouragement from my next door neighbor who also happened to be my girlfriend's Dad.  He helped me when I blew the engine in my '65 Skylark convertible.  He also told me how to find and fix the damage when I wrecked the front end.  My Dad was a Lawyer and while he enjoyed the fruits of my labors with his cars he didn't encourage me much to develop my talents.  When I would work on his car he generally would come out at some point and begin questioning me like a known perjurer about what I was doing.  I think he just liked to argue.

 

Family concerns, wife, kids, etc. took over and while I always did my own work and I rebuilt several cars and trucks into running reliable vehicles, I never had the opportunity to restore a car which I always desired to do.

 

When I hit my  40's I finally had enough money and tools to attempt a restoration.  I found a rusty '64 Skylark convertible that needed everything.  I managed a frame off restoration of the engine, drivetrain, suspension, and chassis.  The bodywork wasn't panning out the way I had hoped so once the body was back on the frame, all the sheet metal repaired, I sold it as a rolling project for a lot less than I had into it. I don't know what ever happened to that car.  It wound up in Yakima, WA.

 

Fast forward 10 years and I began again, this time with a '65 Skylark 2 door hardtop.  I was determined to complete this project.  I was finally at that point in my life where I had the time, the money and the place to do it properly.  The car was OK to begin with but I did an every nut and bolt restoration that took me 6 months.  My painter allowed me to reassemble the car at his shop if I helped him around his shop.  I learned a great deal from him. The first year I had Ol' Yeller, I took it to a local Buick car show and won Most Ambitious Project.  The next year when I came back to the same show it won Best in Class and Most Improved. After I finished the Skylark I did a frame off restoration of a '69 Riviera also at his shop.  I transformed an ugly $300 green car into a stunning midnight blue with a white interior.  It took 2 parts cars and a huge amount of money as no one made any aftermarket parts for this car back then.  I laughingly refer to this car as the most expensive $300 Riviera in the world.  I have since helped a buddy and replaced a frame on a '65 Skylark 4 door project of mine that he now owns.  I also restored a '71 Beetle for my daughter and '71 Karmann Ghia for me.    

 

My point is that you have to love doing your own work and a good set of tools is a great investment.  The rest comes from learning from your mistakes and diagnosing things properly.  When I was young I had to learn to repair my cars because I couldn't afford to take them to a mechanic.  Need a head gasket?  Go look it up in the Chilton's and get busy is how I learned.  Now I am in my 60's and I still do a lot of my own work but now it is because I don't trust others to do the work correctly.

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