Edmunds Answers

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  • avatar zaken1 04/10/11 3:30 am PST

    I admire the attitude and goals you set out. It certainly is a practical idea to learn to work on and maintain your own vehicle. Don't be intimidated by the computerized controls on newer vehicles; because they have built in self diagnostic systems, which actually make it easier to identify problems; and also require much less maintenance and adjustment than older cars. I would recommend not getting a vehicle as old as 1971; as by this age they will be having problems much more often; and the engine controls and electrical system designs have become far more refined and more reliable since then. Many pre 1977 vehicles were very crudely designed, and could not be tuned to run properly; even by experts. The change to unleaded gasoline, in 1975; led to many older vehicles needing to be substantially recalibrated to get good economy and run efficiently on this differently burning fuel. On some models; this is a nearly impossible task.Those were the times when manufacturers were going through their own learning curve about how to build motors that met emission standards, while also getting good fuel economy and responding properly. It wasn't until the late 1980s that they largely solved those problems. For these reasons, I would strongly recommend not buying a vehicle with a carburetor; and instead staying with fuel injection. This typically means getting a 1990 or newer vehicle. Toyota had some major engine design problems during the early 1990s. It wasn't until 1995 that they finally achieved a high level of refinement and reliability. I would go with a 1995 or newer Toyota Tacoma or T100. If you get the V-6; I would avoid the 3.0 (3VZ-E) motor; which was used in the 4 Runner through 1996; and instead go with the 3.4 (5VZ-FE); which was first used in the 1995 Tacoma and T100, and was first offered as an optional motor in the 1996 4 Runner, and became the standard V-6 in the 1997 4 Runner. With your goals, on an older vehicle; I would NOT get an automatic transmssion.


    If you seek an easy learning curve; I would strongly recommend taking an auto maintenance class at a local junior college or night school. If these classes are now too hard to find; as an alternative, if you can afford the time and cost; I would recommend attending a course at one of the Universal Technical Institute campuses (http://www.uti.edu/). I previously taught at this school, and found it to be a highly educational and rewarding experience.

    But you can also learn as I originally did; by reading every textbook and service manual that you can get hold of. After you buy a vehicle, I would also strongly recommend getting the best quality service manual for it that is available (rather than the cheapie Chiltons or Haynes manuals that are sold at the parts stores). Mitchell manuals are one of the most respected. And of course; Toyota factory manuals are also a great choice. There are also online services. Here's the link to the Mitchell online service (http://www.eautorepair.net/Marketing/De
    f...
    ).

    As a career mechanic and teacher, I still do not fix everything on my car. Some types of work are just too specialized to do well, if you have not been thoroughly trained and experienced. And cars change too rapidly from year to year for anyone who does not work regularly in the field to keep up with the new developments. Specialized tools are also necessary to do certain types of work; which leads many mechanics to spend years paying off their account with the Snap On dealer. Unless you can afford this type of life; it is better to pay mechanics to fix those specialized things.

    Please feel free to post any further questions you may have in this thread; by clicking the "answer this question" button, typing your question in ths box that appears, and then clicking the "submit answer" button. This will notify me, and whoever else responded to your post, that a new response has been added.

Answers

  • connivingsumo 04/09/11 11:39 pm PST

    I guess I should also mention that I have a love/passion for vehicles that are stock - no cutting/chopping/conversion stuff - inside or outside the vehicle, definitely not under the hood either. For example, if I bought a 1970 Toyota FJ Landcruiser, I would hope for the original engine even though most pull it out and put in a more powerful American engine.

