Question of the Week: What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve made working on your car?


When in high school mechanics I pulled a slant 6 225 from my Plymouth Valiant to rebuild. When it was all put back together I noticed a piece that I was unfamiliar with… my teacher told me it was the oil pick up and that it
is kind of important for the engine to work… luckily an easy fix and I hadn’t tried to start the engine.


I guess I was 17 or so, and I was putting a “used” automatic tranny in my 66 Dodge Coronet?? 2 door. I surfed at the time, and my surfboard kept getting in the way, so I just “set it on my surf racks” without strapping it down. Well, you know what happened! Once I “finally” got it running, I took off down the street and heard a couple of big bangs on the deck lid. When I looked in the rear view mirror, there was my nearly new surfboard going end over end at least ten times. It got DESTROYED, but at least my transmission shifted nice and smooth!!


My first front brake job on a CJ5 as a teenager. I matched the shoes by size in pairs not realizing the front most shoes were shorter than the others. So, I had two long ones on one side. Put everything back together. Adjusted the star wheel adjuster. Drove it, braked and the steering wheel spun hard. Tried to self adjust by going fast in reverse and slamming on the brakes. Still pulled ! Tried about 6 -7 times until the lady next door came out screaming at me for making such terrible skidding sounds. dumb de dumb dumb…


In the late 1960’s while in college I bought a 1953 Oldsmobile 98 Holiday couple that I believe had every option that you could buy on that car ( no A/C), including the automatic headlight dimmer. I had more than one car at the time and I let my sister borrow it one day. She was driving home that night with the brights on and a approaching automobile triggered the high beams off and no low beam came on. My sister went into panic mode but once the car pasted she could turn on the brights. I got the car home and started to fix it. Since both low beams went out at the same time it could not be the bulbs! It must be the complicated control box on the firewall. After many hour of not finding anything wrong I decided to test the low beam wiring at the bulb (which would have been one of the first things I would have done,if it had not been the automatic headlight controller). The test proved I had low beam power! Two new bulbs took care of the problem. I have had several other dumb directions with mechanics but this one was the one that is the most memorable


I bought a restored 1925 Buick coupe that hadn’t run since 1992.Cleaned out the fuel system,cleaned plugs,set timing. but it wouldn’t start,not even a backfire. I was sitting in the driver’s seat feeling sorry for myself and noticed the owner’s manual sitting on the floor. We had set the firing order the same as “all” GM sixes, 153624.Wrong ! on this car it’s 142635. After changing the plug wires around it fired right up. Then we discovered the transmission had a reverse H shift pattern.


First oil change on a new VW, mistook the trany drain plug for the oil plug. Drained the trany and learned it needs to pumped back in. AAA to the garage, full trany fluid replacement…plus the oil change…$$. Won’t make that mistake twice.


I poured gas out of a six ounce up into the carburetor of my 56’ Buick while my wife turned the motor from the driver’s seat. The carb back fired. A massive flame shot up. I must have jumped back and flipped the flaming cup out of my hand. My wife saw a flame fly by inches from the open driver’s window (the flaming cup). Now I was looking at an active fire on the engine. While I was running to the next room to grab the fire extinguisher my wife was yelling at me not to go. (I assumed she thought I was whimpily running away and leaving her in the car to burn up). But, when I reached up to the high shelf to reach the extinguisher I saw flames coming from my shirt and extending up my arm. (The reason for her to tell me to stop was I was also on fire). I got myself extinguished and ran back to the car with the extinguisher ready to save the day and my wife. But what I found was my wife calmly standing by the engine. She had already put the fire out with a rag.


I have put replaced lots of clutches in chevys over the past 40 years . I was putting a new clutch in my 69 corvette . I had it sitting on 4 jack stands so it was barley 16 inches off the floor . I got it all apart and started putting it back together , holding the clutch disk in place while reaching for the alinement tool I dropped the disk . So I just picked it backed up into place and continued to put it back together . Then when I stepped on the clutch it made a bad rattel and the clutch wouldn’t disengage . If any has ever taken a clutch out of a corvette they know it’s not fun . After I got it back apart I found that when I put the disk back in( after I dropped it) backwards.Never a dull or senior moment but works great now .


