KEYWORDS: engine, oil, job, overhaul, car

What Every Driver Should Know--Chapter 5: The Overhaul

David Berg

DFO851_510 July 1979


  1. There's the daily check.
  2. There's the station check. where you get your gasoline, oil & air & whatnot.—Not water! Usually you should get your water at home when the radiator's cold.
  3. Then there's the two of three thousand mile or month check when you get lubrication & check the fluid of the various reservoirs & so on: differential‚ transmission, brake fluid, power steering, windshield washer & all that stuff.
  4. Then there's the tune-up, which if it's an old car it might need almost as often as the lubrication. If it's a fairly new car in good condition then it'll only need it every 5-10,000 miles. If it's misfiring, running roughly or missing or stalling, that sort of thing, then you need a tune-up now!
  5. Then at 10-20,000 miles wheel check: wheel bearings, & brake cylinder & linings.

2. THE HOME CHECK IS A 5-MINUTE CHECK. The station check is another 5-10 minute check. The lube job & checking all your fluids, that's about a one-hour job. The tune-up is about a two-hour job every 5 or 10 thousand miles. The wheel pulling & repacking the bearings is about a two or three hour job. If you need new brake linings, then count on another two or three hours or more, plus brake cylinder check. If you have to have the drums turned too, & new shoes, it could take all day, or a couple days!

3. FINALLY THERE IS NUMBER 6,THE EVIL 6, WHICH IS AN ENGINE OVERHAUL! You've got a choice of one or two or three things. You either have what they call the overhaul, which is sort of rebuilding the engine, or you can nowadays, at least in the States, buy what they call a rebuilt engine.

4. THEY SWAP YOU, YOUR WORN-OUT ENGINE FOR A SECOND-HAND ENGINE which has been completely rebuilt. It costs a little more than an overhaul, cause they have to pull your engine & put in the other engine, but it costs less than a new engine. It depends on the shape of your engine & how bad it is. In other words, if it's not too far gone‚ it can be overhauled.

5. THE MAIN THING IN AN OVERHAUL IS THAT THEY GO INSIDE THE ENGINE. The tune-up is all the stuff they can do on the outside of the engine. To do an overhaul they've got to open up the engine & go into the guts of it & repair all of the things that are wrong inside. (Maria: And how often?)

6. I'D SAY YOU USUALLY NEED AN OVERHAUL AT LEAST EVERY 100,000 MILES. You might even need a new engine at 100,000 miles. You might need an overhaul at 50,000 miles. Incidentally‚ a tune-up has to go along with the overhaul, because when they go to put it all back together again, they have to get it all tuned up. So an overhaul also includes a tune-up.

7. IN AN OVERHAUL THEY PULL OFF THE HEADS that means the top of the engine. If it's little four or six-cylinder engine, it's only got one head. They pull off the head & they clean it out thoroughly. Usually it's caked with oil & carbon & dirt & black as sin.

8. IF THE CARBON GETS TOO BAD IN THERE‚ IT WILL GLOW RED WHEN YOUR ENGINE IS OPERATING & HOT, & it will cause the engine cylinders to fire prematurely, working on the diesel principle, even though you haven't got a diesel engine. It'll cause your gasoline mixture to fire the minute it hits the cylinder. When it gets that bad, you're in pretty bad shape.

9. USUALLY YOU KNOW YOU NEED TO HAVE AN ENGINE OVERHAUL WHEN IT BEGINS TO USE OIL TOO RAPIDLY. If every time you stop at a filling station it needs another quart of oil, definitely when it gets to where it's using two quarts of oil for every tank of gas, you need an engine overhaul, unless you just happen to have a leaky pan.

10. ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO INSPECT WHEN THEY PUT IT UP ON THE RACK for a lube job is to look around underneath to see if anything's leaking: If the transmission is leaking‚ differential's leaking‚ engine pan's leaking. It just may need a couple of bolts tightened up, or you might need a new gasket to keep the oil from leaking out. But when your engine starts burning almost as much oil as gasoline‚ then you need an overhaul.

11. WHEN THE ENGINE BEARINGS ROTATE, THE OIL IS BLOWING RIGHT THROUGH THE CYLINDERS, past the pistons into the explosion chambers. It's burning right along with your gasoline. Usually this makes it very dirty & your spark plugs will get very dirty rapidly. You'll keep having to pull the spark plugs & clean them oftener.

12. IF YOU'RE BURNING OIL, YOUR EXHAUST WILL BE VERY BLACK & SMOKEY ALL OR MOST of the time, not just when you first start the engine. Most exhausts are a little black when you first start the engine when it's cold, but if after the engine is finally warmed up at driving speed it's still pouring black smoke out of your exhaust pipe, then you're burning oil & you need an overhaul. That's a big job.

