I am one of those guys who does not feel comfortable driving a vehicle who’s operation I do not at least vaguely understand. I am no mechanic, but I like to do as much maintenance and repair work as I can to save money, as well as to earn man points (I like to recount my repair projects, but usually leave out the time spent studying the manual and searching Google). I know several guys who’s understanding of their vehicle is limited to “I turn the key and it goes.” These guys are at the mercy of mechanics who charge up to $120 an hour for labor and admittedly mark up parts by at least 10%.

I am not suggesting you must do all of your own work and maintenance, but I do believe that a failure to understand the basic operation and maintenance of your vehicle will cost you. The operation manual for the 1922 Ford Model-T has this in the forward:

But while it is not imperative, it is, however, altogether desirable that every Ford owner should thoroughly understand his car. With such knowledge at his command he is always master of the situation—he will maintain his car more economically—prolong its usefulness and he will also derive more pleasure from it, for it is a truism that the more one knows about a thing the more one enjoys it.

The entire operation manual is written under the expectation that the driver will know the ins and outs of the vehicle and maintain it himself. What may not be readily apparent is how much more complex this was in the 1920′s.

Operation of the Model-T

While little has changed mechanically over the last 90 years, the actual operation is much less complex today. Here are the basic steps the regular Joe followed to get from A to B in his shiny new Model-T:

· Check oil, fuel, and water levels (every time it is driven)
· Open the throttle control knob about three quarters.
· Advance the spark control knob one notch from max.
· Pull the hand lever all the way back.
· Put the key in the ignition.
· Turn the hand crank towards the car until you hear it engage (don’t do this too fast or it will kick back and hurt you).
· Lift the crank quickly to start the motor (this may take a few tries, especially in hot or cold weather).
· Turn the ignition switch on (select the magneto (called an alternator today) instead of the battery).
· Adjust the spark control knob until the engine revs the fastest, but retard it if the engine starts to knock.
· Hold the clutch pedal half way in (neutral) and engage the hand lever forward.
· Push the clutch pedal all the way in (slow speed) to get the car moving.
· Once momentum is gained, let the clutch out completely (high speed).
· To stop, push the clutch to the middle position, and apply the foot brake. Pull the hand lever all the way back and let off the clutch (the far back position engages brakes).
· To reverse, come to a complete stop and pull the hand brake almost all the way back. Press on the reverse peddle.

There you have it. We haven’t even addressed the routine maintenance, for what Ford called the simplest car ever designed. Maintenance was to be done by the owner and included:

· Checking all fluid levels before operation
· Lubricating the vehicle every 2 – 3 days.
· Regular inspection of the running gear.
· Checking for play in the wheels.
· Re-tightening ALL nuts and bolts.
· Grinding the values when they get dirty.
· Cleaning the spark plugs.
· Adjusting crank shaft bearings.
· And on and on…

If you are one of those guys that finds basic maintenance to be a nuisance, bear in mind that men of your same stature 90 years ago did their own valve jobs and engine rebuilds and considered it maintenance.

Today, controls are different and simpler. Parts last longer and there is less to maintain. The computer scares many of us (myself included), but all the computer does is puts a sensor on each of the various parts to help you diagnose a problem. Our vehicles are easy to understand and diagnose.

Here is your assignment: Go purchase the repair manual for your vehicle. They run about $25 and will save you more than that after your first minor repair project. Read the first chapter in the manual. This goes over basic maintenance that will, at the very least, save some of your money from the mechanic. I am not suggesting that you learn to rebuild your transmission, nor am I suggesting you have to change your own oil (it doesn’t actually save you much money to do this). What I am suggesting is that next time your battery goes dead, you don’t pay for a tow to the shop, diagnostics fees, and a marked up battery. And when you do choose to use a mechanic, you won’t find yourself paying to have blinker fluid added or the whackadewy tightened.