  • zaken1 04/10/11 3:30 am PST

    I admire the attitude and goals you set out. It certainly is a practical idea to learn to work on and maintain your own vehicle. Don't be intimidated by the computerized controls on newer vehicles; because they have built in self diagnostic systems, which actually make it easier to identify problems; and also require much less maintenance and adjustment than older cars. I would recommend not getting a vehicle as old as 1971; as by this age they will be having problems much more often; and the engine controls and electrical system designs have become far more refined and more reliable since then. Many pre 1977 vehicles were very crudely designed, and could not be tuned to run properly; even by experts. The change to unleaded gasoline, in 1975; led to many older vehicles needing to be substantially recalibrated to get good economy and run efficiently on this differently burning fuel. On some models; this is a nearly impossible task.Those were the times when manufacturers were going through their own learning curve about how to build motors that met emission standards, while also getting good fuel economy and responding properly. It wasn't until the late 1980s that they largely solved those problems. For these reasons, I would strongly recommend not buying a vehicle with a carburetor; and instead staying with fuel injection. This typically means getting a 1990 or newer vehicle. Toyota had some major engine design problems during the early 1990s. It wasn't until 1995 that they finally achieved a high level of refinement and reliability. I would go with a 1995 or newer Toyota Tacoma or T100. If you get the V-6; I would avoid the 3.0 (3VZ-E) motor; which was used in the 4 Runner through 1996; and instead go with the 3.4 (5VZ-FE); which was first used in the 1995 Tacoma and T100, and was first offered as an optional motor in the 1996 4 Runner, and became the standard V-6 in the 1997 4 Runner. With your goals, on an older vehicle; I would NOT get an automatic transmssion.


    If you seek an easy learning curve; I would strongly recommend taking an auto maintenance class at a local junior college or night school. If these classes are now too hard to find; as an alternative, if you can afford the time and cost; I would recommend attending a course at one of the Universal Technical Institute campuses (http://www.uti.edu/). I previously taught at this school, and found it to be a highly educational and rewarding experience.

    But you can also learn as I originally did; by reading every textbook and service manual that you can get hold of. After you buy a vehicle, I would also strongly recommend getting the best quality service manual for it that is available (rather than the cheapie Chiltons or Haynes manuals that are sold at the parts stores). Mitchell manuals are one of the most respected. And of course; Toyota factory manuals are also a great choice. There are also online services. Here's the link to the Mitchell online service (http://www.eautorepair.net/Marketing/De
    f...
    ).

    As a career mechanic and teacher, I still do not fix everything on my car. Some types of work are just too specialized to do well, if you have not been thoroughly trained and experienced. And cars change too rapidly from year to year for anyone who does not work regularly in the field to keep up with the new developments. Specialized tools are also necessary to do certain types of work; which leads many mechanics to spend years paying off their account with the Snap On dealer. Unless you can afford this type of life; it is better to pay mechanics to fix those specialized things.

    Please feel free to post any further questions you may have in this thread; by clicking the "answer this question" button, typing your question in ths box that appears, and then clicking the "submit answer" button. This will notify me, and whoever else responded to your post, that a new response has been added.

  • connivingsumo 04/10/11 3:10 pm PST

    @zaken1:

    Wow! I am really thankful at the amount of time and thought you put into this response! THANK YOU!! I looked up the school you taught at, but I live in Northern Colorado - so no campus up here. I will check around at the local community colleges. I also checked out that online manual site you linked - is that $11.99 per car PER month, or is it a one time fee? I looked around on their site and couldn't tell (not even in the FAQs). I prefer book manuals anyway - I can take those out to the garage (or anywhere). Factory manuals only then?

    So the whole "It's almost impossible to work on newer vehicles because of their computer chips" is a myth? I've heard so many Ford/Mopar/VW guys (they work on pre 1980 vehicles) say that - I just took it as gospel. Our car (that I hate, 2007 Saturn Vue Greenline) requires you to reset the chip everytime you change the oil, or the 'change oil' light stays on! >:(

    So (for Tacoma/T100) 1995 and newer, how new can I go? 1999, 2003, 2011?

    I understand (I think) why you would say to avoid the auto transmission for a novice "DIY'er." Do you have the same opinion of 4 wheel drive?

    I've owned several Toyotas (but only changed the oil & air filters) and have loved them. Unfortunately, my only knowledge about vehicle reliability is rumor and Consumer Reports. Do you have any other vehicles you would suggest?

    I might consider something like a Jeep or a Toyota FJ, but would need to get a trailer (added expense).

    It seems like the newer Diesel Fuels have potential - since I'm ignorant about engines outside of the 'fuel-oxygen-ignition' basics, would it be any more difficult to learn Diesel engines?

    Thanks, again, for all of your help and advice - impressive.

    -Rik

  • connivingsumo 04/10/11 8:27 pm PST

    When looking at an older Toyota truck, how many miles are too many miles? I realize this has a lot to do with how the vehicle was treated/driven, and routine maintenance; any tricks or signs to look for?

