Automotive Fixes: Stop Repeat Failures on Radiator Fan Relays
If your radiator fan doesn't work, don't automatically assume you've got a bum fan motor.
Electric radiator cooling fans use a lot of juice. So carmakers use a fan relay to switch them on and off. If your radiator fan doesn’t work, don’t automatically assume you’ve got a bum fan motor. First test the fuse for the radiator fan. If it checks out, test the radiator fan relay.
Here’s how to test a radiator fan relay. Unplug the electrical connectors to the radiator fans. Then turn your A/C to the MAX position and start the engine. Use a multimeter to check for power at the unplugged fan connectors. If you don’t see 12 volts at the connectors, the fan isn’t getting power from the relay. The fan relay is usually located near the bottom of the engine compartment on a metal frame member. The metal acts as a heat sink to keep the fan relay cool. So, unplug the connector at the relay and repeat the check for power. If you get power, you’ve got a bum relay. If you aren’t getting power at the relay, you’ve got a more serious wiring or computer problem, and that’s a job for a pro. But you can easily replace a bum relay yourself.
Start by removing the old relay and checking for corrosion around the mounting surface. DIYers often just replace the relay without removing the corrosion. That’s a prescription for a repeat failure. Instead, sand off all the corrosion until you get to bare metal. Then apply a generous amount of thermal grease to the back of the new fan relay (see photo, right).
Secure it to the metal frame and let the grease squish out on all sides. The new relay will power up the fans, and the thermal grease will transfer heat to the metal frame and prevent corrosion.
— Rick Muscoplat, Automotive Editor
For more vehicle maintenance and repair tips, visit our Auto Repair section.
Replace Your Wiper BladesIt's easy to tell when your blades need replacing. Simply press the washer button and see if your blades wipe clean. If they streak, they're toast. The auto parts store will have lots of economy blades, but go with a name brand instead (ANCO, Trico or Bosch). They cost more than economy blades, but their higher-quality rubber wipes better, has better UV protection and lasts longer. Follow the installation instructions on the package. Be sure you have a firm grip on the wiper arm once you remove the old blade. If it gets away from you, it can hit the windshield with enough force to crack it.
Shake Your PCV ValveThis sounds complex, but it's not. If your car has a PCV valve (some late-model cars don't), pull it out every other oil change. In most cases, you'll find the valve on the top of the engine, connected to a vacuum hose. Some late-model cars don't have PCV valves, so don't beat yourself up trying to find it. Slide the vacuum hose off the valve and unscrew the valve. Then perform the world's easiest diagnostic test: Shake it. If it makes a metallic clicking sound, it's good. If it doesn't make noise or sounds mushy, replace it. But don't replace it on appearance alone—all used PCV valves look dirty. Need help locating your PCV valve? Buy a short subscription to an online factory service manual (oem1stop.com); rates start at about $10 a day. Non-factory manuals are cheaper, but they're skimpy on instructions and diagrams for these kinds of repairs.
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Fix Small Dents and Door Dings
Fix Tears in Leather and Vinyl
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Change Power Steering FluidThere aren't any test strips for power steering fluid, so you’ll have to rely on the manufacturer's service recommendations or general rule-of-thumb (two years or 24,000 miles). Use the turkey baster method to remove the old power steering fluid. Suck out all the fluid (engine off) as shown. Then refill the reservoir with fresh fluid. Start the engine and let it run for about 15 seconds. Repeat the fluid swap procedure until you’ve used up the full quart. Note: Never substitute a "universal" power steering fluid for the recommended type, and never add "miracle" additives or stop-leak products. They can clog the fine mesh filter screens in your steering system and cause expensive failures.
Swap Out Brake FluidSome carmakers recommend replacing brake fluid every two years or 24,000 miles. Others don't mention it at all. But it’s easy to test your brake fluid. Just dip a test strip into the fluid and compare the color to the chart on the packaging. You can't do a complete brake fluid flush yourself, but you can do the next best thing—a fluid swap. This procedure won't replace all the old fluid with fresh, but you’ll introduce enough new fluid to make a difference. Use a baster to suck out the dark brown brake fluid (brake and power steering fluids are incompatible, so use a different baster for each). Squirt it into a recycling bottle. Refill the reservoir with fresh brake fluid as shown. Then drive the vehicle for a week to mix the new fluid with the old. Repeat the procedure several times over the next few weeks until the fluid in the reservoir retains its light honey color. Note: The brake fluid may damage the baster's rubber bulb, so don't suck the fluid all the way into the bulb.
Chalk Marker Under Hood
Use Sawdust to Soak Up Spills
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DIY Car Mats
Truck Bed Reach Stick
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Cardboard Drop Cloth
Lubricate Window Tracks
Saltwater for your Car
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Vacuum Like You Mean ItSlide the seat all the way forward and clean out all the junk underneath. You’ll be surprised by what you find. We found a lost cell phone, enough pens and pencils to equip a small office, and enough coins for several vending machine lunches. Vacuum the seats, remove the mats and vacuum the carpet. Use a brush attachment for the dash and door panels. Don’t forget to clean out and vacuum those handy door pockets (another source of buried treasure).