13. THEY HAVE TO TAKE OFF THE PAN & DISCONNECT ALL THE ROD BEARINGS UNDERNEATH THE ENGINE. After disconnecting them they pull out the pistons with the rods. They usually push them out through the top or pull them out through the bottom, whichever way they get them out.

14. A PISTON IS A THING SHAPED LIKE A TIN CAN. A rod is a piece of metal that's attached to the bottom of the piston. It's a rod & it's hinged to the piston so it can wag back & forth like a tail on a tin can.

15. ON AN OVERHAUL JOB THEY TAKE OFF THE HEAD OR HEADS, depending on the number of cylinders you've got:4-6 cylinders you've only got one head. If you have 8 cylinders it's usually two heads of four cylinders each. They pull the head or heads & clean 'em.

16. IF A HEAD IS CRACKED OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT, THEY MAY EVEN SAY YOU'VE GOT TO HAVE A NEW HEAD. It's a great big piece of metal, about as long as a meat platter‚ about two inches thick & very heavy. It's about the size of your engine of course. That has to all be cleaned out.

17. THEN THEY RE-HONE THE CYLINDERS, WHICH ARE THE HOLES IN THE ENGINE ITSELF. They take a machine which goes up & down inside the cylinders & it makes the cylinder walls all nice & new & polished & shiny & all even, just like they do to the brake drums. It cleans & smoothes & resurfaces the inside of the cylinder.

18. THE CYLINDER IS THE BIG HOLE IN WHICH THIS TIN CAN‚ CALLED THE PISTON, PUSHES UP & DOWN, a little bit like fucking. The piston is the penis & the cylinder is the pussy. Then they have to replace the little steel rings on the pistons so that they will fit the new cylinders, the re-honed cylinders, so that they won't leak oil any more.

19. THEY HAVE TO HAVE REAL GOOD COMPRESSION, because the reason you're burning oil is either the rings are worn or dirty or stuck or the sidewalls of the cylinder are so worn that the oil is leaking by getting into the cylinder. Also when it explodes, part of the force of the explosion is blowing out past the piston into the chamber below, the oil chamber, causing a loss of compression & loss of power.

20. I HAVE HAD A CAR THAT HAD SUCH POOR COMPRESSION THAT PUFFS OF SMOKE WERE COMING OUT THE DIPSTICK HOLE because so much of the explosion pressure was getting by the pistons of the cylinders & into the oil pan. This makes the situation worse because this builds up pressure in the oil pan & blows the oil out through every leak you can think of. I've had it blow a gasket right out of the oil pan.

21. SO THEY RE-HONE THE CYLINDERS WHICH ARE THE HOLES. In other words, they resurface the cylinders. They put new rings on the pistons. If the pistons are badly worn, got a cracked' head or something, then they replace the piston. Inside the clamp at the bottom of the rod they put new bearings that fit onto the drive shaft. They also inspect, clean & readjust the valves & replace any badly burned valves. Sometimes they have to rehone the valve guides or replace springs & all kinds of things.

22. REBUILDING THE INSIDE OF THE ENGINE CAN TAKE 2 OR 3 DAYS TO A WEEK & can cost you a couple hundred dollars, at least it used to cost that in the States. I bet it costs four or five hundred now! In the States, for example, I bought a rebuilt Rambler engine, installed, for only $250 at a garage in Texas. But that was pretty cheap—usually they charged about $300.

23. THE ADVANTAGE OF BUYING A REBUILT ENGINE IS IT'S QUICKER & YOU KNOW THE OTHER ENGINE IS IN PERFECT CONDITION. They can tear out your old engine & put the rebuilt one in in about one day. The job's all done & it's almost like a new engine. It's cheaper than a new engine though, & only costs about half to two-thirds as much.

24. I THINK IT COST US $750 FOR A NEW ENGINE, installed, providing I did all the work of disconnecting the old engine & all they had to do was pull it out with a hoist. Then they pushed the other engine in & anchored it & I reconnected everything. If I bought a new engine & they did all the work it probably would have cost a thousand dollars! I wouldn't be a bit surprised considering inflation, if even a rebuilt engine probably costs you double what it did then. Of course, that's less than the price of the car. Normal ordinary cars cost about $5000 nowadays. It used to be only the luxury limousine that cost that much but now the average car costs about $5000 new!

25. SO IN AN OVERHAUL JOB THEY DO ALL THE WORK ON THE GUTS OF THE ENGINE, the inside of the engine. They resurface cylinders & put in new rings & new bearings & new valves & adjust everything & clean everything & get everything that's on the inside of your engine all fixed & renewed. They use the old engine block & they might keep some of the valves‚ but usually two or three valves are badly burned & you've got to replace them. Anyhow‚ when they sew it up, you've almost got a new engine again‚ & it should hardly use any oil or no oil at first really.