  • Stever@Edmunds 04/12/11 6:43 pm PST

    Even though the site may say "answer closed" you can still respond with more questions (and thanks) in here. If you have having trouble signing on through Facebook, please use the Contact Us link at the bottom of most pages.

  • zaken1 04/13/11 4:46 am PST

    Rik;

    I never received a notice that you had responded to my answer. This system sometimes has bugs in it. It now looks like they have programmed it to stop sending notices of responses after a question has been closed. That defeats the purpose of allowing people to post responses to closed questions. But some of this site's policies are not consistent with its claimed purpose. I'll try to request that this be reconsidered; but as a volunteer; I only have limited ability to affect site policy.

    Speaking of inconsistent policy issues; I was unable to read your latest question which was specifically addressed to me; because according to the rules; it should have only been posted in the original thread. Since it is necessary for me to receive notices of new responses in order to be able to answer them; when the site stops notifying people of responses after a question has been closed; this defeats the purpose of allowing responses to a closed question.

    I'll answer the points you mentioned in the responses I had missed. If there are more unanswered questions; please post them here; and I'll check this thread every so often to see if anything new has been added. Just be patient!

    The Snap On/Mitchell Manuals $12 deal is for a one time subscription to unlimited data about one vehicle; I believe it is good for one week. This is a cost effective option for most people when they are trying to solve a specific problem. But you would probably do better by buying either a Mitchell paper manual (which I believe costs over $100 each) or a factory service manual.

    Much of the negative opinion about the difficulty of "working on" computer controlled vehicles comes from the fact that it is far more difficult to modify them than it is to modify older vehicles. Many people who work on cars take it as a given that they have the right to modify their engines to fit their own personal tastes; regardless of whether the changes increase the pollution the motor creates, or whether the gas mileage drops like a rock as a result. But when you try to modify late model vehicles (particularly the 1996 and later models, which have the second generation OBD II computer diagnostic system) it all too often throws the air/fuel mixture out of range; which then lights the "check engine" light, and also causes the engine to go into an arbitrary, fail safe "limp home" state of tune; which makes the engine run much less responsively and less economically than the normal closed loop system. This effect can even come from seemingly minor modifications; like installing a cold air intake or a low restriction exhaust system, or a higher performance computer chip.

    Modifying older engines frequently increases their pollution even more than it does when newer engines are modified; but there is no built in running quality feedback mechanism on older engines; so the owners often never know how much damage they are doing to the motor or to the environment. One way to get firsthand experience of how severe this problem is, is to attend a classic car meet, and take part in a tour or a drive to a nearby location along with the participating vehicles. The best position to be in is behind a restored 1950's or 1960's muscle car. You'll be treated to the full roar of the high performance exhaust; as well as finding yourself choking on the outrageous levels of carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons which non-emission controlled (and often excessively rich running) motors produce.

    We have come to take the clean exhaust gases from the stock vehicles which surround us on today's roads for granted; but driving in a muscle car classic meet can be a major wake-up call. The sad thing is that modified motors can be retuned and recalibrated to run very cleanly; and will be even more responsive and use far less fuel as a result. But few people have the skill or the motivation, or the time and money it takes to properly tune a modified engine. To experience the difference; attend a NASCAR race and listen to the sound of highly modified engines that are well tuned. Their exhaust smells much better; too.

    One of the cleanest and strongest running modified engines I have ever worked on was a 1956 Chevy with a 350 small block; that had a sensible cam (Crower street/strip) and a Holley Commander 950 aftermarket fuel injection system. After it was properly adjusted; I could stand right behind it and the exhaust smelled VERY PLEASANT. And that was the fastest Chevy small block I have ever experienced.

    Many late model cars have oil change reminder lights which must be reset after they are activated; but this does not require resetting the entire computer. The light on Saturns can typically be reset by turning the key on (but not starting the motor) removing the cover of the underhood fuse block, and pressing the red "oil reset" button for 5 to 10 seconds. This will reset the oil change light without affecting the other computer functions. This information is in the Saturn Owner's manual. Reading owner's manuals can sometimes provide valuable information; which cannot be found in more technical publications. Using Internet search engines can often uncover solutions which our friends and associates don't know about. I found the instructions about resetting the oil change light at (http://www.saturnfans.com/forums/showth
    r...
    ).

