Car Repair Q & A

So, you scratch, dent and otherwise mar your car frequently.  You’re not alone! Car Dents

Q: My car is always in the shop. I refuse to plop over any more money to my “car artisan.” (Yes, that’s what he insists I call him!) My biggest problem: car dents. Can I fix this at home?


So, you scratch, dent and otherwise mar your car frequently. You’re not alone! Most car owners visit the car repair shop several times a year - if not more often - to have minor cosmetic work done on their car’s door, hood, trunk or fender.

One solution for thin scratches or superfluous dents is to use auto body fillers. Use either the polyester resin or the fiberglass paste fillers. These materials bond well with steel doors. Apply glossy auto body paint after the filler has dried.

If the dent is a bit more pronounced, keep in mind that you might actually end up paying more to do it yourself than if you let your “car artisan” do it. But if you’re intent on doing it yourself, go for it! Here’s what you’ll need: a dolly, a drill, a metal working or ball-peen hammer and a dent-pulling tool.

First, find the dent’s hole. Using a 1/8” drill bit, drill through the dent’s center. Place the dent-pulling tool in the hole. Pull on the dent. This will do one of two things: flatten out the dent or pull it out towards you. Both are OK. Flatten out the dent by hammering on the front of the dent with the metal working hammer. Hold the dolly against the back of the dent while you’re working.

Now you’re ready to fill in the dent with body filler. After it’s completely dry, sand down any excess and prime the area. Be careful to use the spray primer especially for vehicles. Apply six coats, letting it dry completely in between. Finally, add touch up paint in your car’s color.

Car Tune Up

Q: I’m about to take my car in for a tune-up and I’m afraid I’ll be told everything under the sun is wrong with my car. I do hear a few pings when I start my car, but other than that I don’t have any complaints. What exactly is involved in a tune-up?

A: Good question! If you have a car mechanic who tells you she or he is going to do the following, consider yourself fortunate:

  • Check and/or replace your spark plugs
  • Check and/or replace your distributor cap and rotor
  • Check and/or replace your spark plug wires

After this, she or he will adjust the timing by rotating the distributor cap housing. Your mechanic will use a timing light/gun to check the settings.

Note: Newer cars don’t carry distributors. A car computer controls the timing setting. This computer does this by searching for and programming its optimal setting automatically.

About the pings: Your mechanic will shed light on that. A lot depends on when you hear it, as well as on the make, model and year of your car. Good luck!

Sharp Objects Scratch Paint Job

Q: I drive over roads where a lot of construction is going on. As a result, pebbles and other small, sharp objects shoot out from under my tires and damage my car’s paint job. The pebbles or rocks eat through the clear paint and mark the paint job. What’s an easy way to fix this problem?

A: To protect the car, try one of those car bras that fit over your car’s front end. To fix the minor damages to your car, use some touch up paint. Keep a small can of your car’s color in the garage or tool shed.

Using a fine, thinly bristled brush, apply sparingly, touching up the scratches with a flicking motion. The idea is to not glob on the paint. If you let the coat dry sufficiently you can apply clear paint after that.

Replacing Flat Tire

Q: I have a flat. I’ve heard you should not replace only one tire, though. Is this true?

A: When you have a flat, your mechanic can often patch the tire, put some air into it and send you on your way. You would not have to replace a tire.

Ideally, you should never replace only a single tire. For parity, you should replace the two that are side by side. Either the two front or the two rear tires should be replaced together.

It’s also preferable to place new tires on the front of your car if your car is a front wheel drive model, and in the rear if your car is a rear wheel drive model. The wheels that propel your car carry the heaviest burden, thus they’re the most important.

Bad Car Smell

Q: What can I do to get rid of a bad smell that permeates my car? I know where the smell originates: it comes from my trunk. We had a skunk hiding in there a while back. Help!

A: Strip off all the felt padding that lines your car’s trunk. Hose the padding down. Let it dry. Natural air is best. While the padding is drying, get your spare tire out of the way and gently hose down the exposed trunk, being careful not to wet the wiring, if you can help it. You will notice the drain holes through which your water can seep. Reinstall the dry padding.

Noise When Backing Out

Q: I drive a 4x4. When I back out of my garage, put my vehicle into drive and accelerate, I hear a clicking sound. Do you have any idea what that might be?

A: If it’s a loud clicking noise, it could be your axle/CV joint that is resettling as you turn it in an opposite direction.

Another thing it could be is that your brakes are worn down; they may be scraping your rotors. You should have this checked out immediately. Further damage could result to your drive train (i.e., your transmission).

More Auto Care Questions and Answers >

Visit our Automotive Forums to get your own car repair questions answered.