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One of the things that has saved us thousands of dollars over the years is learning a little bit about how to work on cars. Basic car maintenance can cost hundreds of dollars at a mechanic shop, and cause you to waste thousands on labor for simple things you could be doing yourself. I have been doing car maintenance for about 7 years now, and here’s some tips and trick on how to start learning about those money-hungry hunks of metal we call cars.
Find A Friend
When I first met Michelle, I was in the middle of my “Blow Through $100,000” tirade, and won her over with my good looks (HAH!) and sweet pickup truck. But one of the first things that made her question our relationship was the fact that I didn’t even know how to check the oil on my vehicle. She literally had to show me where the dipstick was, and how to read it. DOH! It was then that I knew I needed to learn about cars, so I could be seen as someone who could at least somewhat take care of himself.
Luckily for me, her brothers were both into cars, so I started hanging out with them and watching how they did things like tune up a car, change the oil, replace belts, etc. Also, I wanted to get in good with her family, so I was spending quality family time staring at motors with them, becoming part of the family 🙂 . And after my money had all been spent, I downgraded my sweet truck to pay some bills, and ended up with a 1994 Honda Civic. Since I still didn’t know much about cars, I overheated it several times and finally realized I needed to fix something on it, but had no money for the CRAZY mechanic labor costs.
Start With Google
Wanting to show I had actually learned something about cars, I popped the hood, looked around for a bit, said “hmmmm” a few times…..and promptly went to the internet. Because that’s what smart people do. I searched “honda civic overheating”, and got like a billion results or something. I checked out the first few results, and found some good advice. Someone said “check to see if coolant is leaking from the bottom of the radiator.” SWEET! I hopped off the couch, popped the hood and…”wait. Where’s the radiator?”
I went back to the webpage, and scrolled down a bit to see that someone had posted a picture, with annotations circling everything, and even pointing out the radiator. AMAZING! So I went back out, looked under the radiator and found that it was very wet, and had been leaking. Done! All I needed to do was get a new radiator and install it. Though I had never done that before…
Car Forums Are Magic!
I scroll up on the site I was on, and realized it was called a “car forum.” Being that the internet was still kind of young, I didn’t know what a forum was. I started clicking around and realized that it was literally a HUGE repository of people helping other people with car stuff. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?! All I had to do was go to the top in the “Search” Bar, type in my problem, and BAM! There were dozens of threads of people who had already been through my same issues, figured them out, and even wrote up step by step instructions detailing how to fix it!
There were even HUGE sections called “FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)” that were for common issues and fixes on my car, with pictures and instructions and everything. Someone compiled a HUGE list of links to all of these threads, for a master FAQ section to save yourself time and energy looking for your exact fix. Plus, these were the best of the best how-to threads, with all the detail you could ever want.
For me, I went the easy route and typed in “replace radiator”, and got a ton of good results. I saw something like this thread, which detailed everything out. And what’s better about instructions from REAL PEOPLE vs. the repair manual, is that they know the common issues and hangups people run into. They can tell you some work-arounds that’ll save time and money, and get you back on the road quicker and cheaper! And the best part is you can just post up a question, and REAL people can answer it for you, without charging a dime! Car forums really are Magic!
Get Some Basic Tools
Now that you are hip on car forums, and can do some really basic research on car maintenance, now you can look at getting some basic tools. I suggest grabbing a good socket set, like this one from Stanley. This is mostly what you will need for any car maintenance. In addition, for the bolts you can’t get to with a socket, you’ll want a basic set of wrench’s, like this one from Stanley. You’ll also want a screw driver set, like this one from Stanley. At this point you’re only out $57, plus you’ll get it in 2 days with free shipping from Amazon Prime…(you signed up for this after reading my article, right?). Now, most cars do come with a jack, but it is really nice to have a decent rolling floor jack. That being said, mine was given to me, and I borrow jack stands because I have access to them. But you can pick up a sweet 3-ton jack like this one, and some jack stands as well.
Do Some Basic Maintenance
Now that you have a basic set of tools, time to get out and start using them! I recommend starting with something easy, like checking the fluids. Just Google “how to check oil on (your) car”, and you should get a quick and easy video on youtube, or some step-by-step instructions on a car forum. Next, I suggest replacing a headlight, or taillight if one goes out. This will allow you to bust out the screwdrivers or maybe even the socket set. Again, just throw it into the Google machine, and you’re good to go.
Now that you’ve used the tools a bit, I suggest doing something even more fun, like changing your oil. Now, I will say right now that you’ll only save $15 – $20 by doing this, but it’s more learning about your car to make you a more powerful car owner in the future. The more you know about what is going on with your car, the less money you’ll waste on it. Same with the other procedures, just Google it, and find a video or step-by-step on how to change the oil. You can do this in like 15 minutes, and you’ll feel pretty AWESOME afterwards, knowing you did it yourself. And if you don’t want to be covered in gunk, I suggest some latex gloves to keep the oil and other junk off your hands.
You Are Saving Money
At labor rates over $80 – $120 an hour, taking your car to a mechanic for basic maintenance is just throwing money away. Plus, they will most likely replace a bunch of other stuff that is not necessary, but maybe they “recommend” it because it allows them to charge more in labor (not hating on mechanics, but labor is where they profit, just a fact). With less than $100 in tools, you can change your oil, replace lights, tune-up the car, replace the battery, change your brakes, and a TON of other things that will save you THOUSANDS in the long run. Plus, you’ll will stop buying new cars because you are afraid of them. You will gain confidence in how to maintain your depreciating asset, and heck, you might even enjoy it! You are helping your bottom like while helping protect your car’s bottom end…….wow…..really bad slogan….just forget I said that.
For those that need some more convincing, here’s some basic comparisons for a brake job we did recently. I had to take it to a shop because my car is like the ONLY ONE ON THE PLANET that get rusted and stuck, so I couldn’t’ get them off. But if I was going to do the work myself, here’s the cost:
Brake Rotors – $50
Brake Pads – $40
Brake Fluid – $7
Total – $97
Same parts replaced at a shop – $360
If I could have gotten my rotors off (haven’t had a problem on any other car), I would have saved $263! And that’s just the minimum. I went to Les Schwab and they quoted me OVER $500, because they said they’d have to service the calipers, and do the other brakes as well so they could “guarantee” their service, or some junk. Either way, a 2-hour (max) brake job can save hundreds right away.
YOU CAN DO IT!!!
The point is, you can do more than you think. You CAN maintain your car, and actually ENJOY it! You can STOP OUTSOURCING everything and be proud of the fact that you took care of it yourself. And you WILL become a more confident person in general, because you will have gained some new skills. I say if you love your car, it will love you back.
Comments: Do you own a car? Have you ever replaced a light bulb? How many out there make it a habit to do your own car maintenance? Do you find yourself caring about and enjoying your vehicles more when you do the work yourself?