    Sometimes we come to hate things because we don't understand their true nature. Recognizing this pattern can either lead to personal growth, or resisting that knowledge can lead to bigotry. We live in an increasingly complex world. Relying on simplistic answers and jumping to poorly considered conclusions will not serve us well; if we desire to succeed at worthwhile goals. But this means that living well will require more self discipline, along with more challenging and analyzing of commonly accepted beliefs, than most people would like to do.

    Toyota's legendary quality seems to have dropped off significantly in 2006 and 2007. I would avoid vehicles built in and after that time. The 1995 models would be the least demanding about maintenance; but the newer ones would be more refined and possibly longer lived (assuming you didn't try to redesign them).

    4 wheel drive is more reliable and longer lasting than an automatic transmission; but it is still far more complex than 2 wheel drive. The vehicle would be simpler and less expensive to maintain if it had 2 wheel drive; but 4 wheel drive is considered a necessity in some snowy regions...

    In my opinion, I would avoid Jeeps like the plague; far too many electrical and driveline problems, along with poor quality control. Toyota FJ cruisers tend to appeal to me; but they have relatively poor fuel economy, compared to the pickups. Some other Toyota models I like; which may or may not match your tastes, are the new Tundras, RAV4s, Matrix, Highlander, Corolla, Celica, MR2, MR Spyder, the new Venzas, and all the Scion models (xA, xB, tC, and xD).

    I also am a great fan of Suzukis; though this must be qualified by explaining that Suzuki also sold some cars which they did not design (notably the Verona, Forenza, and Reno) which I would avoid. I very much like the Suzuki built Swift, Vitara, Grand Vitara, and XL7. The recent SX4 and Kizashi are also great vehicles.

    It would not be difficult to learn about diesels; which in many ways are simpler and more reliable than gasoline motors; but only the most recent models are reasonably clean burning; and many brands of diesel cars and trucks are not as reliable as they ought to be. So it would be very important to be selective about brands.

    On used vehicles, I usually prefer to buy one with less than 100,000 miles on it; though I would go up to 125-150,000 if it was mainly freeway miles (which are the easiest kind of miles on a vehicle) and the other systems are in unusually good condition. I would NEVER buy a used vehicle without running a compression test on ALL the cylinders (after first finding the factory new and minimum allowable compression figures) and making sure that all cylinder pressures are within at least 15% of each other (and preferably within 5%). I would not buy a vehicle which has had the transmission or driveline replaced; as this is not a good sign (though many people would think it is) but instead indicates that the vehicle has been abused or driven hard. I also won't buy a vehicle which has rust in the radiator or coolant reservoir (as rust will only be there in a vehicle which has not been properly maintained). The vehicles in the best condition consistently are the ones which have always had only one brand of oil used in them. This is usually only found in one owner vehicles. It often happens by default; when the owner just happens to always get their oil changed at the same place; because it is conveniently located. But it makes a big difference in engine life expectancy. I personally will not buy a car unless I know what brand and weight of oil has been used in it for most of its lifetime (partly so I can continue using the same oil; and also because some oil brands are ones I would not want in my motor).

    I also would pay a qualified mechanic to first evaluate any car that you seriously consider buying. It will be the most valuable investment you can make in a used car. Many cars are reconstructed from wrecks, and painted with shiny new paint. It can be an art to see through the cosmetics to discover what is underneath. Dealers often steam clean the engine compartment. This may conceal oil leaks or other signs of wear. A good mechanic can spot signs that a car has been in a wreck, or that things are not as good as they look or sound.

  • zaken1 04/13/11 3:27 pm PST

    In view of your stated preferences, I wanted to add another vehicle to the list; one which is usually not included in my recommendations. But in this case, I feel that it is unique and practical enough that the advantages override the weak points. This vehicle is the Honda Ridgeline. It combines the features of a 4 door sedan with those of a pickup truck.

    I usually don't recommend Hondas because they cut too many quality corners in their otherwise brilliant designs. But the Ridgeline and the Civic sedans are so good despite these concerns that I make exceptions for them in particular.

  • ford91 04/15/11 5:36 pm PST

    Books and websites are a great learning rsource. Idiots guides and dummies guides are also great.

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