26. SOMETIMES WHEN YOU'VE JUST HAD AN ENGINE OVERHAUL OR YOU HAVE A NEW ENGINE IT WILL BE QUITE TIGHT & WILL RUN HOT‚ hotter than normal‚ until it gets worn enough to be broken in properly. That's why sometimes they won't let you drive a new car fast. I can remember when they recommended 35 mph for the first 50 miles, & then they'd step it up five more miles to 40 mph for maybe the next 50 miles. Then they let you go up to maybe 50 mph for the next 1000 miles‚ & from then you were off & away‚ you could drive as fast as you wanted with safety.

27. THE NEW OR OVERHAULED ENGINE HAS TO BE BROKEN IN OR GET WORN A LITTLE BIT. I've known engines where everything fit so tight because it wasn't worn enough yet, that it would not only run hot, but when you stopped the car it would overheat if you weren't careful. You couldn't restart the car until it had cooled off, because the starter couldn't even turn the engine over, it was so tight.

28. (MARIA: WHAT GUARANTEE DO YOU HAVE THAT THEY'RE GOING TO DO A GOOD JOB ON YOUR OVERHAUL?) Well now, on all overhaul jobs they usually give you something like a six-month guarantee. On a rebuilt engine you might even get a one-year guarantee & a new engine usually has a one or two-year guarantee. So if anything goes wrong, you can take it back & they fix it.

29. ON AN OVERHAUL, THE BEST YOU CAN DO IS WALK in & CHECK ON THEM any time of day‚ morning or afternoon, so they know you're apt to be dropping in any minute, & never know when you're going to walk in. You can't sit there or stand there all day & watch them.

30. WHEN YOU WALK IN, YOU CAN TELL IF THEY'RE WORKING ON IT OR JUST SITTING THERE. Of course they may be waiting for parts or something, & they may not be able to work on it every minute. So just because some guy isn't bending over your motor all the time doesn't necessarily mean that they're not working.

31. OF COURSE WHEN YOU DRIVE IN TO GET YOUR GAS, EVEN FOR A STATION CHECK, YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO BE WATCHING. For a lube job & oil change which usually only takes an hour, there shouldn't be any reason why you shouldn't stand there & watch them. For a tune-up which is about a two-three hour job, you ought to be able to knock off that long & stand around & watch them. But for a wheel job, which is a half-day to all-day job, especially with a brake job, you may not have a day off to watch them, but you can walk in & out every now & then to see what they're doing. That's one thing you can do.

32. YOU SHOULD ALWAYS EITHER STAND THERE & WATCH THEM FOR THE WHOLE JOB, OR WALK IN & OUT FREQUENTLY & see what they're doing. And that's a good idea, because they may want to consult with you. A mechanic frequently wants to ask you, "Well, what'll we do about this? Now you've got a burned plug. Do you want us to try to clean it up & adjust it, or do you want a new plug?"

33 THE MECHANIC FREQUENTLY NEEDS TO KNOWS WHAT YOU WANT TO DO ABOUT THINGS. They'll show you the points, "Look, they're all burned, you need new points." But if you're so dumb & stupid, "I can't afford new points. You'll just have to clean 'em up & adjust them & do the best we can." He'll shake his head & get disgusted & stick 'em back in.—And he won't guarantee that things are going to work if you don't take his recommendations.

34. WHEN YOU TAKE THE CAR IN FOR WORK, CHECK THE PRICES FIRST—just like you look at the price of gasoline. Maybe you don't look at it any more, I don't know. For example‚ if you're just going in for a lube job, "What do you charge for a grease & change of oil?"—& get a price. If you don't ask any prices they think you don't care how much it costs, & they'll sock it to you!

35. A GREASE JOB WHEN I WAS A KID WAS 50c. The last time I was in the States it was about $3 plus the cost of the oil change, they changed the oil for free. They weren't charging the dollar extra for the oil change even, plus the oil. So I would say a lube & grease & oil change in the States nowadays would probably cost you as much as $10 with the price of oil & everything. If you have to get a new oil filter—which they often check at this time—that may cost you another $5 or $10. (Maria: So you usually get an estimate on labour & parts.) You need to ask their costs before you take the car in or let them have it.

36. THEN WHEN YOU COME TO PAY, ASK FOR AN ITEMISED LIST OF WHAT THEY'VE DONE. Now they may not always give you a bill for a lube job or an oil change, although the bigger stations will. They'll give you a sheet of paper that itemises exactly how many quarts they put in, the price per quart, & the cost of lube job & how many extra pounds of grease they had to put in the wheels or differential or whatever, & transmission oil in the transmission. They'll have it all itemised, parts‚ oil‚ grease, labour & the total.

