Practical Mechanic

Picture Guides for Home and Auto Hobby and Repair


Hello, and thanks for visiting Practical Mechanic! My name is Richard Tomlinsen, and I’m glad you found this website! I truly hope you find the information posted on this site to be helpful and informative! I wanted to use this About page to provide a little bit of my story, and how I came to start this site.

As a bit of background, I went to school for engineering and earned my Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

Even though I took all the engineering classwork for years and years, it came as a bit of a surprise to myself and others that I didn’t perform the maintenance on my own cars, my philosophy was “leave that to the experts” who work with cars every day. And so I did that; when there was a problem with one of my cars, I’d bring it to the shop. In general, this worked fairly well, and I did that for a number of years. But I found that a good shop with honest mechanics that specializes in everything is really hard to find! (Side note: if you’ve found a trust-worthy shop like this, consider yourself lucky!)

So, depending on the problem, I was bringing the cars to different shops based on their area of expertise, for example foreign vs domestic, engine vs chassis/suspension, tires/brakes, etc… I found that I took a fair bit of time researching shops, asking around, talking to the mechanics, reading reviews, not to mention the time involved in scheduling appointments, dropping off the car, and waiting for quotes. To top it all off, when it was all said and done, it often seemed like I was paying… a lot…

Now, don’t get me wrong, the knowledge and expertise that most mechanics possess is invaluable, so in order to get high-quality, safe work done, I expect to pay for that, after all, you get what you pay for!

Now, please understand me, I have a lot of respect for those honest mechanics out there (the majority of whom are honest hard-working folks), and I value their knowledge and expertise. The problem that I seemed to be running into was the auto mechanics who are in a hurry (maybe pressured by their manager to get cars in and out as quickly as possible), maybe have less experience with my type of vehicle, have some quota on “up-selling” customers (again, imposed by the folks sitting in the front office), and not really fixing the right thing, so when I get the car back, I’m out $800 and the problem still exists! More often than I would like to admit, I found myself in these sorts of situations.

Let me relate just one story that may help illustrate the frustration I was beginning to feel…

Quite a while ago, I brought my 2004 Toyota Corolla in to the shop because I suspected the front passenger’s-side bearing was going bad. It was just getting louder and louder and I was getting tired of “roaring” down the street. I had searched for the problem online and found a few sources that seemed to confirm my suspicion. So I brought it to a well-respected shop in town and told the guys the issues I was experiencing and what I suspected was the culprit. Sure enough, I got a call later that day telling me that they had found the problem, but in fact it wasn’t the bearing, it was just that the tires were unevenly worn (in fact, dangerously so, according to the man on the phone), and that they had a special tire sale going on at the time. Did I want new tires? I inquired if they were sure it was the tires, based on my (admittedly limited amount of) research, it seemed like a bearing was going bad. Yes, they assured me, it was the tires, did I want new ones? So I said, “Sure, let’s get this problem behind us!” I ended up with new tires (~$425).

I picked up the car the next day with brand-new tires on it, and feeling great that the problem was taken care of by the experts. Now I could move on with my life. Or so I thought, as I pulled onto the highway, I had a sinking feeling…the roaring was still there. The problem was definitely not fixed…

So, I brought it back and explained the situation. “Okay, we’ll look at that.”

I get a call later that day and they confirmed that in fact, they had found the real problem this time, but instead of the front passenger’s side bearing, it was actually the rear passenger’s-side bearing. Really? I thought the sound was coming from the front. Yes, he assured me, it can be real tricky to know where the sound is coming from, it is most certainly the rear bearing.

“Okay, I trust you, please go ahead and replace that.”

So, I pick up the car several days later (they had to order the parts) and pay for this repair (~$650). As I drive home, I’m dreading pulling onto the highway. Lo and behold, the roar is still present…

By now, I was getting frustrated. I had:

  • spent over $1000,
  • spent over a week without being able to drive the car,
  • been getting rides here and there from friends and family,
  • spent several hours researching the problem and potential auto shops,
  • made lots of phone calls back and forth,

And the problem was still there!

Now, I had read a couple websites and watched some YouTube videos that were very helpful, where people had gone through the process of replacing a front bearing. Honestly, it didn’t look that difficult. So, I finally asked myself, “Should I try to tackle this on my own?” I’m not an “expert” in auto repair.

