Working on your own car the safe, inexpensive way


The rewards of tackling repairs on your car go far beyond a job well done.

Your car lasts longer. Basic maintenance that you perform will save you thousands of dollars over the long run. Plus you can make that car drive like new by simply investing in the right components and cleaning materials.

But even the most hardcore, aspiring gearhead can be intimidated by all the unknowns that come with learning these skills. And automakers and dealers want you to rely on them for even the most basic service. So let us help you get there. The first thing you need is...

A Service/Repair Manual

You can always smudge grease on a paper manual with far fewer consequences than a tablet or a smartphone. Plus, if you get stuck in a place where electronics are banned or the Internet is unavailable, a good service manual will provide the details you need whenever the opportunity for self-learning arises.

So buy a repair manual and very slowly go through the process of learning to inspect and perform the basics of auto repair and maintenance. You can always refer to an online video or an enthusiast forum to reinforce your knowledge as you become increasingly confident in performing the repairs yourself.

Good Wrenches Yield Great Results

The act of turning a bolt or a screw can seem formidable to those of us who have rarely taken anything apart.

However, once you finish that first basic job, the walls of fear start to crumble.

So start by investing in a good wrench set. It’s better for you to buy a few quality sets instead of the cheap ones that are commonly found in auto parts stores.

Once you are confident with the small jobs, then go ahead and invest in a half-inch drive torque wrench, along with a full socket set that offers a number of spark plug sockets, along with a full set of metric and standard sockets.

A Drain Pan, A Floor Jack & Four Jack Stands

When you buy these items, keep in mind the importance of convenience. A 10 quart drain pan with a removable top is far better than the open types that tend to spill, and a well-constructed floor jack, along with four quality jack stands capable of handling your vehicle’s weight, will easily eliminate hours of labor compared to a set with only two jack stands.

If you’re tempted to only purchase two jack stands and a basic jack, keep in mind that sometimes you have to invest up front in order to save money in the long term. Four jacks make many of the more expensive tasks far easier to perform, and they save considerable time on the easier repairs such as replacing or rotating tires and inspecting brakes. For those new to this process, make sure you identify each of the four lift points so that your rocker panels remain in sound shape.

It sounds like a lot, but for everything mentioned above, you are likely looking at only about $100 worth of tools – an amount that you will likely recoup within four to five oil changes

Keep Your Eye Out For Specials

There are forums such as Bob Is The Oil Guy which track specials and provide online discount codes that lower the overall cost of purchasing these tools by as much as 30 percent to 40 percent. Also, there are certain times of year where auto parts stores will discount common replacement parts that you can stockpile at home for later use. Coolant, brake pads, fluids and filters can all be picked up for a fraction of their usual price if you keep an eye out for the right opportunity.

Be Social

A lot of folks believe that the mechanically-inclined learn in isolation from other people.

The truth is that we all have teachers and helpers at some point. Settlers that went westward usually worked as communities to build houses and wagons and likewise, those who usually become most successful with repairs get their basic grounding from those who have more experience.

Don’t be afraid to make a day of a first-time automotive repair job. Invite a friend or three with basic repair experience, and make it a fun and rewarding experience for everyone. Pizza and drinks certainly can help the learning process on a sunny afternoon, so be generous and enjoy learning the basics.

Stay The Course

Cars can be complex, yet the basics of maintaining a car have remained fairly constant for the last two decades. What you learn now may not only help you when dealing with an unethical repair shop, it will also encourage you to invest in higher quality parts for your vehicle and make you more aware of your car’s overall condition.

When it comes to any product or service, those who pay the least in the long-run are those who were usually willing to invest in the knowledge related to it early on.

So don’t give up if you face a challenge along the way. Ask your friends. Visit an enthusiast forum or two and make yourself a knowledgeable owner.

In time, your bank account will grow and you will have mastered the ability to handle the basic maintenance and repair tasks for your vehicle.

Top photo: docpop via Flickr ; inset photo drewgstephens via Flickr

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