As your car ages and it becomes time for maintenance and repair, many people wonder if they can save the expense and just do the work themselves. There has been a healthy DIY market for car hobbyists since the car was basically invented. People who are interested in mechanics and engines have been known to dismantle and rebuild their prized vehicle in the driveway or street. But what about the rest of us? Not everyone is a gearhead looking to soup up their muscle car, most drivers don’t know the difference between a carburetor and a colander. For the rest of us, when is it time to call a towing service to have a qualified professional deal with your car and what common repairs and maintenance can bee done by even the least mechanically inclined?
In our modern world, personal automobiles are the lifeblood of our technological society and how most people in the developed world get around. Some places have public transportation, especially densely packed urban areas that contain a lot of businesses and services in a small space, but many do not. This leaves personal transportation as the dominant method for people to get around spaces and travel long distances. Cars are not only practical, but also a way for people to express their individuality and interests in a piece of truly usable technology. Many people engage in DIY (Do It Yourself) car fixes in order to make their car more fashionable, perform better, or simply stand out from the crowd. An equal or greater number outsource their car repairs of critical components to qualified engineers at car dealerships or local service stations.
The downside of cars in the long term is that they are mechanical devices with moving parts, and like all mechanical devices they suffer wear and tear. Eventually, this wear and tear becomes enough of an issue that if it isn’t fixed or repaired, then the automobile will cease to work. It is simply one of the many expenses associated with cars, similar to gasoline and auto insurance that must be paid and cannot be avoided without some sort of peril occurring (loss of coverage, faulty brakes, running out of gas, etc). At this point, the vast majority of care owners consult their preferred auto repair services because they are not competent or patient enough to be auto mechanics. Some intrepid car owners engage in DIY car fixes because they are confident enough in their knowledge of their specific automobile or problem to remedy the situation at a lower price point. Whatever path you choose, eventually the car does need to end up in working order!
In this article, we’ll go over whether DIY car fixes are worth it from a consumer perspective, and try to keep our heads on straight when it comes to figuring out whether we should be fixing a car or finally retiring it. We’ll go over when it’s time to look at preowned cars vs. new cars, how to choose a mechanic, and what components you can replace yourself without worrying too much about driving your car off the proverbial road. Hopefully, this information will help drive the point home that yes, there are a lot of things you can fix yourself on your car, but that there are still some things better left outsourced. At best, it will simply cost less, but at worst you won’t have the garage or materials available to complete the repairs.
Things You Can Fix, Things You Can’t
As you dip your toes into the world of DIY car fixes, you’ll probably start off by asking what’s really a hazard in the world of automobiles and what’s not. While that’s different for every automobile (or depending on the mechanic you ask), the general rule of thumb is that if it requires special equipment like power drills and a lift, then you’re probably not able to do it yourself. Even simple things like changing your oil (recommended every 12 months at a minimum) can require special filters and disposal sites, so unless you’re bringing in your whole arsenal for ramset tool repairs then it’s probably best to stick with what will actually work. Even if you are physically able to complete the work, you might find that it’s a lower price point to simply have someone else perform the job who has the dedicated set up to get you in and out on time. Some repairs, like auto glass, need to be performed by a specialized mechanic in order to be done correctly and not cause problems down the road.
Fuses, windshield wipers, and air filters are all examples of vehicle components that can be changed by anyone regardless of what vehicle style you own and operate. They are truly simple parts that add value to your vehicle without being overly complicated and technical. Luckily, there are not any computer components or software in these…yet. We don’t know what the future holds in terms of digitizing and integrating everything under a digital framework, but for now, these parts are still firmly in the analog world. Since you’re also in the analog world, that means that with a little bit of elbow grease and concentration you too can indulge yourself in these DIY car fixes.
Fuses, Windshield Wipers, and Filters
To replace fuses, simply look for the fuse box on your car by reading the included instruction manual and replace burnt out fuses. Many times, a car’s instruction manual will have diagrams about where each fuse corresponds to what component or part of the electrical system and what amperage it is. You will notice if you take out a fuse or gaze upon replacement fuses that they are usually emblazoned with a number (usually anywhere from 5 to 25) that corresponds to the amperage of the fuse. Always replace fuses with their correct amperage, or else you will not be able to complete the electrical circuit in a meaningful way and cause damage to your car. Always make sure your car is off before you replace fuses and do not attempt work if your battery has been giving you issues.
In a similar vein, windshield wipers are also remarkably easy to replace. Most models snap on and off attached motorized rotors from your car, and if you get confused on how they are supposed to go many windshield wiper manufacturers post online videos on how to deal with their pesky components. It’s both easier and harder than it looks, but don’t let that get you down. With enough persistence and some simple back and forth you should be able to get it in no time.
