by Sam Dillinger (comments: 0)
5 DIY Home Auto Repairs
There aren't enough sources, whether it's via the Internet or in person, that encourage people to attempt to make some of their own auto repairs. To be clear, we're not talking about any type of transmission repairs, any major engine repairs, electrical, etc. Those types of repairs are best left to a professional for a reason. They're extremely complicated, time consuming, dangerous (for certain repairs), and time consuming under the best of circumstances. That doesn't tell the complete story of auto repair though. There are some repairs that can be done pretty easily at home, and will save you some money and time. When I say that these repairs will save you time, I mean that you don't have to drive anywhere, you don't have to wait around in a customer lounge for someone to get your car looked at, and finally to get it repaired and brought back to you.
The saving money part is pretty straight forward as well. If you do the labor yourself, you won't pay as much for that repair, and we can all agree on that. There is another money saving aspect that can get overlooked in certain circumstances- the parts. Just about every repair shop that you can take your vehicle to will charge a markup on the parts they install on your car. I want to be completely fair to the repair shops on this, this is a common practice by pretty much the entire industry, and they deserve to mark those parts up to maintain a profit. My point with that is that you'll pay less for the parts of any repairs you can do on your own. So here's a list of 5 DIY auto repairs for you to consider. Be sure to check (link) for a list of tools that you'll need to do these repairs.
Note: there are more than 5 repairs that can be done at home. It will depend on your skill level and comfort with auto repair. These 5 are very basic and can be done by people with just about any skill level.
- Engine air filter and cabin air filter (if equipped). Let's start with one of the absolute basic, easiest repairs anyone can do. For almost all engines you can buy an air filter from the local auto parts store for $15 or less, and replace it in 10 minutes or so. The average price at the repair shop will be between $20 and This one is pretty harmless. If it's not immediately evident where the air filer is, or how to get it out, a quick search on YouTube will show you how and what to do. The cabin air filter is something that not nearly enough people know about. This filter helps to clean the air that you breathe while inside of your vehicle. It will be mounted in the incoming air stream for the HVAC housing. Again, YouTube will provide a quick and easy answer to changing this. Most places I've seen charge close to $50 for this repair and you can buy the part for around $20. It will only take about 20-30 minutes to replace on your own, and could easily be less as some only take about 5 minutes.
- Throttle body cleaning. We're going to follow the air intake process one step further up the line, and talk about a throttle body cleaning. The idea here is to remove the carbon buildup at the air inlet (throttle body) for your engine. This is almost always packaged as a part of a fuel system service that costs between $190 and $250. A can of throttle body cleaner will cost you about $15. You just remove the air tube that runs from your air filter box to the engine and you'll see the throttle body right there. You'll also see where the carbon buildup is. Be sure to read your owner's manual to make sure your throttle body can be cleaned with a cleaning agent. A small percentage will have a coating on them that effectively prevents a carbon buildup, but it's a pretty small percentage. As for the other parts of the fuel system service, they aren't needed. There have been multiple studies that have shown that fuel tank additives to clean carbon from the valves cause more problems than they fix. As for pressurized fuel injection cleaning (it’s the only kind I recommend) that’s not something that is easy to do, nor is it safe if you're not well versed in dealing with a vehicle fuel system. Definitely don’t try that one at home.
- Tune up. Now we'll keep following the same flow into the engine. For the large majority of new vehicles, a tune up consists only of replacing the spark plugs. On older vehicles a tune up consist of replacing the following: spark plugs, spark plug wires, distributor cap, and rotor. The second version of a tune up that I've listed is a more complicated repair. Unless you're pretty comfortable under the hood of your car, I recommend taking that to a professional. However, in the early 2000's, auto makers started using a secondary ignition (this is the system that has the spark plugs) that has a coil-on-plug design. That means there's an ignition coil for each spark plug and they don't need to be replaced unless they happen to malfunction. So a tune up for most modern vehicles means just removing the ignition coil and replacing the spark plug underneath. 4 cylinder engines are very easy, while 6 and 8 cylinder engines can be a little more time consuming. It all depends on the type of car you have. Again, YouTube will be your best friend for this. For reference, a 4 cylinder tune up usually costs $115 and up, and spark plugs are about $3 each. The more cylinders you've got, the more expensive the repair, but the price of the spark plugs stays the same. You can see how you could save a good bit of money by doing this yourself. One quick note about the price of spark plugs- platinum tipped plugs are more expensive. Those will cost around $12-$15 per plug, so make sure to factor that into your decision.
