Save Money. Fix Your Own Car.

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For the past three weeks, I didn’t need to set the alarm clock to wake me up in the morning. My neighbor leaves for work at 7am and his car makes such a screeching, unbearable sound that it’s impossible not to wake up.

But even though it’s more efficient than any wake-up call, it’s not a bit pleasant to start your day by jumping out of bed in terror. So I asked him what the deal was. Why doesn’t he get his car repaired? I mean, besides the horrific noise, there’s clearly a problem there that won’t fix itself. He shrugs his shoulders and tells me “I haven’t got the money yet. Hopefully, next month.”

Money can be a real pain in the rear end, indeed. But here’s the thing: my neighbor likes to think of himself as a survivalist. He’s got a stockpile and bug-out bags and all… However, when it comes to the only way of getting his family out of town and into a safe place — and by that I mean his car — he shrugs his shoulders and says “Maybe next month.”

If you’ve ever found yourself in this kind of situation, where you lacked money for a crucial service, I’m going to tell you what I told my neighbor: Well, fix your own car then. You’ll save some money.

Now, I’m can’t teach you how to repair your car, step-by-step, because that’s what manuals are for. But I’m going to show you the basic rules you need to follow if you decide to roll you sleeves and do the job.

First of all, you need a list of tools you need. I found this list on Jalopnik and I found it very  useful (and very funny, as well):

– combination wrenches (standard, metric, or both, depending upon what kind of car you have)

– screwdrivers (flathead and phillips, various sizes)

– pliers

– a socket set

– a breaker bar and pry bars

– some sort of reliable jack and jack stands (or concrete blocks) and/or ramps

– Visegrips or locking pliers

– penetrating oil

– rags

– a fire extinguisher

– a bicycle and a big, sturdy backpack (or a girlfriend/roommate’s car) for mid-repair parts runs (because there’s nothing funnier than being that guy riding a bicycle down main street with a radiator tucked under your arm)

– access to a junkyard (may I add: and a parts store)

– a not-too-distant source of cold beer

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, let’s move on to those golden rules I was telling you about:

#1: Get the right diagnosis

 You’ve got two options:

 1. You ask someone at the parts store to help you out.

 These guys usually know cars inside and out and they won’t charge you for it, like your car service does. After all, it’s in their interest to help you out with the diagnosis. If the radiator’s broken, they’ll sell you a new one. It’s a win-win. You save a lot of money, they make some.

 2. You google the “symptoms”.

 Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought you could fix your car via google, but I read this post on MrMoneyMoustache and it made me rethink the whole thing. I told my neighbor to google his car’s symptoms as well, I’m curious if he’s going to get any good results.

 So here’s how this works:

– You google the symptoms. For example, “noise from rear wheels”. You’re going to get suggestions for what the problem might be. Maybe the wheel bearings are worn out.

– You go to Youtube and you type the problem: “worn out wheel bearings” or “wheel bearings noise”. If you find a video where a car makes the exact noises as your car does, then that’s probably the problem.

#2: Get yourself a “Haynes” manual

 Trust me, you’re going to need it. Take it, study it a bit, see how it’s structured and read everything that you might find useful during the fix. Don’t start working on your car before opening the manual. Take your time and get familiar with it first.

#3: Get ready for the job

You know the drill:

  • Don’t wear your good clothes, they’ll be unwearable when you’re done with it.
  • Wear protective gloves
  • If you’re not comfortable with them, rub Vaseline on your hands
  • Make sure the jack is perfectly reliable
  • Pick a safe spot to fix your car. The street or a parking lot should not be on this list, obviously
  • Let your car cool down before starting to work on it. You don’t want to burn your hands on hot metal.

#4: Make sure you’ve got everything you need with you

 Place the parts and the tools you’re going to need close to you. It helps you save time and it also prevents accidents like losing small parts such as screws and nuts. You know how this happens: you go looking for that screwdriver you forgot you were going to need and, when you come back, that teeny tiny part vanished from sight.

#5: Proceed with the fixing

 Again, you’ve got two options here:

– Follow the instructions in the manual

– Use the Internet

You can use Youtube to search for step-by -step videos. For example, MrMoneyMoustache, the one who wrote about repairing his car using the Internet, typed “1999 Odyssey replace rear wheel bearings” and found a video tutorial. In my opinion, that’s exactly what the Internet is for: helping people in need with time-saving and money-saving solutions. Very ingenious.

 Or you can use one of the following websites:

#6: Disassemble/Reassemble wisely

 I loved this one:

 “Develop a system for placing parts that you had to remove to just get to the defective part in such a way that they will be easier to reassemble, replace properly, such as setting a bracket down correctly oriented, with it’s accompanying hardware placed right by where it goes, rather than all jumbled in a pile. A good method will also incorporate reversing the order of removal to put it together again.

 ~ Caution: A manual instruction such as “now replace the peripheral flange bracket” is useless to you, if you can’t remember how the bracket came off — and while the manual is helpful, the pictures often are not very clear and are not labeled or explained well.”

 I really hope you’ll find these rules and resources useful and you’ll try to save some money next time your car gets sick. Remember: everything seems hard the first time you do it. If you don’t think you can do it by yourself, ask a friend to help. Two heads might be better than one.

By My Family Survival Plan

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