  • What if I repair the wrong thing? (Oh wait, the experts did that.)
  • What if I spend a bunch of money on parts and tools and the problem is still not fixed? (Oh wait, I’ve already spent a bunch of money on the experts, and the problem is still not fixed.)
  • What if I do something wrong and it is not safe? Well, I’m certainly not going to do a rush-job. I’m mechanically-minded and thorough. I’ll take my time, and since I’ll be driving it, certainly I have the most interest in making sure no corners are cut and that it is done safely!

So I did a little more research, ordered the parts and tools suggested online by others who had done it, and set to work. When everything arrived, it took me an entire Saturday, but by the end of the day the bearing was replaced, and the wheel roar was gone!

I’d spent about $150 on tools and parts, spent an entire day of my own time, and the problem was finally fixed! Not to mention the fact that the tools I had purchased for the repair were now mine, so if I ever had to do this or a similar job again, I would have what I needed.

And to be honest, it was actually pretty fun! What a great feeling that was!

In fact, sometime later, the other front bearing started to go bad, so I did the same thing, but this time it didn’t take nearly as long, I already had the tools, and only needed to buy the bearing (~$20).

At this point in the story, I feel like I should emphasize a key idea. The main reason I went through this do-it-yourself (DIY) repair, was NOT about the money! (Though I estimate that each bearing I replaced would have cost about $400 at the shop). It was because the shop simply wasn’t solving the problem!

The main motivator for me was the fact that by doing it myself, I knew exactly what was done and how. I knew it was done right with no shortcuts, and I knew it was done thoroughly and with great care. And most importantly, I knew that the right thing had been repaired.

I feel like it is easy to assume that because you repair your own vehicles, it is because you want to save money. Now I admit, that is a nice side benefit, but it is not the main reason, not for me at least. The main reason is the assurance that it will be done right and the safety aspects of it. I know that the job will not be rushed and will be done with care. Anyway, let me continue…

From that point forward, I was hooked. I started doing every repair that my vehicles needed!

As weird as it sounds, I actually started looking forward to stuff breaking, so that I would have a chance to research the problem and fix it! The feeling was so satisfying! And empowering!

  • No more time wasted calling around to different shops,
  • No more sitting in waiting rooms,
  • No more feeling like I was getting ripped-off,
  • No more dreading the bill,
  • No more “up-selling” for unnecessary repairs,
  • No more wondering if this would actually fix the problem or if I would be back in this shop next week!

But probably most importantly, no more mystery surrounded the mechanical operation of my vehicles. Suddenly different vehicle systems and their operation were coming into focus. I found it interesting, time-saving, and personal. I was getting to know my fleet in a way a random mechanic at a shop wouldn’t know, and I took pride in that!

That all happened quite a while ago, but I keep learning more and more about vehicle systems. After a while I started to think about how indebted I am to all those random people on the internet who took the time to post their problems (and solutions!) online in their blogs and on forums for the benefit of the rest of us.

How many times had I gone to these sites and forums to read and research problems and solutions?

It was extremely helpful, but you know what? Sometimes I would spend hours sifting through forums, watching YouTube videos, and doing web searches, just to find a little tidbit of information here, or a good tip there… So often the really valuable information wasn’t consolidated in one place.

And that’s when I started to think that maybe I could help. Honestly, I like documenting this sort of thing, taking pictures and keeping notes. I had done so for my own benefit for a while, and I thought, why not put those pictures and notes that I have made over the years for myself and my own benefit, and put them online for other people to benefit from? And the rest is history; it has grown from there.

Later, I found out that I could include links to the tools and parts I’ve bought or recommend in the posts and make small commissions from that!

The way that works, is that the “affiliate partner” (usually Amazon) pays me for the referral traffic, which doesn’t cost anything to the reader of my blog and doesn’t change the price to anyone who may follow the links.

So, if you follow the links and end up buying something, my sincerest “Thank You!” I appreciate it!

BUT, even if you don’t click on the links, consider the information and posts on this website as my gift to you!

This website is my way of giving back because I know that I certainly have benefited from countless others who have posted and maintain websites similar to!

(By the way, I hate banner ads! I know I could make some additional money if I allowed ads on this site, but I don’t like them, and I figure my readers don’t either, so that’s why I don’t have ads!)

Anyway, enough rambling! If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading this and I hope it helps to understand where I am coming from!

Feel free to browse the sight and I hope you find at least some of it useful! If you have any comments or feedback for me, I would love to hear from you!

Go to the Contact Us section and send me an email!

And with that, I wish you the best as you maintain your fleet, as one of many of us out there who strives to be a Practical Mechanic!

All the best,
Richard Tomlinsen, Ph.D.

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