How To: Save Money Working On Your Own Car

Saving Money - Why Most People Work On Their 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 1988 Audi 80 with a ton of issues. When I started I had no knowledge and relied solely on guides on the internet. So I decided I’d start writing up general guides myself to give back. Where better to start than with how to save money working on your car, I thought to myself. I’m going to go through all steps starting with the things you need, and going from there. So here we go!

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. Which means they are marking them up big time. Usually the cheapest place to find parts is online, but you do need to be careful to buy from a reputable source.

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 that you’re willing to deal with it, if necessary.

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. 

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 the shop, 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 combination wrench set, a few hammers, pliers set, a c-clamp, screwdriver set, pry bars, and a hex key set. A jack and jack stands go without saying, you will need these. 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.

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. Next step up 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.

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 you’ll be good to go. 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!

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 it 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 100 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. 

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.

Step 5 - Saving Money

So you’ve reached the end and you are still wondering, how are you actually going to 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 done for you. 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. These will provide the basis for what it costs you to do it yourself. Once you have that in hand, you can compare and decide how much money you will save by doing the labor yourself, you do this by taking the mechanic estimate and subtracting your cost. If you want to get more advanced, you can give yourself a time estimate and put a value on your time. 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 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 also another 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 be sure to factor in the rental cost, and factor that against what it would cost you to purchase the tools and equipment to do it yourself. You can also plan for the job to go faster here than in your own garage in most cases due to having all the equipment organized, in one place, plus expert guidance. For example, if taking it to a mechanic costs $120 per hour, that same amount buys you 3 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

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