Mine isn’t so dramatic, but when I was trying to loosen up a rear brake drum many years ago, I squatted down next to the wheel, picked up my trusty rubber mallet and give the top edge of the drum a mighty whack. That mallet bounced right off the edge and hit my forehead just as hard as I hit the drum, and I came to on the floor of the garage, with a big sore spot on my forehead and another one on the back of my head.


Bill, I always try and look like I know what the hell I’m doing.


2002 BMW M Roadster, pulled the front & rear rotors, took to work where we have a machine shop. Carefully measured and cross drilled and chamfered. After reassembly with new low dust pads installed backwards, oops time to replace the newly drilled rotors.


Did the same thing on a 76 Honda Accord. Drained the trans instead of the engine. Drove it about 60 miles with double the oil in the crankcase, and none in the trans. Eventually burned a bearing in the transmission. $1000 mistake I never made again.


My first power steering unit replacement I hooked up the hoses backwards. I thought I might have done this and fired it up while it was still on the jackstands. One touch of the wheel and it started oscillating back and forth VERY rapidly! Thankfully I only used a touch on the outside of the rim or I could have had some broken fingers. I carefully reached around that madly turning wheel and shut the engine off. Whew!


Second dumbest thing I ever did. My first carburetor rebuild was on my 66 Mustang fastback. I discovered the carb kit had replacement float pivot valve seats but not the rubber tipped pivot valves. I decided to use the new seats with the old valves, big mistake. When I fired it up gas shot straight up the bowl vents and was covering the engine. Thankfully the engine was cold or I could have had a serious fire on my hands.


I did the same thing after a carb rebuild. I was lucky also!


Hood Pins!

You get to see about 2 wiggles of that hood at 40MPH before you go full Tommy Boy.



Daughter did this on her first solo oil change in the driveway. You always learn from your mistakes. She did a good job of cleaning up the driveway.


I owned a '63 Chevy and put in a new 283 because my garage man (a friend) told me I had a cracked block.
I was a car club member so I used the club with the chain hoist and the pit and got the job done fairly quickly.
Wasn’t I proud? I used the old thermostat because the replacement engine lacked one. As soon as I fired it up I got the same banging and overheating that I had before. It turned out that the thermostat was stuck closed and the light brown gunk in the motor was caused by a particular brand of motor oil. The latter thing I just found out
after 50 years of ignorance. That was my last attempt at working on my own car. Live and learn.


I bought a 47 ford that sat for 20 years and the owner told me it would run. I put a rebuilt carb on it and electronic ignition and it fired right up. Fan belt was rusted to the water pump pulleys and I was so excited I just flicked the stopped belt (which was smoking on the crank pulley) and it grabbed my fingers and ran them through the water pump pulley cutting off 1 finger completely and 1 was just hanging on( Dr, put it back on), In a moment of brain inactivity.


Was visiting my parents in Florida and went with my dad to pick up my mom’s Pontiac Grand Am from the dealer where they were giving it a tune-up and and oil change.

Got the car home and I checked the oil level since I never trusted anyone but myself to change the oil. The oil level didn’t even register on the dipstick! I added a quart that we had in the garage but it still didn’t show on the dipstick. We were going to drive to the beach and would be passing a car parts store on the way so I pulled in and bought another quart of oil and added it to the crankcase. Surely that would fill the oil pan. Nope! Still no reading. We bought and added yet another quart. Finally the level showed on the dipstick, though still a half a quart low. We headed on toward the beach. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw nothing but white smoke, very thick white smoke. So thick you couldn’t see anything or anybody behind us. I pulled into a parking lot, soon joined by a police officer, who suggested that maybe I was low on oil. I knew that couldn’t be it and told him I’d already added 4 quarts. There was an oil change shop just a couple blocks back so I drove back and pulled in line. When our turn came I pulled into the bay, still trailing a dense cloud of smoke.

The techie got under the car and pulled the drain plug, and watched in wonder as nine quarts of oil drained out. He couldn’t believe it when the oil just kept coming and coming.

Turns out the car dealer had inadvertently installed the wrong dipstick!