Automobile Repair/Before You Repair
Decide whether it is a good idea for you to repair it
Do I have the knowledge I need?
Do I have/Can I get the tools?
What are the chances I will do something wrong?
If I do something wrong, how bad could it be?
Decide whether it is financially wise for you to repair it
Am I doing this to save money?
People try to learn and practice auto-repair for many reasons. Saving money on tasks is a big and very realistic reason to learn basic automotive maintenance and repair. Yet it is not the only reason. Other reasons people like to learn auto repair:
- Fixing and maintenance of cars can be an enjoyable hobby.
- Taking pride in being able to fix cars. Being able to fix a car demonstrates skill and dedication.
- To develop their skills for future auto repair jobs, whether personal, for friends, or as part of preparation for entry-level auto mechanic work.
As well, a big factor in people's learning and practice of auto-repair is how much free time they have.
For these reasons, often the financial prudence of engaging in auto repair is not the only factor that goes into decisions about how to approach the field. There are occasions where doing a repair can just not add-up in an immediate financial sense, but in those cases to many casual and serious students of auto-repair, it can still be worth it. It's not all about the $$. That said, many other students are also just busy people, who are working a job, and maybe raising a family, who approach auto-repair mainly for its money saving potential to make their life more economical.
For those students, there are situations where repairing a car themselves, or at all, just doesn't make that much sense dollar-wise. These situations are listed below. Think about the above reasons, and why you want to learn auto-repair, and it can help you make smart decisions when these situations come up.
If so, is it financially a good trade-off for my time?
In terms of saving money, you have to look at the trade off of extra hours it will take you to do a repair job instead of taking it to the shop vs. how much money you save. And to evaluate that trade off, it helps to think in terms of how much free time you have, and how much you normally make per hour. If you work 40 hours a week already, and you were thinking about it in terms of immediate financial cost-benefit, it doesn't make much sense to spend ten hours on a repair that will save you eighty dollars after buying $20 in tools and $50 in replacement parts (most jobs that take ten hours will save you more than that!).
But if you're one of those individuals whose can afford, financially and in regard to time to focus on the other benefits to car maintenance (fun and a sense of competence and accomplishment) and long-term benefits (practice of skills which can allow for faster and more complex work in the future) which you may be seeking, you might end up doing it anyway.
If so, if I do not have the tools, will buying the tools be worth it?
Even the most common jobs for automotive maintenance require a pretty wide tool set, and this tool set is an investment which should generally be made after deciding one wants to seriously begin learning how to take care of their car. Yet each system of a car can require special tools, many of them tools which are only required for that make or model of car. Sometimes buying all the tools necessary to do a repair can be more than the cost of taking the car to the shop, where they already have the tools. Or it can close enough to the cost that it makes the savings no longer enough to be worth doing it yourself.
Now, maybe once you buy those tools you can keep them around for a long time. It's up to you to decide whether you're ever likely to use them again, or if you are, if it's likely to be so far in the future that they'll just take up space rusting in the garage. It's up to you to decide, but we encourage you to be realistic.
If so, are the replacement part costs worth the money?
Replacement parts are a whole different ballgame. When you decide whether to buy replacement costs, what you are deciding on is not whether it's worth repairing the car yourself (you should be able to provide any replacement part you buy to an auto-mechanic as well), but whether it's worth repairing the car at all!
In most repair cases it is. But most cars, eventually down the road, will run into a position in which it is not, at which point it will be either scrapped, or otherwise re-purposed (sold to an enthusiast, converted into a lawn ornament indefinitely stranded on concrete blocks, etc). Let's offer of an example of what this point might look like: let's say you have a really old car, passed down through your family or bought used a couple years ago when you needed a car on the cheap. With 100k or more on the odometer, if that car's transmission or engine becomes irreversibly damaged, the replacement part might cost more than the value of the car itself! And that's not even including installation costs of your time (for DIY) or money (for a mechanic).
Always find out first!
As repair enthusiasts, we are the last to recommend sending the car "out to pasture" if it doesn't need it. Here are steps you need to take before you metaphorically curb the car.
