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Quiz: Do I need a mechanic?
by Staff
No matter how much you might believe in the DIY ethic, the hands-on approach doesn't make sense for all car repairs. This quiz might help you decide when it's time to call a pro.

If you're reading about DIY maintenance on the Internet, chances are, it's an older vehicle that's giving you problems. But before we get started, we really have to ask: Is the car still under warranty?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Hmmm … not sure.

What's the worst-case scenario if your first repair attempt is unsuccessful?

  • No big deal. Take it back apart, clean it up and try again.
  • It'll take another trip to the auto parts store for some relatively inexpensive replacement parts … but hey, it's part of the learning experience, right?
  • The test drive might be kind of dangerous, and another round of parts might be really expensive. Fingers crossed!

There are a few more things to consider before you start getting dirty. If it comes down to it, do you have any skilled friends or neighbors to help you out with your repair project?

  • Yup! And I’ve got beer and pizza at the ready!
  • What my crew lacks in talent, they make up with enthusiasm.
  • Nope. The garage becomes too crowded, too quickly.

How well stocked is your garage?

  • There are some screwdrivers, a wash bucket, a bottle of soap and a mitt.
  • The fully loaded tool chest is the showpiece of the garage. Well, after the car, of course.
  • What garage? I work in my apartment building’s parking lot, "borrow" tools from my neighbors and hope no one calls the building manager or the police before I finish.

Think about what you’re about to do, and try to remember if you’ve ever successfully completed similar repairs before. If you’ve never tackled this specific repair before, what’s your plan of attack?

  • Wing it
  • Follow the owner’s manual
  • Research it online or follow the car’s repair manual

Let’s look at more specific types of repairs. Brakes are a common repair or replacement project, since brake parts wear out regularly. What do you know about brake repairs?

  • Brake repairs are a fast, easy, risk-free project
  • Doing brake repairs at home is a great way to save money, since it doesn’t require any special tools
  • A lot of brake jobs may seem simple, and often are, but it’s also fairly easy to get taken by surprise when you need a special tool, a specific type of fluid or a second set of hands to finish the task.

Your car’s been running a little sloppy for a day or two -- hesitating, misfiring and making weird noises. So far, you've been able to ignore it -- until your engine started giving you error codes. Do you have any idea how to figure out what might be wrong?

  • Nope
  • Sure, it takes just a few minutes to hook up the OBDII scan tool and figure out what the code means.
  • I think there’s an app for that.

The car seems to be running fine, but the "Check Engine" light is on. What now?

  • Yank the fuse for the instrument cluster so the light doesn’t distract you.
  • Turn up the radio and wait until the car starts acting funny.
  • Pay attention for trouble symptoms while you’re driving. When you get home, pop the hood, let the engine bay cool off and then poke around to make sure there’s nothing leaking, loose or broken. Then it’s time to make the call.

You just noticed your car might be leaking some sort of fluid. What do you do next?

  • Check all the spots that are most likely to leak -- underneath the engine, near the gas tank, around brake line connections and at the radiator.
  • Dip your finger in the puddle and taste it to see if you can figure out what it is. If it’s sweet, it’s poisonous. If it’s not … well, it’s probably still poisonous. Whoops!
  • Ignore it. If something is really wrong, it'll be obvious once the car is moving.

What does it mean if you have a sudden decrease in your average gas mileage?

  • Someone probably siphoned the gas from your tank last night.
  • Something’s probably wrong -- a gas leak or a problem with the engine’s overall operating efficiency are likely culprits.
  • I’m supposed to be paying attention to that kind of thing?

Do you know what to do if your car starts shaking?

  • Drive faster. Happens all the time.
  • Drive slower. Happens all the time.
  • There’s probably something wrong with the wheel alignment, or maybe another part of your car's suspension. Carefully drive somewhere safe and have a look.

So, you safely made it home with your shaking car, and you figured out that all the wheels are still on securely. That means your alignment is probably off. Can you fix that yourself?

  • No. An alignment job requires specialized tools.
  • No. An alignment isn’t fixable, you'll need to replace your car.
  • Sure. Why not?

If you notice an odd odor when you’re driving, it’s often a sign that something is wrong. Do you know what it means if your car smells like it’s spewing sulfur, or the exhaust reeks like eggs?

  • There’s probably something wrong somewhere in the exhaust system.
  • That pesky neighbor kid stuffed his lunch bag in the tailpipe.
  • No, but it’ll probably be expensive.

The exhaust system can reveal a lot about how your car is running. Do you know what it means when blue smoke is coming from the tailpipe?

  • It means there’s something wrong with the O2 sensor.
  • It means the car is burning oil.
  • It means the exhaust bearings need to be replaced.

Now that we know what blue exhaust smoke means, what about black exhaust clouds?

  • It doesn’t mean anything -- that’s the normal color.
  • It means the car is burning oil.
  • It means there’s something wrong with the O2 sensor.

What should you do if you hear a loud grinding noise when you step on the brakes?

  • Reach down and take the kids’ toys out from under the brake pedal.
  • Turn up the radio and forget about it.
  • Take the car to the mechanic and have him (or her) check the brake pads for wear.

Have you noticed a lag when you step on the throttle? If the engine revs really high, and it feels like the rest of the car is struggling to catch up, it could be a problem with:

  • The transmission
  • The wheel bearings
  • The supercharger

If trying to steer your car in a crowded parking lot is like going to the gym for an upper-body workout, what's wrong? And does a mechanic need to get involved?

  • The steering wheel probably needs to be replaced.
  • The power steering fluid is probably low.
  • The alignment probably needs to be loosened.

Often, an auto mechanic can help out when you might think you know the source of the problem, but you’re still not positive. In the previous question, you learned that a lack of power steering fluid can make it difficult to steer your car at slow speeds. But similar symptoms can mean different things. What might be wrong if your car is dragging to one side?

  • The brakes are sticking on one side.
  • The car needs a new equilibrium.
  • It’s fine -- it’s just how the road is sloped.

There’s something wrong somewhere in your car's electrical system -- the battery drains rapidly, the alternator whines or maybe the lights flicker randomly. Do you have a test light and a voltmeter in your toolbox? And do you know how to use them?

  • Of course
  • Nope
  • Those aren’t real tools -- this is a trick question.