Do-it-yourself car repairs can save car owners hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars. Bankrate estimates that on average it costs $2,223 a year to own a car, including $359 for repairs.
Car repair experts say owners can accomplish many fixes 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 quickly. Of course, DIYers must buy parts (prices depend on the vehicle, product quality, and vendor) and perhaps a basic socket or wrench set ($20 to $50). But in general, DIY auto repairs can save 50 percent to 80 percent compared with a professional's bill, says Scotty Kilmer, who runs a YouTube channel with how-to videos and hosts Saturday morning Google Hangouts Q&A sessions with car owners.
Here are three easy car repairs that readily fall into the DIY category:
Dead Car Battery.Replacing a dead car battery is a snap and can save upward of $100, says Stan Markuze, founder of Part My Ride, a marketplace for buying and selling parts from dismantled vehicles.
Brake Pads and Rotors.Changing worn brake pads and rotors is not as daunting as it might seem and easily nets big savings. An auto repair shop in Queens, N.Y., quoted Cheapism $340 to complete the job on a 2008 Mazda 3. But buying replacement pads runs $30 to $60, and a rotor goes for about $75, totaling less than half the cost at a shop.
Fluids and Filters.Changing oil, transmission fluid, and cabin air filters are easy and common DIY auto repairs. The work might run $20 to $30 at a chain specializing in auto maintenance, or as much as several hundred dollars for a high-end car taken to a dealer. Doing the job at home may not save much -- coupons for cheap oil changes are plentiful -- but it avoids high-pressure sales tactics and the resulting charges for everything a shop claims needs servicing. (Remember to dispose of used motor oil properly; many repair shops, service stations, and parts vendors will recycle it.)
The experts disagree slightly about the best, cheapest sources for the parts and other materials needed for DIY car repairs and maintenance. Markuze says warehouse stores such as Costco and local auto parts stores are good places to buy tools. He also recommends eBay, Craigslist, and, of course, his own site. Others caution against buying parts online, noting that consumers must wait for a shipment to arrive and deal with the potential hassle of returning a wrong part.
Kilmer is partial to brick-and-mortar vendors -- AutoZone, for example -- that stock basic tools and equipment. In a Cheapism.com price comparison of common automotive products, AutoZone and O'Reilly Auto Parts were undercut by big-box stores Walmart and Target. But a specialty store may be the only option for a part such as an alternator or fuel injector, Kilmer says. Eric Cook, whose Eric the Car Guy site offers scores of how-to videos, troubleshooting FAQs, and forums, warns about the perils of chasing down the lowest prices. "Your repairs are often only as good as the parts you use," he says.
When it comes time to get under the hood, there is no shortage of DIY advice, guidance, and step-by-step instructions (sometimes for specific vehicle models) available online. Car owners' manuals also provide lots of useful information, such as simple diagnostic tests and repairs, optimal tire pressure, and 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 $27 a year for the first vehicle ($17 for each additional) and provides in-depth tutorials and frequent updates on how to diagnose and repair specific models.
It can help to build relationships at an auto repair shop. Most mechanics probably won't reveal when a car repair is cheap and easy, Cook says. An easy job is easy money, and shops profit from the labor charge and markup on parts, making it a double win. Still, shop employees may be willing to give a few pointers pro bono or help source a hard-to-find part. "A good relationship with a repair shop can be invaluable when it comes to auto repair -- even if you're doing the work yourself," Cook says.