- Front brakes. This repair is surprisingly easier than most anyone would ever believe. You jack up the front of the vehicle, remove the tire, remove the caliper and/or mounting bracket that goes over the rotor, and then remove the rotor. Be sure to observe all proper safety precautions when jacking up the vehicle and removing any brake components, but it really is just as easy as the steps I've listed. Almost all repair shops will try to have you pay to have the rotors resurfaced. That hasn't ever really made sense to me. If the rotors are warped, you'll feel a brake pulsation when you apply the brakes. This is definitely a safety issue and resurfacing the rotors will take away the pulsation, but it'll also take away some of the thickness of the rotor, which makes it easier for the same thing to happen again. It also adds to the labor the shop is charging in theory. Unfortunately, a lot of shops will charge you the same labor to replace the rotors as they will to resurface, and you pay a higher price for the rotors to boot. For a normal passenger car, you can buy front brake pads and 2 new rotors from the local parts store for $100 or less. At the repair shop, you'll pay $220 and up for a front brake job that doesn't include replacing the rotors. It will be somewhat time consuming but should only take an hour or two out of your Saturday afternoon and potentially save you over $100.
- Rear differential service. This repair doesn't apply to any front wheel drive vehicle, this is only for rear wheel drives. This is a very basic service that's along the same lines as an oil change and transmission service. You remove the cover from the read differential and allow all of the fluid to drain out, replace the gasket or scrape off the old sealer and clean to be able to apply new sealer, install the cover and fill with fluid. If you do this service every 35,000-40,000 miles it will greatly extend the life of your differential gears. This service for a basic rear wheel drive vehicle starts at $100 and easily goes up from there. The differential doesn't hold much fluid, only 2.5-3.5 quarts when it's completely full. You can buy 4 quarts of differential fluid for about $7 a quart and the sealer will cost you about $10-$15. The fluid may cost more if it's synthetic fluid, but you'll still come in under the $100 mark and save yourself some money.
That's the entirety of the list that I've got for you. You'll notice I made one glaring omission from my list- an oil change! The reason I left this off of the list is because of the cost. All modern engines, and the vast majority of older engines, hold at least 5 quarts of oil. The standard price for a quart of oil is about $6. So you'll pay $30 plus tax for enough oil to refill your engine, assuming you don't have an engine that holds 6,7, or even more, quarts of oil. All of that before you buy the oil filter. That will cost you about $10-$20. So if you go to the parts store and your engine has the cheapest oil change parts available, you're going to pay about $40. Repair shops, especially dealerships, are always offering oil changes at greatly discounted prices. Sometimes as low as $18. They actually take a small financial loss on this repair, just to get you in the door and try to sell you other repairs when they do the free inspection. So, just take your vehicle to one of these places for an oil change and you'll save yourself time and money, while having someone else do the work for you. It doesn't get much better than that!
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Meet Sam Dillinger
My name is Sam Dillinger. I've been a professional, dealership technician for 18 and a half years. My first introduction to mechanical repair was when my own vehicle broke down in the fall of 1995. I was 18 and couldn't afford to pay to have it fixed. So I borrowed tools and asked a ton of questions and, eventually, was able to replace the clutch on my truck by myself. During the course of that project, I found that I really enjoyed having a wrench in my hand and figuring out the puzzle of disassembly and reassembly of a motor vehicle.