Where To Start When Learning To Work On Your Own Car
Ask me why I started working on cars, and I’d tell you it’s because I couldn’t afford to take it to a mechanic. My first car was a $500 Audi with a ton of issues. When I started I had no knowledge and relied on guides on the internet, and a shop manual. So I decided I’d start writing up general guides myself and where better to start than with how to get started working on your own car! This is part 1 in a series of how to guides.
Step 1 - Parts
The first step is getting your parts for a reasonable price. For most mechanic shops, a large portion of their revenue comes from parts. Markups vary widely between shops, but most parts are between 50-200% markup from what you could buy the part for. Usually the cheapest place to find parts is online, but you do need to be careful to buy from a reputable source. If you want to buy aftermarket performance parts, generally the best bet is to buy them online.
Word of caution when buying on Amazon, you are buying from individual sellers 99% of the time, and they just want to sell parts. The parts may be cheap, but not fit correctly. While they typically have a good return policy, you should be sure to check the policy and be sure it’s easy enough to return the part if necessary. The other side of returns is if you have to pay for return shipping, and car parts can
Local parts stores are a great option as well, and the best part is you can usually get your parts same day. On top of that, handling a parts warranty will be significantly easier since you don’t have to deal with shipping. We prefer to buy our parts from Autozone, but most parts stores carry the same brands and are competitive in pricing.
If you are planning on coming to Stew’s Self Service Garage, send us an email or give us a call. We can order parts for you so they are here when you arrive. No dealing with the parts store, we handle it for you.
Step 2 - Tools
If you are in the Seattle area, great news! You can come to Stew’s Self Service Garage and not have to buy or bring tools. We provide full tool sets, in professional grade workstations, in every bay. Of course I was going to plug my garage, it’s my blog post!
If you aren’t coming to Stew’s Self Service Garage, you’re going to need some tools. Maybe you have some, maybe you don’t yet. The basics are a 3/8″ and 1/2″ ratchet and socket set, a 1/2″ drive breaker bar that’s at least 24″ long, a combination wrench set, a few hammers, pliers set, a c-clamp, screwdriver set, pry bars, and a hex key set. You will need a jack and jack stands as well. BE SURE to get high quality jack and jack stands that have the proper weight rating for your vehicle, these are very important to your safety! The majority of you will want to buy metric tools as after about 1986 all manufacturers started using metric bolts. That said, it is good to have a set of SAE sockets and wrenches as well.
Some people opt to buy the all-in-one box sets that have a few hundred pieces and a carrying box. They can be a good starting point, but I prefer to buy the tools separately, then get a box to keep them in. Some box sets will leave things out that you’ll come to find you need, and nothing sucks more than when your car is inoperable and you need to drive to the store. Not every guide will tell you exactly what tools you need, so it’s good to equip yourself with as broad of a range as you can.
What are some brands to buy? Well, you have some options depending on your budget. At the cheaper end, Harbor Freight is where most people go. If you are buying from Harbor Freight try and buy from their ‘Pro’ line of tools as they are typically higher quality. An equivalent quality of tool would be Craftsman/Husky, which are available at most hardware stores. If you want something above that, Gearwrench brand tools are a good choice, but warrantying them can be tricky as you’ll typically purchase them online. And for those who have unlimited tool budget, you can chase down whichever tool truck brand you think is coolest and buy from them. Those brands would be Snap-on, Mac, Matco, and Cornwell.
If you want to buy from a list, you can do so by clicking here. Please note these are affiliate links, I will get paid a miniscule commission. The tools list we link are all tools that are used daily in our garage, and have held up to years of use and abuse. I trust them in my own tool boxes, so you should trust them in yours.
Step 3 - A Space To Work
Once again, Stew’s Self Service Garage is the perfect place to work on your own car. We provide a bay with a lift and a full set of tools in a professional grade workstation. Well lit, heated in winter, clean and safe! Not only that, our experts on staff are here to answer questions and provide guidance. We can’t turn the wrench for you, but are happy to provide pointers.
