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Unread 04-15-2012, 01:46 PM   #1
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Default Buying a car to learn about engines. What to get?

I want to do some hands on learning and not just theory so I was wondering if anyone had recommendations?

I want to:

take it apart slowly, learn how things work, replace some small things, put it back together.. see if it still works.


I should probably get an old car with lots of available parts.


Someone suggested a geo metro. What do you guys suggest?
Automatic or Manual?
Year range? 60's, 70's
Make?



What tools will I need and is it realistic to do this or do I need to pay a mechanic to let me use his shop?

(In california you usually need to get a car smogged before you sell it or register it.. should I just get the car as nonop? Is that pretty standard or will I get into all kinds of issues with that?)


Would going for a truck be better ? I assume I need something with a simple engine and no fancy electrical systems.


Thanks

I plan to take classes but work makes it hard to do the hands on classes. Plus there is something beautiful about doing work on something you own. Also I don't plan to be a mechanic, just know enough to restore an old classic car one day.

Last edited by nobodycar; 04-15-2012 at 01:53 PM.

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Unread 04-15-2012, 02:25 PM   #2
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If you want simple, get a 70's chevy truck.

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Unread 04-15-2012, 06:57 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nobodycar View Post
I want to do some hands on learning and not just theory so I was wondering if anyone had recommendations?
I think it's a great idea that will save you an absolute fortune on labor costs. Many repairs, even on modern, computerized cars, can be done in your driveway for the cost of parts and a weekend's sweat equity. Vast majority of us are big DIY guys as well, so you've got a decent gaggle of minds to bounce ideas off and perhaps help with an elusive problem.



Quote:
Someone suggested a geo metro. What do you guys suggest?
Metros are good if you need 45MPG to go with your learning. They're not really good for much else. They're also front wheel drive so good luck doing transmission work.

Quote:
Automatic or Manual?
Manual. You should be buying these regardless as they get better city mileage, are more reliable, more fun to drive, and tend to live longer even when maintenance is done. If you're going to be buying a semi-clunker you DEFINITELY want the manual, as automatics tend to get neglected and this is about the time they start going out.

Quote:
Year range? 60's, 70's
1967-1985 or so. Depending on your laws you may even be able to evade smog. I know that, in the state of Tennessee, any car 1972 and older can be tagged and licensed just as you would a new car, but is 100% exempt from smog testing. You don't even have to drive down to the testing center to get a voucher. Anything 73 and newer has to be smogged if you want normal tags, they will apply regulations that were in effect during the model year reported by VIN when testing. My '85 only has to meet 1985 standards, for example. Antique tags apply to anything >25 years old, but they limit you to weekends and driving to/from car shows so they're not exactly feasible on a DD.

Your state may differ, contact your DMV.
Quote:
Make?
Domestic. If you buy a car, imports are gonna cost an arm and a leg every step of the way, and you'll most likely end up rescuing one from a ricer. Import trucks tend to avoid the ricers more often, but since Japan builds their trucks very thinly, as in they put only as much metal as is required, they will be quite sensitive to rust.


On the topic of rust, domestic stuff tends to be overbuilt by a factor of 25 or so, so a bit of rust here and there isn't an issue. That being said if the frame is under heavy attack, or if you can see the ground while sitting in the seat, you may not want to buy it. Not yet. Repairing severe rust takes quite a bit of time and effort to do.


Your post eludes to you living in Cali, so rust shouldn't be an issue. It will be only if you A: buy a truck that frequently hauled boats, especially to salt water, or B: you buy something from up in the mountains where road salt is used in the winter. Given that most of Cali is desert there isn't much of a chance for serious rot to form on most cars.

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What tools will I need
Most important tool: A Hayne's manual for every vehicle you intend to work on. These are an absolute godsend, as they list specifications and show illustrated procedures for any repair you will ever tackle given the goals you set forth. They will even cover overhauling an engine, though I suggest going a different route on that as detailed below.

Hammer
2.5 ton floor jack
2.5 ton jack stands(If you're underneath it, and it isn't supported by it's tires, it had better be supported by these. Buy four.)
SAE and Metric combo wrench set
SAE and Metric ratchet set, 1/4" and 3/8" drive.
Torque wrench, 3/8" drive in FT Lbs
screwdriver set
A three foot long prybar/cheater bar
Outdoor broom and some 10-quart catch pans(Keeping the work area clean is as important as anything else)


Get these tools and you'll have a decent setup for not much. I suggest Craftsman tools, Snap-On and Matco are also good. If you can afford it I highly suggest a 40-90 gallon air compressor, 1/2" drive impact gun, matching SAE and Metric impact sockets as an impact gun will quite literally shatter non-impact sockets, a 3/8" air ratchet(You can use your normal socket set with this, it's designed to quickly remove an already loosened fastener and thus isn't high torque), a die grinder, and a tire airing up attachment that I can't remember the name of. You can do without the air tools, but trust me on this, they make the job WAY easier. ESPECIALLY suspension work.