37. THE BILL SHOULD BE SOMEWHERE NEAR WHAT THEY ESTIMATED it was going to cost when you brought it in. They can't always tell you exactly what it's going to cost even for a lube job, because they don't know how much oil or grease you're going to use, but they give you an estimate. Sometimes they'll say, "Well‚ we charge so much for a lube, plus the cost of the oil & grease." Now some little dinky stations in some places may not itemise the whole thing, but good night, you could figure that little bit of work out in your head!

38. BUT I'D SAY A LUBE JOB WITH AN OIL CHANGE SHOULDN'T COST YOU MORE THAN 10 OR 15 DOLLARS, but that's got to be every two or three thousand miles or months. If you're going to keep your car in good condition, it's got to be done on time. Otherwise, you're going to have monumental repairs! You're being penny-wise & pound–foolish!

39. A STITCH IN TIME SAVES NINE, ESPECIALLY WITH THE MAINTENANCE OF A CAR. You've got to keep after it constantly. There's constantly things going wrong‚ constantly things wearing out, constantly things need readjusting, cleaning, oiling, lubrication, new parts. A car is a big expense, it's a constant expense. It requires constant care‚ constant maintenance.

40. YOUR TUNE-UP WILL PROBABLY COST FROM $25 TO $50 depending on how many parts they have to buy. If you have to get a new set of plugs, new points, new wires, something like that, it might cost you $50. If they just tune it up without any new parts it might only cost $20 to $25 or the equivalent. (Maria: What did it used to cost you?) The last tune-ups that I recall in the States were around $10 or $15, plus parts.

41. A WHEEL JOB, JUST TO REPACK THE BEARINGS, WOULD PROBABLY COST $20 TO $25. They'll pull the wheels, repack the bearings & put them back on again. If you find out you have to have a brake relining job too & wheels turned & new shoes & all that sort of thing, then instead of a $25 wheel bearing repacking job you may wind up with a $100 brake job! If you have to buy new brake linings, you should get them all relined, all four wheels, which means eight brake linings.

42. AN OVERHAUL USED TO COST ANYWHERE FROM $100 TO $200 in the States‚ but it's probably double that now. It's probably $300 or $400 something at least for just an overhaul job. If instead of an overhaul you have to yank your old engine & put in a rebuilt, it used to cost $250 to $300, probably costs $500 or $600 now. A new engine used to cost five, six or $700, but now a new engine installed probably costs at least $1000.

43. THE BETTER CARE YOU TAKE OF YOUR CAR, THE LESS IT'S GOING TO COST YOU. The quicker you catch these things, the less it's going to cost you. But a car is a luxury, an expensive thing to have & it costs money.

44. AMERICANS SPEND MORE ON TRANSPORTATION THAN THEY DO ON ANYTHING ELSE! They figured out that in an American's lifetime he spends more on his automobile & transportation then he does on his house! His housing is the next biggest expense, & food comes next, then clothing. The average car life in the United States is about five to ten years.

45. BUT IT COSTS LESS IF YOU TAKE GOOD CARE OF THE CAR, constantly, daily, weekly, monthly, than if you just let it go to pot & wrack & ruin until it's too late & you have to buy a new car or a new engine or new wheels or new bearings or whatever. Then of course, you may figure it's just not worth putting a new $500 to $1000 engine in a car that's too old & worn out.

46. YOU MAY DECIDE YOU JUST DON'T WANT TO PUT THAT MUCH MONEY IN YOUR OLD CLUNKER. The body's shot & rusting out. The upholstery's worn out & it's getting too bad to even recover the seats & everything else is getting too old & too junky & needs a new paint job & a few other things & you decide it's just wasting money on an old ship that's already too full of holes‚ & better off buying a new one. You can trade it in & you might get a few hundred dollars for it, or you might get 25 or 30 like I did on some of my old clunkers! By the time I got through with them they weren't usually worth more than $35 or $40, junk!

47. BUT IF YOU BUY A NEW CAR & TAKE GOOD CARE OF IT or even if you buy a used car that's in good shape & take good care of it, it will last you a long time. If you take real good care it will last you at least 10 years!—And by that time you may want a new one anyhow & can afford it, that is if there's still any oil & gasoline, which there may not be! (Maria: Or if you don't get too tired waiting in the gas lines!)

48. I'M GIVING THESE INSTRUCTIONS A LITTLE BIT LATE, CONSIDERING THAT CARS & GASOLINE ARE GOING TO GO OUT OF STYLE SOON, but it might save a few of you something. (Maria: A lot of them are pulling campers & trailers now with their cars.) Well that's another subject I'll get into some other time. I can't get into that right now. That's another whole subject and we'll try that some other day‚ OK? (Read "Have Trailer—Will Travel!" No.812.) Now will you let me off? Can I now eat breakfast? (Maria: Oh, it's wonderful!)