Clean the CarpetDeep-clean the carpeting and upholstery. Use a carpet cleaning machine ($90) to get the dirt that settles deep into the fibers of the carpet. (Clean cloth seats this way as well.) It sprays the carpet with a solution of water and cleaner and then sucks the dirt and grime into a reservoir. A machine like this pays for itself after just a few uses. You can also rent one from a rental center (about $30) or use a spray-on cleaner and a scrub brush instead. Check out the other car detailing tips you need to follow.
Clean and Condition the SeatsAfter a few years, you'll notice that the color of the leather or vinyl seats no longer matches that of the rest of the interior. It's not enough just to condition the leather. First spray on leather cleaner and rub vigorously with a clean terry cloth towel. To avoid rubbing the grime back into the seats, keep flipping the cloth to expose a fresh surface. Let the seats dry for an hour and then rub in a leather conditioner like Lexol to keep the leather supple. It's available at discount stores and auto stores. Check out other interior cleaning tricks the pros don't want you to know.
Remember the RecessesDetailing means just that— cleaning all the trim lines and recesses. Wrap a cloth around a worn screwdriver (no sharp edges) and spray it with Simple Green or other all-purpose cleaner. Move it gently along the trim lines to pick up dirt, using fresh sections of cloth as you go. Then clean around the buttons and controls, and follow up with a rejuvenator like Armor All. Try some natural cleaners if you don't feel like shelling out the dough.
Wash the WindowsDon't forget the top edges. Ever notice that line of grime on the tops of windows when they're partially rolled down? Most people overlook this detail when giving their vehicle a quick wash. A few minutes with Windex and a clean rag is all it takes. Fix other window issues with these tutorials.
Scrape Off Old StickersWhile all of your national and state park stickers may call to mind great memories, they can be a visual hazard as they accumulate. The high-quality stickers will pull off if you can get under a corner and carefully pull them free at a 90-degree angle. Others will leave a gummy residue and require a bit more attention. Cover your dash with an old towel and dab on Goo Gone. Then scrape and wipe it off. Goo Gone is great for the house, too. See why Goo Gone is so great.
Keep Your Tools Handy with a Rolling CartIn the old days you laid out the tools you needed on a fender pad. Try that on a late-model vehicle with a sloped fender and you’ll find your tools on the floor. So buy a rolling cart (U.S. General No. 5107; $45 at harborfreight.com) and keep all your tools right at your fingertips. Get bold with this super capacity tool cart.
Grease Gun HolsterA grease gun is big and, uh, greasy. But you don't have to get it on your drawers or cabinets. Cut a few sections of 1-in. and 3-in. PVC pipe and screw them to a plywood backer to make this slick grease gun holder. Then attach a 2-in. coupler and cap to hold a backup tube of grease. We've got a ton of crazy smart PVC hacks like this awesome way to check gutters.
Sheet Metal Drawer LinersIf you use old kitchen cabinets in your workshop, it’s a bad idea to throw oily, greasy tools into those drawers, where the wood soaks up everything. So here’s a tip for you: Instead, take careful measurements of the width, depth and height to any HVAC shop. For about $20 per drawer, you can get a custom liner for each one. The interiors will look like new, and you’ll be able to clean them as needed.
Jack and Jack-Stand HolderHaven't you tripped over your jack stands long enough? Build this simple storage rack and get them off the floor. If you have a lightweight floor jack, add mounting hooks under the holder. Screw a 2-in. PVC coupler to the side of the rack and a 2-in. cap on the wall near the floor for the handle.
Air Tool HolderAir tools don't come with hooks, they don't nest well in drawers, and on a workbench top they just add to the clutter. So plunk down 20 bucks for this locking air tool holder and your life will be complete. Your tools will be neatly organized on the wall, and you can snap on a padlock to keep them securely in place. The Lisle locking air tool holder (No. 49960) is available at auto parts stores and online. See what the best air tool is for automotive work.
PVC Drawer OrganizersWhen you're right in the middle of a project, you don't need to waste time pawing through drawers looking for tools. So use this handy setup to keep your tools neatly arranged in your workbench drawer. Cut 1- or 2-in. PVC pipe to length. Glue on end caps and slice each pipe in half on a band saw. Screw them to the drawer bottoms and load them up!
Grab One Glove at a TimeTo keep your box of nitrile gloves handy and make it easier to grab just one glove instead of a handful, add this magnetic glove box holder to your shop. It costs about $20 at auto parts stores. You could even put it on your toolbox or rolling cart and yank out new gloves wherever you need them. You can also find many styles of glove dispensers online.
Keep Tools and Towels Handy
Blast Off Seized Bolts
A Jumper Pack/Charger Combo
Stubby Impact Wrench
Zip Through Metal With an Electric Cutoff Tool
A Retractable Fluorescent Floodlight
Parts Washers Aren't Just for Pro Shops
A Drip Pan Saves Time
Get a Beefy Bench Vise
Fast Tire Changes With an Electric Impact Wrench
Save Your Back and Knees With a Rolling Seat
Diagnose With a Stethoscope
Chemicals to Keep on Hand
- Lithium grease for latches and hinges
- Brake cleaner for removing oil and grease from metal parts
- Rust penetrant for removing rusted fasteners
- Dry lubricant for lubricating metal to metal, and metal to plastic or rubber
- Electronic parts cleaner for dissolving corrosion on electrical connectors
- Anti-seize lubricant to prevent nuts and bolts from seizing in place
- Dielectric grease to repel water in electrical connections and prevent corrosion
- Silicone spray to lubricate windows and weather stripping.