Oh, and getting an engine crane with at least a 2,000 pound capacity is a pretty good idea. You won't need this right away, but don't even think about pulling an engine without one of these. They also come in handy for shifting heavy objects around so long as you take care not to flip it over.

Quote:
and is it realistic to do this
I've replaced head gaskets, clutches and ball joints using the tools listed above. It's perfectly realistic as long as you don't get your vehicle of choice home and go "Right. Time to pull the motor and overhaul it!". You do need a good location though. A nice, level, flat concrete pad with at least a roof and some chest-high walls around it is acceptable, ideally a fully enclosed garage just to keep the elements out of your tools and projects.

Start by doing ALL the routine maintenance yourself. Swear off jiffy lube, swear off the TLE at walmart, dealer maintenance plan, all of it. Gone. Do it all yourself. You pay half the price, get better parts(Most of them use FRAM oil filters, which is bad. Don't use FRAM. They also like using conventional oil, synthetic is better), and you don't have to worry about some stoner forgetting to put oil in your engine before sending you on your way.

Do brake services too, disc brakes are stupidly easy to service. The rear drums? They're simple enough too, even if you'll go "This is simple? What the..." when you look at one for the first time. Take both wheels and both drums off. Leave one side alone, take the other apart. When reassembling, refer to the side you left alone to tell you what springs go where and all that. Then repeat on the other side, using your freshly assembled one as a guide. Voila, both drums done and assembled properly!


Before you consider opening the engine up for major stuff, get some old, junky Briggs engine off a push mower or tiller. Doesn't matter if it runs when you get it as long as there's no holes in the side of the engine. These things haven't changed since the 1920s and parts are dime-a-dozen. Dive into that first. It will teach you the basic method by which engines function, and it lets you make dumb rookie mistakes that ruin the engine without ruining an engine that's worth anything. You can most likely get old flathead push mowers for free from people that are literally just throwing them away, then turn around and craigslist them when you've got them running again.

Quote:
or do I need to pay a mechanic to let me use his shop?
I go to a shop to have machinework done, since I can't afford $5,000 for a head lathe. This stuff is pretty cheap though, I take my parts to carquest to have machinework done and it always comes back brand new for a good price. I also have shops do alignment work, you can eyeball it close enough to drive it down there but the sort of equipment and expertise to get the alignment perfect isn't something the average shadetree mechanic has.


Quote:
(In california you usually need to get a car smogged before you sell it or register it.. should I just get the car as nonop? Is that pretty standard or will I get into all kinds of issues with that?)
Get a runner. You do NOT want to buy one that needs restoration work just to be driveable at all. I made that mistake on a $500 '72 Chevy C10 that was an absolute basketcase....and then my parents bought me a $500 '85 F150 that I still have six years and 100K later. Go figure.

Quote:
Would going for a truck be better ? I assume I need something with a simple engine and no fancy electrical systems.
Damn straight it is. Get a truck with an I6 and you will NEVER ask yourself "How the balls am I going to get to that?!". Everything's hanging out in the open, everything's simple, nothing's hidden. The only problem you may encounter is physically reaching it, but you can quite nicely climb up into the engine bay. I put my free hand on my valve cover and my knees on the core support when I have to climb up into mine.

The V8s aren't much more complex but they can have a bit of a "Now how am I gonna get to that" situation going on if you get one new enough to have aircon. Sometimes they'll route hoses in strange places that interferes with plug changes. It's not that bad though, if you find a truck that's perfect aside from the V8 buy it anyway.

As far as working underneath, with a truck, you probably won't need those jackstands unless the job requires a wheel coming off. I'm a pretty big guy, 6' 275 pounds, and I don't need to jack mine up to get underneath it and work. Changing my clutch was also piss easy, the trans tunnel is absolutely enormous and there is NOTHING in the way of getting the gearbox in and out. SOO much room to work. I didn't even need to jack anything up, although I did have to support the engine while the trans was out.


Do keep in mind that truck parts will weigh more. I needed a buddy to help get my trans out and back in when I changed my clutch, and I had to use an engine hoist to heave my head in and out without damaging it.



Quote:
I plan to take classes but work makes it hard to do the hands on classes. Plus there is something beautiful about doing work on something you own.
My suggestion to you is to browse your local ads looking for these four vehicles in these year ranges. Specify inline engine, manual transmission, 2WD. They will be quite durable as long as they haven't been completely thrashed, should be fairly reliable, fairly cheap(I paid $500 for my F150, a decent one goes for $750-$1500 in the year ranges listed in my area. Cali may charge more, idunno)

1967-1985 Ford F100-F250
1967-1985 Chevy C10/1500
1967-1985 Dodge D100
1981-1985 Toyota pickup(Fuel economy choice, has a carburetted 2.2L I4 in it that will give you 30MPG highway without issue)


When buying it make sure you would still trust it as your ONLY vehicle. It's best to learn on a car that's reliable and just needing little things here and there to keep it running rather than buying one that needs major work to run at all. That being said, if you're buying one of the vehicles I listed, changing a clutch isn't that big a deal if you have something else to drive. Can be done in one weekend by two guys, allowing time for the flywheel to get machined.