Filters of all types are another part of DIY car fixes that most people with a degree of competency can try to attempt without embarrassing themselves. Air filters for car air conditioning systems are relatively simple fixes in most vehicle models that can be learned either by gleaning instructional videos or reading the manual. If you get original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts for your vehicle, they sometimes even come with detailed instructions about how to restore your vehicle’s components back to original factory condition. Some filters are easier to replace than others, and sometimes it can be worth paying someone for a service (like an oil change) in order to replace a pesky filter that is covered with flammable fluids.
Always remember that if you get confused, flustered, or downright just lose confidence in yourself to complete these DIY car fixes that you can always take your car into a service shop and pay to have the work done. At some point, it doesn’t make sense to spend eight hours doing a repair that you could have simply paid $60 for someone else to do in one hour. You must always be constantly gauging what your time is worth versus how big your wallet it and adjust accordingly in order to optimize both.
The Special Case of Auto Glass
Auto glass repairs are lucrative for a reason: they’re tricky and hard to do properly because they require specialized equipment that allows precision. If you’ve ever watched a window be replaced on an automobile, you know exactly what we’re talking about. Whether the window rolls up and down or is the main windshield makes little difference, they both must be precisely located and calibrated so as to provide their main functions of cover and insulation. In this way, they are firmly out of the realm of DIY car fixes because they can be so complex and frustrating. Different types of auto glass are also made of different materials and break differently, meaning that each one can require a level of competence and expertise that is different from the next.
A good example of how windows in automobiles can differ is in the case of windshield repair. Modern windshields are meant to crack and shatter, but not break, in order to protect the driver from scattered glass impaling them or otherwise injuring them. Lots of windshields are even made of pre-shattered glass that is held together with a plastic film or other bonding material so that it is difficult to separate from the mass. This is different from driver or passenger windows, many of which can be broken and shattered with enough impact, but also must be stable enough to roll up and down.
Hit the Brakes
Auto brake repair can be one of the most important regular repairs that can be made to a vehicle and is almost always not within the realm of DIY car fixes. It can be done, especially if you’re proficient with power tools, but it is not something that you want to mess up. As the old adage goes: “When the car won’t go, that’s a problem. When it won’t stop, that’s a bigger problem.” It is helpful sometimes to think in terms of these comical life lessons, because they hold a degree of truth to them. If your car won’t stop or move forward, you can always have it towed to a service shop and figure out what’s wrong with it from a safe perspective. But if your car won’t stop, you may be risking an accident that could cost you your life.
Speaking of accidents, another reason to not engage brake repair as one of your DIY car fixes is that what you save in mechanic fees may end up costing you double, triple, or more in auto accident attorney fees if you mess up. It can be bad enough to have to pay thousands of dollars to repair your car when it starts to putter around and cause you trouble, but this is nothing compared to the potential millions of dollars that you might have to pay out in medical or legal fees when a significant car accident occurs because you could not stop your car in time (or at all).
Garages: The Neglected Protector
When you think of DIY car fixes, you probably never dwell upon the fact that having a working garage door and the space it provides is quite a benefit. Garage doors are the unsung heroes of the automobile, in a similar vein to battery chargers for smartphones and other electronic devices. They provide a safe haven for the protection and continued operation of a vehicle if used properly, and can provide a quality workspace for the mechanically inclined individual. Not only do they protect your car from unwanted attention, theft, and vandalism, but they also protect it from elements like hail which can cause serious damage. If you’re storing your car long term, it’s best to keep it in a garage with all critical fluids drained and components turned off or disconnected. If you’re diligent, you can keep a car for years this way before you’re ready to use it again.
If it’s been a long time since you’ve cleaned out or organized your garage, you may want to start that up as your next project the next time you have some hours to kill. If you’ve never inspected your garage door opener or are due for an upgrade, then it also might be time to call a professional and make sure that things are hunky-dory. Once again, a similar concept follows that of brakes: not being able to get your car into your garage is a problem, but not being able to get it out is an entirely different problem.
When Your Car Is Finally Through: Buying and More
At a certain point, even if you’re the most diligent mechanic in the world who is only too glad to engage in their own DIY car fixes, your automobile will break down beyond repair. At this point, it’s worth browsing for cars for sale online or in-person to determine if you can get some value out of your old car and fix your problem of being without adequate transportation. Don’t be afraid to make deals with private sellers or dealerships alike if you think your car has special features that should be represented in the price, but also listen with a keen ear to what the market is telling you about the value of your vehicle.
In trying to dispose of your vehicle, your DIY car fixes may end up backfiring on you because people do not know whether to trust whether you’ve done the repairs properly. Unless you’re a certified mechanic, this can end up lowering the value of your car by a significant amount depending on who’s asking about the repairs. You may have more luck with private sellers who also perform their own maintenance rather than certified dealers, who will prefer a paper record of repairs and maintenance in order to justify the car’s safety and reliability. At the end of the day, whether you engage in DIY car fixes is up to you and how you feel about the issue and its many benefits or costs.
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