The DIY Myth: Save Now, Pay Later

July 10, 2009

By Larry Wiezycki:

Let’s face it, economic times are tough for everyone right now whether you are unemployed, have lost your home to foreclosure, or can’t afford that next health insurance increase. Just when things seem to be at their worst, something goes wrong with the family car.

Now what? Do you head down to the local ‘stealership,’ credit card in hand and plunk down the big bucks for your free coffee, donut, and an estimate from a certified technician (assuming they are still in business)? Or do you grab a flashlight and screwdriver to start poking around under the hood in hopes of saving a few bucks?

Faced with a repair bill potentially in the hundreds – even thousands of dollars – many people are summoning the courage for the first time to take matters into their own hands. Recent search engine data from Yahoo reflects this recent increase in DIY or “do it yourself” repair.

It’s not a bad option, if you have some sort of idea what you are doing. But many people don’t.

With DIY on the rise, it’s giving way to a new phenomenon: an increase in botched do-it-yourself auto repairs. Worse than the unsuccessful repair attempt itself is when the DIY-er breaks something else in the process.

A recent AP story details the mishaps of one owner’s unsuccessful attempt at replacing a burned out tail light, and another whose neighbor’s driveway-brake-job nearly ended in a crash.

Both wound up paying hundreds more to get everything fixed.

Our advice:

  1. Do your research. Forget the ‘repair manuals’ sold in auto parts stores, most don’t go into enough detail to be helpful. Let Google be your guide to the ever expanding online auto repair discussion groups. Even if you choose to pay a professional, you’ll be better equipped to avoid getting ripped off.
  2. Call around for the best price. Privately owned shops sometimes charge half the price of a dealership, but usually don’t offer the free coffee.
  3. As a bonus, some private shops may allow you to source your own parts cheaply online while adding a small fee to offset their normal markup.
  4. If you do decide to take matters into your own hands, know your limits. Don’t go trying to replace a worn fan belt if you’ve never turned a wrench before!