1. Decide how much the value of the car would be to you if you fixed it. If you bought all the parts to bring that lemon back in working order, how much would it be worth afterward?
Remember, we are not talking about an abstract value in a blue book. If you think the car would be worth $2500, make sure it would be worth that much to you. Are you reasonably sure you would get that much money for it if you wanted to sell it? If you had $2500 instead of this car, and you could buy this car but only for that exact amount, would you buy it instead of another car? If the answer to each question is 'no', perhaps you need to lower your valuation of the car after fixing it.
It may be financially wise at this point to do a personal, or have a mechanic do an inspection of the car to assess for other impending major problems that would have to be fixed, and factor those into either the value of the car, or (if you plan to fix them) the cost of repair. If you plan to fix them yourself you can factor these costs in more conservatively.
2. Look at how much it will cost, and check out your options
You do not need to only buy new car parts. There are many places to buy used/after-market working parts (and many places to get ripped off with broken parts! Make sure to do your homework on how to be a smart consumer).
Let's say that by buying some discount and used parts which you are relatively sure will work, fixing the car will cost $1400 and several days of your time, or an additional $1700 instead of those days if you took the car and its parts to the mechanic.
3. If the cost of repair exceeds the value of the car to you after repair, it is time to scrap the car.
The best case scenario is that you happen to know of anyone who wants the car for other purposes (classic car show?) or is able to make this equation work for them better (perhaps the problem is one which you cannot repair, and it is the cost of service alone that makes the cost of repair expensive beyond financial sense)
The other scenario, and not one which is necessarily terrible, is to strip the car for resalable parts, and sell the remains to a scrap dealer. If this is not worth the time for you, it may simply be a better option to sell the car to a scrap dealer, or to one of many businesses which depend on buying, reselling parts of, and then scrapping dilapidated cars. Ask around and see which strategy will get you a good price.
Cars, which are machines containing hundreds of complex, fast moving little parts which see years of use and climate damage, are not capable of lasting forever. Most cars, one way or another, will at some point end up abandoned and junked. This is why you don't see many cars from the 50s still on the road. The best thing you can do is make sure the scrapping of a car happens no earlier than necessary.
If you have decided to repair it, follow proper safety procedure
This includes making sure you know how to be safe while doing repairs
Pre-repair Safety Checklist
These are not just here to annoy you or bother you with details. Following safety procedures will save your life. Continually disregarding measures for your own safety when doing automotive repairs will leave you permanently disabled or kill you. Neither a working car nor a devil-may-care attitude are of any use to you if you are dead.
- I am in a reasonable state of mind to perform automotive repairs (Sober, well-rested the night before, not under extreme pressure or stress, emotions well under control, demeanor relaxed but present. Hydrated and fed).
- I am arranged appropriately (No loose clothing. Hair is tied up. All jewelry removed. Cigarettes put out).
- I am aware of and well-read on basic safety procedures for each step of the task I am about to do.
- I have brought along proper safety equipment for the task I am about to do (This includes, ALWAYS: gloves, hard splash-free (sealed off) goggles, and a fire extinguisher).
- I am working in a well-ventilated area (parking lot, flat field, or driveway is ideal. Garage should only be used near door with door open. Or, working in a professional garage with a working, adequate professional ventilation system).
- I am working in a setting in which no one will get hurt if I temporarily am distracted from my work (there are no unsupervised young children or animals. Any unsupervised older children have been properly instructed in and demonstrated they are capable of staying clear of the car).
- I am working in a setting in which I concentrate on my work (no major distractions, again including unsupervised children or animals).
- Any cars I am working on are in a proper state to be repaired (engine off, parking break on, gearshift in park. Engine cooled down and not hot. Wheels properly blocked before being jacked up. Jacked up properly if so).
- Any toxic chemicals I am working with are in a safe area accessible only by an adult and sealed when not in use at that very moment. After work is finished, they are returned, sealed, to an area accessible only by an adult.
- When using toxic chemicals, even I am not working on the car, chemicals are kept several feet from, and not directly below my mouth, nose and eyes. When using toxic chemicals, I have safety equipment on.