On The Road

Beware of those do-it-yourself jobs

Customers often ask me if there are jobs they can do relatively easily by themselves. I then ask them how much experience they have doing automotive work. If they tell me they have already been performing basic jobs, I can then advise them if it is possible for them to perform certain procedures.

Some of the simplest jobs, however, can get you in trouble and cost you a lot more money than if you had left it to a professional.

Installing wiper blades

One of the most common mistakes do-it-yourselfers make is replacing wiper blades. These days, most wiper blades are specialized for each car. One of the most common things I see is customers who have purchased wiper blades but could not put them on. When they ask us to install them, we discover they bought the wrong set.

Before buying wiper blades, find out what type you need. The two primary types: the metal frame insert style and the new flat blade style. After finding out what type you have, it’s time to figure out the connection. Each manufacturer doesn’t have a uniform connection; each has several ways it connects a wiper to the wiper arm. This is why people get into trouble. When they buy an aftermarket set, there can be four or five types of connection fittings in the box, and most of the time none of them works. If you are going to buy them on your own, just get them from the dealer. That way you will always get the right set.

The main mistake people make when they install their own wiper blades is that they let go of the wiper arm and break their front window. Whenever you replace a wiper blade, make sure to bring a rolled-up towel. Place it on the front window, directly under the end of the wiper arm and blade. During or after you have removed the old wiper blade, don’t let go of the wiper arm – set the arm (not the old blade) on the towel gently. That way you will never break the window. Then get the new wiper blade, lift the arm and install it.

Changing lights

Another job people often take on is changing headlights, turn signals, side markers, daytime driving lights and brake lights.

Ten to 20 years ago, changing a light bulb was not a big deal on most cars. However, with the introduction of high-intensity (xenon) headlights, headlight assemblies have become more elaborate and expensive. Also, most of the more complex headlight assemblies have ballast and control modules built in. Sometimes the problem is in the electronics and not the bulb itself. Because of aerodynamics, most headlight assemblies are buried in the front bumper. On most new cars, the bumper must be removed to replace a headlight bulb.

The main mistake people make is not following the proper procedure to replace the bulbs. If the bulb is installed incorrectly, it touches the assembly. Once you turn the lights on, the light bulb can start to melt the light assembly. By doing it on their own, customers might save $45-$180 in labor, but if done incorrectly, customers have just purchased a new $800-$1,500 headlight assembly.

With my towel tip, you should be able to replace wipers by yourself safely. If you have changed a light bulb on your car without a problem, that is great, but if you run into one that is not familiar, let an expert do it.


Pataky owns Sunnyvale Foreign Car Service, 15 Pioneer Way, Mountain View. For more information, call 960-6988, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit sunnyvaleforeigncar.com.

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