In general, most of us are pretty afraid of car work. To this very day when I hear the word “transmission” in any kind of repair context, I get an immediate throbbing headache which I associate with about $1,500 coming out of my pocket for tranny work. Even though I will not walk you through specific steps to fix your car, I will explain how to cut your costs.
You know someone who knows someone who can work on your car if you don’t want to get your hands dirty. Just ask around. Guys who know what they are doing are somewhere near. If you can’t find one, make friends with a guy from a repair shop. With the economy in the pooper, a mechanic can work after hours on your car for cash. If you’re a guy, buy him a case of beer. If you are a single girl … should I continue? Kidding.
Get into the “Do It Yourself” mindset. Think about it – car mechanics provide a service. It’s intangible (with the exception of parts, which you can buy yourself in the nearest AutoZone]). You are effectively paying for the mechanic’s paycheck, shop utilities, liability, markup, and God knows what else. Do it yourself and save at least half. The key is to not be intimidated. Your car may seem complicated, but it’s a dumb bunch of pieces of metal and plastic arranged together in a certain order. For example,
You car needs wheels to drive and brakes to brake. If your brakes make noises or don’t brake too well, it means that one piece of metal rubbing against another piece of metal (pads against rotors) is not doing its job.
Your engine has pistons inside. Those are pieces of metal rubbing inside a bigger hunk of metal (your engine). Pistons go up and down FAST, generating lots of heat. To dissipate that heat, your engine has to be cooled. Unless you drive and old air-cooled Beetle, you have a cooling system, which is a bunch of hoses and a tank filled with liquid. The liquid is being pumped by a water pump in a circle through your engine to take away heat. Water alone doesn’t work because the engine gets hot – hot enough to boil water. Boiling water doesn’t take away heat because it itself is hot. That’s why people add nasty smelling green coolant to raise boiling point of water.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, your vehicle’s engine has pistons inside. Those are pieces of metal rubbing inside a bigger hunk of metal (your engine). Pistons go up and down FAST, generating lots of friction. To ease the friction, people add engine oil to their engine. After a while because of all that metal rubbing against metal, little chunks of (you guessed it …) metal get mixed with oil, making it black. Eventually, if you don’t change oil, it turns into metal stew, and it bothers your pistons a lot. To catch some of the metal paticles, people install oil filters. Eventually those get plugged up with metal bits and need to be replaced. If they are not, they can contribute to oil pump breakage, which, simply enough, has only one purpose – to move oil around in a circle.
AND AGAIN: Your engine has pistons inside. Those are piece of metal rubbing inside a bigger hunk of metal (your engine). Pistons go up and down FAST because of fuel combustion. A mix of fuel and air gets set on fire inside your car several times per second. How do pistons know when to move up and down? A computer chip or a distributor is telling the spark plugs when to fire.
And so on. You don’t need to know the intricacies of piston composition, or exact circuit diagrams of your vehicle. You just need to have a rough idea of what’s going on, and not be afraid to read up on the subject, and do it yourself.
My wife’s car was shaking on freeway. We established that she needed front pads and rotors for her ’02 Focus. We went to Ford dealership and got quoted $370 for everything out the door. We said “screw it” and decided to do it ourselves. She went to a local parts store and got both rotors and pads for around $100. We paid our mechanic friend $35 to install them, and he was pretty excited to get paid $105 an hour (for those of you not understanding me, it took him 20 minutes). Savings = $370 – $135 = $235 on the spot.
I drive an 84 300SD (diesel) Mercedes (resource), which is considered to contain the best diesel (car) engine ever made. It’s an ultimate DIYer’s car because everything can be pulled apart and fixed. The complete lube job for my car could cost as much as costs $400 at the dealership (listen to phone conversation (mp3), read the post). Here’s the slap in the face: the MB guy said, “we’ll even clean our your cassette player”. I’m speechless.
After speaking with my friend Rob, a big DIY guy, I went to AutoZone, got two primary fuel filters, a secondary filter, and an oil filter. Then I went to Wal-Mart and got some engine oil (Shella Rotella 15W-40). Totals: 2 x $2.99 + $9.99 for fuel filters, $12.99 for oil filter, $15 for two gallons of Rotella for a grand total of $43.96 + tax. I’m out fifty bucks and an hour of very enjoyable labor.
And finally, most cars have the ‘Check Engine Light’. When it goes on, it doens’t mean you need an engine transplant. It could be something as dumb as a tiny leak or malfunction in a relay. Our arofrementioned ’02 Focus decided to turn the ‘Check Engine’ light on. We called the shop and they wouldn’t even speak to us without hooking the car up to the computer … for a fee of $80. Regardless of the result, you are out eighty bucks.
We said “screw it” again and took the car to AutoZone. They hooked up their computer and told us we had a vacuum leak. We then took the car to a local mechanic. Thirty bucks later, the car was fixed, and our minds were at ease. Savings = at least $80 – $35 = $45.
And finally, if you need a reliable vehicle, you are willing to learn and get your hands dirty, the best car you can ever buy at this point in time is a 1981-1985 Mercedes-Benz 300D. They are cheap (up to $3,500 – $4,000), very reliable, and this particular model does not have any bells and whistles that tend to go wrong. Learn more.
Make your own decisions.