An unfortunate DIY job, courtesy of The Chop Shop
The magnitude of do-it-yourself automotive repair is on the rise. Increasingly more American drivers own cars whose warranties have expired, and the perils of the current economic state have forced them to rethink what was once a routine trip to the mechanic. Such auto shops now charge between $50 and $100 per hour for labor, not including the cost of parts. Fewer and fewer drivers are willing to pay so much for repairs, often suspicious of garage’s desire to earn money at the expense of their vehicle. Faced with these challenges, it’s only natural that the DIY craze spill into the car repair community.
True, the extent of technology present in many of today’s automobiles may frighten would-be weekend repair hobbyists. Yet the pricey alternative of the auto shop instantly dispels this fear, sending many a motorist on a mission to manage their vehicle’s well-being for herself.
Courtesy of the Mid-Continent Public Library
Speaking of “her,” it should be known that the do-it-yourself movement is galvanizing women, inspiring them to take up the reins of auto repair that their counterparts in earlier decades unthinkingly handed off to the men. More than one third of all DIY enthusiasts, including those who concentrate on car repair, are female, according to Road and Travel Magazine. This enlightening statistic appears alongside a boom in the visibility of automotive women; “The Car Chick, aka LeeAnn Shattuck, headlines America’s Garage Radio Show, dispensing DIY wisdom to modern day manifestations of Rosie the Riveter.
Today’s DIYers of both genders can best begin their repair experience with small jobs, such as refilling the brake fluid or changing the windshield wiper. Before upgrading to the next level in DIY car repair — changing the car’s oil — some precautions should be heeded. Safety glasses and gloves should always be worn to help prevent crises, for example. Fully reading a car’s manual before starting a repair job is also highly recommended. Fortunately, several great manual brands are now available online.
Websites such as Haynes, Chilton DIY and 10w40 can support those who dare to take on automobile challenges by themselves. Chilton’s website offers a comprehensive range of detailed repair manuals for vehicles dating back to 1940. Everything is covered, from the instrument panel to firing orders in the engine’s electronic schematics. Mind you, however, some detailed experience with mechanic work is required to effectively parse and implement the suggestions made in the manuals; it’s not a paint-by-numbers operation. Those who are unsure of themselves under the hood should take to 10w40’s “Ask the Mechanic” offering, chock full of important repair concerns that range in complexity from everyday concerns to esoteric vintage demands.
DIY guys and gals should temper their confidence with a sense for when heading to the mechanic is actually the wiser, or cheaper, decision. Checking with several local auto shops in advance can provide knowledge as to the practicality of a DIY job. In addition, one of those shops might offer daily specials on some repair jobs, like oil changes or car battery replacements, which could cost less money than completing those same jobs as a DIYer. (Hint: sign up for online local deal programs, such as Groupon and Living Social, which frequently surprise their members with nearby values on car needs.)
Via Pit Stop Auto Repair.
There are also several types of jobs that should never be performed outside the auspices of a qualified mechanic. These include such heavy duty operations as replacing the engine or the transmission, which involve cumbersome components, highly specialized tools (often unavailable to the general public), and years of expertise and practice to perform correctly. Other DIY-no-no’s: clutch replacement, A/C replacement, and wheel alignment. All of these are dangerous or produce toxic substances which demand certified technician work.
All this said, DIY folk can rejoice at the impressive array of repairs that are very much within their grasp. Replacing worn spark plugs yourself, AskMen reports, costs less than $25, creating an overall savings of nearly $75 compared to what a mechanic would charge. Headlight bulb and fuse replacement are also relatively simple and big on savings.
The Internet is the DIY car repair connoisseur’s ultimate resource. HowStuffWorks, for instance, provides a comprehensive work-through of many repair jobs tailor-made for the DIY aesthetic, include spark plug replacement and power steering flush. Popular Mechanics also provides a serious education in the important topic of the Controller Area Network, which is the computing system in most cars, as well as On-Board Diagnostics (OBD), programming which helps owners diagnose their vehicles — critical learning for effective do-it-yourself work.
Ultimately, DIYers should harness this gamut of resources — including their nearby mechanics — in order to foster the knowledge and conversations that keep cars running smoothly. Repairing your car by yourself is all the more gratifying when empowered by the specific information needed to get the job done right.