Quote:
Also I don't plan to be a mechanic, just know enough to restore an old classic car one day.
That's fine. You'd be a typical gearhead at that skill level. That's about where most of us are, although we do have a couple that make a living in shops here. Those skills you gain will save you a fortune on maintenance costs too, even on modern cars, so don't be afraid to buy a Hayne's for 'em and do the maintenance yourself.
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1984 Ford F150 | 4x2 | 300ci six | granny four | 3.55 rear end | 210K | Brakes shot. Rear drums are doing most of the work. Not fit to drive due to that.
1997 Ford Explorer XLT | 4.0L Vulcan V6 | 5-speed automatic | shift-on-the-fly 4WD | 210,000 miles | Running 95% - Needs brakes on all four corners + bald tires
1989 Ford F150 | 300cid six...again | 5-speed | 4x4 | 160K | Needs brakes done as well. Oi!

Last edited by Kenny McCormick; 04-15-2012 at 07:10 PM.

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Unread 04-15-2012, 10:41 PM   #4
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I'll wait for Raptor or BULLATTACK to fill us in on the Republik of California's smog requirements.


Honestly might not be a bad idea to just buy an old tired 350 and rebuild it and see if it works. No car to work around.
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Unread 04-15-2012, 11:26 PM   #5
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Thank you so much guys. That really helps. Now to Criagslist!

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Unread 04-15-2012, 11:53 PM   #6
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I found a 1968 Ford F100 but with a Ford Mustang 302 Engine and Transmission with Floor Shifter... should I get it?

It will cost about $1,500 bucks but the guy said it was automatic and that's why I'm holding off on it... also the engine is different, not sure what that means.

Also doesn't have CA plates, it has Oregon plates.. that might be a nightmare, not sure yet.

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Unread 04-16-2012, 07:57 AM   #7
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It will cost about $1,500 bucks but the guy said it was automatic and that's why I'm holding off on it...
Swapping a manual into this thing is piss easy. If the automatic is still good go for it, when your skills are up to scratch convert it. If the automatic is currently no good you may want to hold back on it and try to find something else.

Quote:
also the engine is different, not sure what that means.
The differences between the 302 that likely was originally in that truck and the 302 that came in mustangs:

Cams
Intake
Heads have better porting
.....that's about it.


Internally they're identical, and parts 100% transfer between a Mustang 302 and a pickup 302. Ford standardized things quite heavily.

The Mustang engine will make more power than the engine that originally came in that truck so there's no reason to get rid of it as long as it's healthy.

Quote:
Also doesn't have CA plates, it has Oregon plates.. that might be a nightmare, not sure yet.
I don't see why it would. Check it very thoroughly for rust though, Oregon gets a fair bit of rain so there may be some underneath it.
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My rigs:

1985 Ford F150 | 4x2 | 300ci OHV inline six | 4-speed OD manual | 310K | No power brakes | Running 100% - It hasn't driven this good in 15 years!

1984 Ford F150 | 4x2 | 300ci six | granny four | 3.55 rear end | 210K | Brakes shot. Rear drums are doing most of the work. Not fit to drive due to that.
1997 Ford Explorer XLT | 4.0L Vulcan V6 | 5-speed automatic | shift-on-the-fly 4WD | 210,000 miles | Running 95% - Needs brakes on all four corners + bald tires
1989 Ford F150 | 300cid six...again | 5-speed | 4x4 | 160K | Needs brakes done as well. Oi!

Last edited by Kenny McCormick; 04-16-2012 at 08:04 AM.

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Unread 04-16-2012, 03:14 PM   #8
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I had a thought. I always wanted a 1967-69 ford mustang. Those run for a bit more but is the engine super complex?

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Unread 04-16-2012, 03:19 PM   #9
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Same exact engine you'd find in a '67-'69 F100 as far as smallblocks go. Big blocks were no more complex, although you found far more FEs in the cars than the trucks by that point.


You will find the engine bay is a bit smaller, but if you wanna go for it a well kept 60s Mustang will do what you need as well.
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Tired Iron ain't got no time to wear out...

My rigs:

1985 Ford F150 | 4x2 | 300ci OHV inline six | 4-speed OD manual | 310K | No power brakes | Running 100% - It hasn't driven this good in 15 years!

1984 Ford F150 | 4x2 | 300ci six | granny four | 3.55 rear end | 210K | Brakes shot. Rear drums are doing most of the work. Not fit to drive due to that.
1997 Ford Explorer XLT | 4.0L Vulcan V6 | 5-speed automatic | shift-on-the-fly 4WD | 210,000 miles | Running 95% - Needs brakes on all four corners + bald tires
1989 Ford F150 | 300cid six...again | 5-speed | 4x4 | 160K | Needs brakes done as well. Oi!

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Unread 04-17-2012, 03:41 PM   #10
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Thanks again. Okay for the lawn mower would something liket his do:

Craftsman Lawnmower

?

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