You are never too young to start learning about cars and you are never too old to pick up a wrench for the first time.
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Working on your own car is a great opportunity to save money… Or at least reallocate the funds into the modification budget. You will also save time from sitting in a mechanic’s waiting room. The following are my top ten tips for becoming a do-it-yourself mechanic.
Invest in Proper Tools – Having the right tools can make the difference between a 15 minute task and a 3 day job.
Tools are expensive, but tools are also an investment. When I performed my first oil change, I had to purchase all of the necessary tools to complete the task. This resulted in an upfront cost that was equal to paying a shop to perform the service. But at the end of the day, I was able to keep those tools for future services that continually offset the expense of that initial investment.
There are some tasks which will require specialty tools that are expensive and hard to justify purchasing. Luckily, most chain-store parts suppliers will rent out tools and refund 100% of your money upon return. In the event that you are unable to rent the tool you need, do not hesitate to buy the tool and then sell it once you are finished. Better yet, there is a good chance someone else had this same mindset and may be selling the tool you need on your local classified listings.
Start with Basic Maintenance – Change the oil. Replace the air filter. Rotate the wheels. Starting with these simple tasks will allow you to grow your confidence to take on more significant projects. As you continue to work on your car, you will continue to become familiar with the mechanical workings.
Watch How-to Videos – Watching other people perform the tasks that you are about to embark on will provide you with guidance and a better understanding of what needs to take place. Do not limit yourself to one video; watch a few. Pay attention to different methods and techniques, listen for any challenges that people face, and see how they overcome any obstacles.
Join a Forum – The internet is a very valuable resource and forums are excellent for guidance and help when working on your car. Nearly every car in existence will have a dedicated forum with a community consisting of enthusiasts, experts, and novices.
Take some time to familiarize yourself with the forum. Especially if you are working on a car that is more than five years old, it is likely that the task you are attempting to perform has already been documented.
Do not turn to Facebook, Reddit, or other social media platforms for help. Forums provide a grounds for fact checking, debate, and user reputation ratings, helping ensure that you are provided with accurate information. Social media does not provide accountability and in many cases, people may intentionally misinformation others simply for their own entertainment. Check out our podcast where we pull back the curtain on automotive forums:
Accept Assistance Whenever You Can – When you join an online forum, you may find a local guru who is willing to lend a helping hand.
Even if you cannot get a self-proclaimed mechanic to help you, just having a second pair of hands and eyes can make working on cars a lot less daunting. Problem solving is easier with assistance and you are less likely to get frustrated when you have someone’s help. Sometime, you just need that person to hand you tools while you are on your back under a car.
Go to a Junkyard – There are junkyards all around the world and many of these will allow you to bring your own tools to disassemble the cars.
If you drive an older car that can be found in the yard, use this opportunity to practice taking things apart. You may find some good used parts for your vehicle.
Even if you drive a newer car, taking apart old cars is a great way to learn how things work. All cars are more-or-less the same and you may be surprised how familiar different makes and models can be. You could even find some unique or rare junkyard parts to retrofit to your car or sell online for a profit. We have a few podcasts on these exact topics here:
Practice Makes Perfect – Just like learning an instrument or sport, practice makes perfect. Working on cars builds a level of strength and dexterity for the body and mechanical knowledge for the mind.
Even if your car is working flawlessly and has no need for mechanical attention, donate your time to help a friend or neighbor with their own car. While you should accept assistance whenever you can, you can also be that assistant to others.
Expand Your Mechanical Knowledge – Some people are naturally mechanically minded, but you can still take the time to educate yourself about how cars work. When presented with the opportunity, shadow an expert or real mechanic to see how they approach certain tasks.
Some of my favorite YouTube channels are nothing more than average people working on cars in front of a camera. This may seem boring to watch, but it is a chance to see other cars get disassembled and learn new tricks along the way.
Take Breaks – It is easy to waste an entire weekend working on cars. While it can be disheartening to walk away from a project when things fail to go right.
Tools in-hand can be very dangerous with a frustrated and impulsive mind.
Routine rest and relaxation are both important and often overlooked from the garage. Sometimes a good night’s sleep is all it takes to provide the insight for efficiently completing a challenging task.
Grow your confidence – After my first oil change, I was worried the engine might seize up. Following my first spark plug swap, I was in fear of the car catching on fire. Within that first year, I eventually had the confidence to undertake replacing shocks and struts by myself; a two hour task that took an entire weekend on that first attempt.
Looking back, I now laugh at my ignorance and innocence. After just a few years of turning wrenches, I had developed the confidence to start tearing into engines and rebuilding cars without any guides or references; a goal that anyone can achieve. Having now saved myself tens of thousands of dollars on automotive repairs, my only regret is that I did not pick up a wrench when I was younger.