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Do-It-Yourself Auto Repair

Have you ever paid $1,000 for a major auto repair you’re not sure you needed? If so, as you left the shop, you probably entertained the idea of doing your own auto repairs in the future, or at least learning enough to know whether you’re getting ripped off. With the right guides, some internet videos and basic tools, you’ll be surprised how many mechanical maladies you can learn to relieve on your own.

Safety First

When dealing with serious car repairs, there’s serious potential for injury if you don’t take the proper precautions. Negligence can result in burns, or worse, electrocution! Spend some time reading up on basic safety guidelines, and always check out specific concerns for each repair you undertake.

Where to Begin

The first thing you need to do is find an official “workshop manual” or “factory service manual.” These tomes are pricey, often running $100 to $300. However, the expense is worth the amount you’ll eventually save by doing repairs yourself. Inside, you’ll find clear diagrams and instructions about how to fix up the guts of your vehicle. Be sure to purchase the correct manual for the specific make, model and year of your vehicle. If you own a very recent model, the manual may be in the form of an interactive CD or DVD instead of printed text.

Because these manuals aren’t aimed at the consumer market, you may have to use some Google-fu to find one. Your initial search may not yield reliable results, but don’t give up! Chances are there’s at least one forum of home mechanics who own the same model and have leads on where to find the manual.

Getting to Know Your Car

If you never took an auto shop class, you should watch a few online videos to familiarize yourself with all the systems that make up a modern automobile and how they generally operate. There’s a lot of information, but don’t be intimidated! Vehicles don’t run on magic, and you don’t need a Ph.D. in manifold theory to grasp how it all works.

Once you’re comfortable with the main ideas, start watching videos on how your particular vehicle operates. The biggest struggle for a rookie DIY mechanic is correctly diagnosing problems. By watching videos of other people doing various repairs on your model and occasionally browsing through your service manual, you’ll develop an intuitive ability to understand any symptoms your vehicle exhibits.

Tools

You don’t need a full garage with hydraulic lifts or a pneumatic drill to mend things under the hood. Most components are held in place with standard fasteners you can handle with common tools. In general, you’ll need the following:

  • A ratchet and socket set
  • An adjustable wrench
  • A set of Phillips-head and flathead screwdrivers
  • A floor jack (20–24 in max lift height is ideal)
  • Jack stands (make sure you know where the jack points located!)
  • A friend to ferry you back and forth to the parts store

Sometimes you may need a specialty tool, but with the above supplies you’ll be able to take care of most automotive ailments.

Taking Care of Business

The biggest caveat to handling your own repairs is the amount of time it takes. While an experienced mechanic may be able to take care of a job in just an hour or two, your first attempt could take the whole weekend. However, if you can muster up the confidence and free time, you can expect to save thousands of dollars in labor costs.

Naturally, for some catastrophic problems, like a transmission failure, you may have to bite the bullet and visit a professional mechanic. However, armed with all your knowledge, you’ll be sure to recognize whether they’re giving you the runaround.

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