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No. 24 (October 1958)
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What can you do? What must you leave to the experts?

A New Article on Motoring specially written for Te Ao Hou

We left off at the point of minor maintenance jobs in the last of these motoring pages, and promised to say something about the slightly more complicated jobs the ordinary motorist can do at home. Well, here we go.

Rule Number One is to tackle only the jobs you have the tools to do—and of course the experience too. As a general rule the things you can do in your own garage are confined to keeping brakes, steering and general running gear in good order, cleaning and adjusting distributor points, minor carburettor servicing, cleaning out the cooling system, and finally the ‘top overhaul’, that is, decarbonising or valve-grinding.

A whole article could be written about almost any of these jobs, but I'll try to condense the main points into this one and leave you to fill out on the know-how of your friends and through that tough old teacher experience.

But before we start there are two things the home tinkerer should never do: attack any job for which he has neither the tools nor the experience, and at all costs avoid disturbing the pistons, rings, big-end and main bearings, camshaft or timing-chain. Repairs to these are mechanic's jobs, and the amateur can seldom do anything but damage. And before you start anything buy one of the cheap instruction books available for most makes of car nowadays.


Brakes nowadays are hydraulic, but most of the older cars we have had in mind in these articles have mechanical linkage of some sort or another. In the case of mechanical brakes, if the pedal goes too far down to the floor-boards, leaving little margin for emergency, first check the pedal adjustment. Where the pedal works the brake-rods or cables beneath the floor-board, there is always an adjustment point. In hydraulic systems all that is probably needed is more of the special fluid in the reservoir.

If these adjustments bring no improvement to your brakes, the next thing in either case is to jack up each wheel in turn (or preferably in pairs, front and then back). Behind the brake-drum there is always an inspection plate, and beneath it the adjusting nut or screw which the instruction book will explain to you. Tighten up each brake in turn until the brake shoe is just binding on the drum, then ease off one notch or turn to free the whee’.

Then by testing the car you will find whether one brake is binding more than the others, pulling the car out of line, in which case the remedy is obviously to slacken it off further.

Sometimes a leaking oil-seal has allowed oil to get around the wheel-bearing on to the drum and lining, causing the brake to lock suddenly, or work erratically.

From this stage on it is best to go to a garage or a brake specialist, for if the linings are so far worn as to need replacement it is cheaper and more satisfactory in the long run to have the job done by the expert. There are traps, especially with hydraulics, which are better left to the expert to avoid.


Much the same applies to the steering-gear, with which just about all the home mechanic can do is to check all the connections, like the ball-joints at the bottom of the steering arm and the ends of the tie-rod, take up slack in the steering-box if there happens to be an adjustment (this is not usual), and watch the tyres carefully for signs of undue wear.

Any indication that a front tyre is wearing rapidly on one side, or in irregular bumps and hollows, means that the front wheels are out of alignment, and a check should be made at a garage. It can be done at home, but it takes so much trouble to rig up the necessary gear that it is much faster (and safer) to take it to a garage.


Other suspension and transmission checks the home mechanic can make are on the universal joints on the propeller-shaft, running from the gearbox to the back axle, on the shock-absorber fluid level and on the u-bolts and shackles of leaf springs. It is surprising how much difference loose shackles or bolts can make to the handling of a car, and the bolts are usually easily tightened up. Worn shackles are a bit more difficult, but they can be replaced at home by either jacking or hauling the body up until there is no weight on

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the spring and the shackle can be removed.

It's useful to remember, however, that when putting in a new shackle it is usually necessary to wedge a piece of wood in between the eye of the spring and the chassis above it, to keep the eye the correct distance from the eye on the chassis when the old shackle is taken out. Otherwise the spring will snap up against the chassis and you'll have a long and painful job levering it down to the right spot to slip the new shackle in.

Any tightening-up that has to be done under the car is uncomfortable at the best, and often the nuts are rusted up hard. The best thing to do is to squirt them liberally with penetrating oil, giving it a few hours to soak in, applying the right-sized ring-spanner and having another go. A sharp tap with a hammer on the spanner near the nut will often jolt it free, but too hefty a blow may leave you one spanner short.

On the subject of tools, never start a job unless you are sure you have the right spanners and screwdrivers for the job, and enough of them. Some cars are standardised down to needing only four or five sizes of spanner for practically all the jobs on the car (Fords are the classic example) but others need a dozen or more. Find out first, for there's nothing more irritating or time-wasting than to get half-way through a job and find yourself lacking the proper tool.

A careful inspection of the nuts on your car will tell you how many spanners and what sizes you will need. A few shifting-spanners, a couple of pairs of pliers, three screwdrivers and a coldchisel and hammer for desperate emergencies will just about complete the outfit for the jobs mentioned in this article.

We'll have to leave work on the engine to the last article of this series, and will add a bit about care of the bodywork as well. Final advice on these jobs, as on any others I've mentioned, is: When in doubt, don't start it yourself. It's cheaper and better in the long run to take it to a good mechanic.

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The fourth annual conference of Maori students was held last July at Auckland University and was attended by members of the university and teacher's training college Maori clubs from throughout New Zealand.

Visiting students, including representatives from Christchurch, Wellington and Palmerston North, arrived early Saturday morning and were welcomed traditionally by the Auckland group.

A full article on the conference will appear in our next issue.