By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Do-it-yourself car repairs can help you stay on the road and save you hundreds of dollars. That's not chump change when set against the average $3,200 a year it costs to own a car after accounting for taxes, gasoline, insurance -- and, you guessed it -- repairs.
We spoke with car repair experts and learned that there are several easy fixes you can do at home in a couple of hours, some in less than 30 minutes. With hourly labor rates for mechanics ranging from $50 to more than $120, the savings mount up quickly. Of course, you'll need to buy the parts and perhaps a basic socket or wrench set. The latter will set you back $20-$50, while prices of the former depend on the vehicle, the quality of the parts purchased, and the vendor. But in general, asserts Scotty Kilmer, who runs a YouTube channel with how-to videos and hosts a live Q&A session on Google Hangout with car owners every Saturday morning, DIY auto repairs can save you 50-80 percent of the professional's bill.
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Most mechanics probably won't tell you when a DIY car repair is cheap and easy, concedes Eric Cook, whose Eric the Car Guy site likewise offers scores of how-to videos, troubleshooting FAQs, and forums. Repair shops must make money to stay in business, and an easy job is easy money: Shops profit from the labor charge and mark up on parts, making it a double win. But (there's always a "but"), Cook notes that "a good relationship with a repair shop can be invaluable when it comes to auto repair -- even if you're doing the work yourself."
Which car repairs readily fall into the DIY category?
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Dead Car Battery. Replacing a dead car battery on your own is a snap and can save you upwards of $100, according to Stan Markuze, founder of Part My Ride, a marketplace for buying and selling car parts from dismantled automobiles.
Worn Brake Pads and Rotors. Changing brake pads and rotors is not as daunting as it might seem and can easily net you big savings. An auto repair shop in Queens, NY quoted us $340 to complete the job on a 2008 Mazda 3. With the DIY alternative, a set of average replacement pads runs about $30-$60 and a rotor goes for about $75, for a total outlay way south of $150.
Fluids and Filters. Changing the oil, transmission fluid, and cabin air filters is an easy and common DIY auto repair. An oil change might run $20-$30 at one of the chains specializing in auto maintenance or as much as several hundred dollars for specialty cars when taken to a dealer. Doing it yourself may not save you much -- coupons for cheap oil changes are plentiful -- but think of the relief at not having to fend off high-pressure sales tactics and the resulting charges for everything that ostensibly needs servicing on your car. (If you undertake this DIY auto repair, remember to properly dispose of the used motor oil; many repair shops, service stations, and parts vendors will recycle it for you.)
Where to Find Parts. The experts we interviewed disagree slightly about the best cheap source for parts. Markuze recommends eBay, Craigslist, and of course his own site, and says warehouse stores like Costco or local auto parts stores are good places to buy tools.
Cook and Kilmer caution against buying parts online. Kilmer is partial to brick-and-mortar vendors like AutoZone, which stock basic tools and equipment, and says a specialty store may be the only option for parts like alternators and fuel injectors. Both experts point out that doing business online means waiting for the shipment to arrive and dealing with the potential hassle of returning a part that isn't what you need. Cook further warns about the perils of chasing down the lowest prices. "Your repairs are often only as good as the parts you use," he says.
There is no shortage of DIY advice, guidance, and step-by-step instructions (sometimes for the very model you own) available online. The experts also note that owner's manuals provide lots of useful information, such as simple diagnostic tests and repairs, optimal tire pressure, specifications for the types of fluid to use. Anyone who is really serious about DIY car repairs might want to check out All Data DIY, which costs $20 a year and provides in-depth tutorials and frequent updates on how to diagnose and repair specific car models.
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