“Do I have to take my car to a shop every time I need a repair?” This is a frequently asked question, usually when you see the bill after you get a repair done to your car. Services like a tune up can be up to $250 to change spark plugs. Just replacing brake pads can range from $150 to $500, sometimes even into the $1,000 range, depending on what other services need to be done to your brakes.
Now, you might be thinking, what can be done to avoid all the over spending? You have two options; the first is straight forward, do it yourself! DIY repair can range from super easy issues like changing a headlight bulb and then fall into more difficult repairs like replacing shocks and struts. Either way, you can do it! Many people look up videos on YouTube guiding them through the process of how to do repairs. There are also places like My Auto Store where you can buy OEM auto parts that come from your exact vehicle’s make and model.
We also understand the fear associated with fixing your own car, hope is not lost if you refuse to mess around with your vehicle. There are people out there who we like to call “backyard mechanics”, these people either currently working or previously worked in a repair shop. They may also have extensive knowledge about cars and work on them as a hobby or to just fix and resell them. If they work on their personal car, you can base their skills on if their car breaks down every week or if it lasts after their own repairs.
Why do people decide to become mechanics on the side, instead of pursuing it as a career? See this article “Why Auto Repair Costs Will Keep Increasing and What You Can Do About It” on why many new mechanics leave the automotive repair field due to low pay. Once you understand why they leave, you see why they would rather you pay them personally for labor and buy the part yourself for them to replace. We met with a local backyard mechanic in South Jersey named Brandan.
Brandan has been working on cars since he was 14; he switched between three different shops over the years before finally landing a decent paying maintenance job at his apartment complex. He feels that he was not being paid a living wage working at these shops, no matter what one he went to. Now, to make some extra cash on the side, he fixes up cars for friends, family, and even fellow residents at his complex. He charges hundreds less than what a repair shop would charge and still makes more profit off the repair then he would working in a shop.
We decided to sit down with Brandan and ask him some information to help you decide where and how you should get repairs done to your car, what tools you need to have and use, and general information regarding this topic.
Interview with a “Backyard Mechanic”
First, it is important to review the tools involved in fixing cars. Many people are thinking about the price of investing in tools, sadly they are not cheap. If you plan on continuously working on vehicles, then you should buy your own tools. Brandan says he has spent at least $8,000 on tools but it’s a worthwhile investment. A lot of times he will call up a friend to see if he can borrow tools from them if he doesn’t have one, instead of buying it.
Brandan believes sockets, wrenches, ratchets, screw drivers, and extensions are a must. He added, “There are a lot of things you may need but these are tools that are used pretty consistently.”
In order for you to have a better idea of what tools are used for certain repairs, we asked Brandan to tell us what he thinks are crucial tools for a brake replacement, shock/strut replacement, and engine replacement. For brakes, it is smart to have a socket set, brake caliper tool, and a jack. For shock and struts you want to have a socket set and jack. The engine is probably the trickiest one. According to Brandan you would need pry bars, a socket set, and an engine hoist at least. It would be much easier to do all of this with a lift though.
So, this brings up the question: are you limited in what you can repair without having a lift? There is good news and bad news; Brandan told us, “you can technically do anything with a jack but that does not mean it will be easy.” Repairs like an engine replacement may be much more difficult using a jack instead of a lift. While repairs like a brake replacement doesn’t get much more difficult using a jack instead of a lift.
When you have all the tools you need for your repairs, it’s time to zone in on the labor involved in working on a vehicle. Looking at how much technology has evolved; it is no surprise that newer cars are harder to fix. Not only are they harder to fix but, “you have less room to work than on older vehicles.” We also asked Brandan what the easiest repair is for him and what the easiest repair for inexperienced people would be, in his opinion. He said he can replace brakes with ease but as for someone inexperienced he thinks an oil or tire change would be easiest for them to do.
Another thing people worry about is if they get confused during a repair. As we stated before, even people who work on cars regularly, like Brandan, will need a little help because not all cars are alike. Brandan even admits he will pull up a YouTube video of someone doing the repair for that exact vehicle and it’s never been wrong. He usually just needs a refresher or the car is a model that follows different steps than he is used to.
Why Stop Going to A Repair Shop?
You may be scared to do repairs and want to continue to go to a shop. Keep a few things in mind before you make this decision. Take it from someone who used to work in a shop, Brandan believes, “When it comes to prices, they are way too high and it is so easy for a shop to rip you off.” He makes a good point that you cannot be in the shop with them while they do the repair, you don’t know what they are doing. So, it comes down to if you want a stranger working on your personal vehicle. Brandan gives some advice on why it is better to go to a backyard mechanic or do it yourself:
“Try your best not to go to the shop; sometimes it’s expensive for no reason. Some things are so simple to fix and they charge you hundreds for it. Let’s use spark plug replacement as an example, if you ask a shop to do it, it can be $250 and up. It isn’t difficult, so if you asked me to do it, I’d only ask for around $40, do it yourself and it is free.”
Brandan urges people to step out of their comfort zones and do it themselves, especially for easy repairs. If not, find someone like him who has knowledge about cars, someone you trust. This will not only save you money but it will help someone in a field where the wages are low. You basically cut out the middleman (the repair shop) and cut down the price by half and even more than half a lot of the time.
Where Can I Find Quality, Cheap Auto Parts?
Now you have the insight on how to reduce your repair costs but one important question remains. “Where do I buy all these parts I need?” Don’t worry, we still have you covered! Many parts that you may need do not need to be brand new, for example a used transmission would be much cheaper than a brand new one. If you are at the point you need a transmission, your car is likely at a high mileage already. It is smarter and cost effective to buy a used one than to buy a brand new one for a car that might have another problem arise down the road. This also goes for an engine replacement.
My Auto Store has used engines for sale, as well as used transmissions for sale online. They are a great auto parts store to find the auto parts you need. They also have products ranging from interior car parts to used transfer cases, you can call and speak to their part experts for any other part inquiries. This car parts store puts all their products through a 4-stage quality control system before placing them in their inventory, they offer free two-day shipping and a 6-month warranty.
Stop going to a repair shops for simple fixes. Some tools are worth buying because they can be used for multiple repairs such as a torque wrench. Other ones such as a compression tester can be rented from a store or online! One website that has rental tool options is Fusco’s Rental World in Flemington, NJ. Also, if you decide to change any fluids such as an oil change, make sure you dispose of this oil safely. Recycling NJ tells you places in NJ where you can drop off your used oil. If you are located somewhere else, Google where you can dispose of it and you will find somewhere near you.
If you go to a backyard mechanic you will save a lot of money on your repair, if you do it yourself, it is free labor and all you need to pay for is the part. Now that you have a place to buy parts, a place to buy tools and a place to watch informational videos, you are ready to fix your vehicle! It’s up to you to decide if you want to pay someone a little money on the side to do it or fix it yourself. Either option keeps your bank account much happier than going to a repair shop.