Help Us Help You–A Novice Mechanic’s Guide To Asking ForHelp

General Discussion about the Datsun PL510
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Help Us Help You–A Novice Mechanic’s Guide To Asking ForHelp

Post by okayfine » 25 Feb 2011 14:56

The 510 Realm exists, in large part, to help other 510 owners. Ironically, those that tend to come to The Realm for help don’t always know enough to usefully convey the problems they are experiencing, or understand some of the fixes that are suggested to them. Some 510 issues are very difficult to diagnose over the Intertubes, full stop. Compounding all that, many people will jump in and post their suggestions, opinions, and all sorts of other relevant (and irrelevant) information in an attempt to help. This is great…and it’s not so great if you can’t filter it.

For us as Realm members, help us help you. The following may seem like an overly-complicated bunch of hoops for you to jump through just to be able to tell us “my car died on the way home,” but, in the end it will be simpler to step logically through the problem. You as the novice mechanic will pick up some knowledge along the way as well.

The Basics
Factory Service Manuals
As a base, you will need to have on hand a workshop manual or FSM. There are many, and different people like different books. I strongly suggest you find a copy of the “How To Keep Your Datsun Alive” book by Colin Mercer. In my opinion it is vastly superior to any other manual for the novice mechanic. It will actually help you solve your own issues more often, without leaving your garage, and is worth whatever you need to pay to get it.

You need a manual for your car. If you have a swapped 510 you also need the FSM for the specific year of engine you have installed in your car, ESPECIALLY if you didn’t do the swap yourself. If you can’t bother to obtain a 510 manual, and the FSM for the engine that’s in the car if different from the L-series, then you can hardly expect other people to bend over backward to try to help you.

Be polite, prepared, and eager, and The Realm members will bend over backward to try to help you.

You will also need a basic mechanic’s tool kit, plus certain specialty tools like a 10mm hex driver (for head bolts), jack and stands, feeler gauges, and a timing light. You’ll need metric wrenches, sockets, screw drivers, soldering supplies, etc., if you have any desire to maintain your 510 yourself. You can grow your tool collection as you progress (and you will), but if you have a drivability issue and don’t have a timing light to verify timing, you aren’t able to eliminate timing as a cause and that’s going to be an issue.

Ideally you will have a baseline for the components of the systems you think (or we tell you) are part of the problem. What does that mean? If you will be describing an intermittent engine running issue, do you know the age and condition of the various related components? If you don’t know they are good, then they are all suspect.

That doesn’t mean they all need to be replaced with new components, either. Occasionally even “new” parts are bad out of the box. What you will instead need to do is verify that the components function within spec. This way not only have you potentially ruled out those components from being the cause of your issue(s), you have a baseline for future issues. You also have concrete information you can add to your thread.

The Background
Tell us briefly about the car. How long have you had it? What modifications does it have? How much work have you personally done on it? Has it been running reliably before this problem? Have you had other problems recently? What were they, and what did you do to fix them? Be as concise and complete as possible; if you have a starting issue, the fact that the car is (or was) originally equipped with an automatic transmission can be very important.

Next tell us briefly about yourself. What is your mechanical skill level? Be honest. We need this information so we know how to present solutions. If we present solutions in a way that is beyond your base of knowledge, it won’t do you any good and we’ll be wasting our time. Also, if we know that you are a novice mechanic and all the signs point to a serious problem with your car, we can refer you to a specialist early on, saving you time and frustration.

The Problem
Some of the most important information you’ll tell us will be your description of the problem. However, we’re going to need more from you than “my car died.” Think of the old journalism motto of “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?” Go back to the logical overview. If you have an engine issue, does it occur constantly? Randomly? Regularly at a certain speed/gear/time of day? Have you done any work to the car recently, like, say, right before this new problem occurred? Don’t laugh, it has happened to everyone.

Be careful you don’t become too focused on what you think is the problem and as a result skip over things that you think are unrelated. They may not be. Many systems on a 510 are independent, but tied together all the same. Describe the problem objectively. If you think you have a carb issue, you may neglect to tell us about a recent tune-up you did to the car. If your problem is actually an electrical/ignition issue and not a carb/fuel issue, it’ll take quite some time before we get around to a solution.

The Process
You’ll get a number of suggestions in your thread. We’ll have read your original post and we’ll start giving you things to check and verify. You need to actually go out and do all these checks and verifications. This will be critical. We need the information gained from these checks to determine the next steps.

If you don’t have the mechanical experience or tools to do certain checks, make sure you tell us. If you’re lacking tools, we’ll probably tell you to go and buy them, but there are often other ways to do the checks. We’ll tend to default with the easiest methods, which also tend to require a wider selection of tools. We won’t be asking you to fire up your boroscope (unless you have one…), but we will expect you to be able to shine a timing light on the situation if necessary.

Don’t forget your FSM! They often have sections on troubleshooting, and as they are written for the novice mechanic they’ll be easy to follow and hit all the main points in a logical order. The “How To Keep Your Datsun Alive” book is excellent with troubleshooting information.

This post is more focused on mechanical issues, but the same sort of process is applied to suspension issues. We’ll need the make up of the suspension components on your car. We’ll need to know if, in helping to diagnose a car that is overly reactive to steering input, the car acts the same way in left-hand bends as it does in right-hand bends. We’ll need to know if you bolted on all the bits, or if you did none of the work.

The Payoff
The payoff for going through all these steps is that instead of being fed an answer and learning nothing from the process, you’ll gain a logical understanding of the function of your car. However illogical the problem may seem, there is almost always a very logical (and often, dead simple) cause.

Learning these, and learning from these, brings you experience and knowledge. Knowledge trumps information any time and then you can use your knowledge to help the next novice mechanic.
Last edited by okayfine on 25 Feb 2011 15:35, edited 1 time in total.
Because when you spend a silly amount of money on a silly, trivial thing that will help you not one jot, you are demonstrating that you have a soul and a heart and that you are the sort of person who has no time for Which? magazine. – Jeremy Clarkson

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Re: Help Us Help You – A Novice Mechanic’s Guide To Asking F

Post by jason » 25 Feb 2011 15:17

Moderators please sticky this!

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Re: Help Us Help You–A Novice Mechanic’s Guide To Asking For

Post by dislexicdime » 27 Feb 2011 14:00

You should make it so when you register you have to read this and check a box that you read this befor you can finish your registration.
L series only have one header!

i need another garage mine is full of part's

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Re: Help Us Help You–A Novice Mechanic’s Guide To Asking For

Post by James » 27 Feb 2011 20:01

This is perfect - hopefully the people who need to read it actually will.
Nicely done....
Finished is better than perfect......

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Re: Help Us Help You–A Novice Mechanic’s Guide To Asking For

Post by two_68_510s » 27 Feb 2011 21:00

James wrote:This is perfect - hopefully the people who need to read it actually will.
Nicely done....
Hey, this would have to be in 3-D video game version with certain death (with extra lives of course) the penalty for not comprehending what is read! :lol: :roll:
No offense meant to gamers and others younger then me (that is to say 90% I would guess) I am in daily awe of my 22 and 19 year old kids

2 '68 510 2 door sedans
'95 240SX

“We will either find a way, or make one.” – Hannibal

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Re: Help Us Help You–A Novice Mechanic’s Guide To Asking For

Post by Camano510 » 28 Feb 2011 04:46

Once again, okayfine knocks it out of the park. I agree with the required reading idea.
Darryl Cavanaugh
"There is no such thing as free school. Every lesson learned cost me some form of 'tuition'. Time, money, or pain. Sometimes all three".
71 510 2dr father/son project

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