If you aren’t coming to Stew’s Self Service Garage, a space will be key. You’ll need a level surface on solid ground. This means concrete ideally, do not use jack and jack stands on gravel, dirt, or any other non-solid surface! Be sure you can safely use the jack and jack stands, and if you can’t you need to find another spot. Next you’ll probably want some form of cover and light. If you have a garage that will be ideal. Carports are next on the list, and if you don’t have that you’ll be hunting for a friend’s place that does. And if you strike out there, you’ll just need to go and scout a location! Please avoid parking lots, not only is there a risk of getting kicked out, there are other dangers as well. Do you really trust the other drivers to not hit your car on jack stands while they are trying to park their oversized mini van with 10 kids screaming and yelling? Didn’t think so.
Step 4 - Learning
Not sure where to start when it gets to actually turning the wrench? Fear not, in today’s world information is readily available all over the internet. Granted you do need to be cautious with that information, but the internet is a great resource. If you are going to fix your car at Stew’s Self Service Garage we have experts on staff with over 50 years of combined experience, plus access to AllData DIY for diagrams and specs is included in the hourly rental rate. We are happy to provide tips & tricks, guidance, and knowledge. We still suggest doing homework ahead of time, but we’ve got your back as much as we can!
If you aren’t coming to Stew’s Self Service Garage, you have many options available to you! YouTube, forums, Facebook groups, and friends are all a great resource for gaining knowledge on how to fix your car yourself. And if that fails, you can also buy a repair manual from a local parts store or on Amazon. You can also subscribe to an online repair resource like AllData DIY or Chilton DIY. All of these resources will give you a guide on what you will need to do, and give you a visual of all the components that you’ll be working on.
A third option are in person classes. These are much harder to find, and are area dependent. Some vocational-tech colleges provide auto classes that are open to the public, so it’s good to start looking there first. If you strike out there, you can look for any local car clubs and find out if they do any ‘tech-sessions’ for the club. If they do, join the club and sign up for these tech sessions. Stew’s Self Service Garage doesn’t currently offer classes, but we will soon.
Once you are armed with information, it’s time to get in there and do it! Nothing replaces actually getting your hands dirty and turning the wrench. Hands on experience doing different jobs will enhance your skills even when it comes to working on parts of the car you haven’t before. It builds confidence and teaches you about how your car works too. Plus if you are new to using tools, you’ll start to understand how they work, and you’ll get faster with using them too.
Step 5 - Saving Money
So you’ve reached the end and you might be wondering, will you actually save money? Easy, let’s break it down. First, get an estimate from a mechanic (if you haven’t already); this provides the basis for what this would cost you to have it done by someone else. Then determine what your cost for parts is, plus the cost to purchase or rent any tools, equipment, and guide book you may need to do the job. This will provide the basis for what it costs you to do it yourself. To figure out the savings, take the mechanic estimate and subtract your cost to purchase what you need. This helps you decide if it’s worth your time spent on the job and if you truly saved the amount of money you were hoping to save.
Tools and equipment are an important factor in the cost as it does cost you money to equip yourself to actually do the job. These can be amortized over many jobs though, so as you continue to work on your car, that cost per job will drop more and more. Sometimes just a single job can pay for all the tools you needed, depending on how expensive it is at the mechanic.
In most cases you will save the most money on jobs that require larger amounts of labor. This may not be the case for all jobs, but it is usually where you will stand to save the most. Brakes are the main job you can save a good amount of money on due to parts cost and usually they are very easy and quick to do.
If you’re coming to Stew’s Self Service Garage you’ll factor the hourly rate against the mechanic’s estimate. You can also generally plan for the job to go faster here than in your own garage in most cases due to having all the tools and equipment, plus expert guidance. For example, if taking it to a mechanic costs $120 per hour, that same amount buys you 2.5 hours here at Stew’s Self Service Garage. With mechanic rates rising, finding a trust worthy mechanic for under $100 per hour is becoming difficult in the Seattle area.
Thanks for reading, and we hope that you learned something! If you’re ready to Be Your Own Mechanic, you can get started by making an appointment by clicking here