Benefits of Fixing my Own Vehicles

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Tangible work for a change – whew!

I’m not a mechanic, I’m an IT guy – and a wannabe Personal Finance writer. That said, I do enjoy working with my hands and beholding a tangible job well done, especially since IT work and writing are thought jobs w/fewer material results.

Let’s consider the following example:

  • At work today I helped fix customer IT problems remotely for 8 hours.  I accomplished my work, reduced my ticket load, and gained satisfaction from helping my customers.  However, I was never able to behold or physically feel the benefit of my labor.
  • After work I set out to repair a faulty windshield washer pump and headlight dimming issue on my wife’s 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix.  I completed the repairs successfully and was able to see and feel both the work… and the results.  An awesome change of pace.

It’s not that I dislike my day job… rather I love the several benefits of labor diversity.

We save money

A good mechanic is hard to come by; if you find one, hold onto that relationship as long as possible.  My mechanic’s name is Sam Postema.  Sam and I began as simple networking contacts but quickly became friends.  Sam runs the best auto repair shop in Lansing, MI and I trust him with all automotive work I choose not to perform myself.

Here is a rough estimate of the cost for Sam to perform the repairs and earn a respectable profit:

  • Replace windshield washer pump = $110 (part – $40, labor – $63, fluid disposal & refill – $7)
  • Headlight dimming issue = $40 (labor & parts)
  • Total = $150

This is a pretty good price but doing it yourself always saves money.  You should follow this route whenever feasible.  I shopped for the part at my local CarQuest Parts Store.

  • Total = $22

A total savings of $128.  Not too shabby.

I learn more about auto repair

I have replaced many parts on many automobiles but had never replaced a windshield washer pump.  It was fun.  In case you are wondering… here are the instructions.

How to replace a windshield washer pump on a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix:

  • Pump resides under the washer fluid reservoir on the side closest the fender.
  • Jack front of car up and place on jack stands (optional, but makes job easier.)
  • Turn steering wheel all the way to the right.
  • Remove front wheel well liner on the passenger side… it’s under the battery.
  • Get a bucket and place it under your work.
  • Unplug the electrical connection to the pump.
  • Unplug bottom of pump from reservoir and drain into bucket (draining via pump hose takes too long.)
  • Unplug hose from pump, remove, then clean and dry the area housing the old pump.
  • Install bottom of new pump into reservoir, connect pump to pump hose, and connect electrical line.
  • Refill reservoir, test, and enjoy!

I also tested, cleaned, and lubricated the electrical connectors (and the ground) for the headlights.  That did the trick.  They are shining bright and functioning optimally once again.

My wife digs it

She pulled in the drive way, saw me wrenching, and thought she had a grease monkey under her car – turns out it was her husband.  She was surprised and thought it was cool – which is always a bonus.  😉

All in all it was a great learning and money saving experience.

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1 Matt Jabs

True that. Thanks Jeff, great to be writing again.

2 Jenna

I have a bunch of friends that work on cars (as a career or for fun) and can usually commission work in exchange for a home cooked meal or a 6 pack of beer. Both cheaper than going to a local auto shop. Other great option is checking out the local high school, if they have an auto class you can get repairs done for just the price of parts!

3 Matt Jabs

Oooh… great advice Jenna, thanks!

4 myfinancialobjectives

Great job! I know NOTHING about fixing cars, I honestly am not even sure I could do that even with your instructions…

DIY projects really can save you lots of money. The trick is to do them right so that in the long term they don’t end up costing you more money…

5 Matt Jabs

Ha ha… great point! 🙂

6 Amy

Another great place to go in lansing is the Tuffy near Frandor. 3015 East Grand River Avenue Lansing, MI. We always try to get Rick when we can but all the guys there seem to be on the up and up. Good to know there’s another place as well though. Thanks for the tip 🙂

I don’t suppose you know a good place to take a motorcylce for repairs?

7 Matt Jabs

Unfortunately I do not. I actually sold my 83 Honda V45 because I could not find a local motorcycle mechanic at reasonable prices (only dealers who charge exorbitant prices.) Selling it made more sense, otherwise it could have turned into a “money-pit” for me. I even created a CraigsList ad asking for a mechanic, but no luck.

8 Steve in W MA

I won’t argue with you on this one.

Another benefit to being your own mechanic is that you become much more aware of your car, and once you know your car very well you can often diagnose things more persistently and with a greater sense of context than a mechanic who only sees your car for 3 hours when you bring it in. It’s a good idea to join a car forum for your model of car on the internet, as there are many knowledgeable owners out there in the car community who know the quirks of your vehicle and may also know cheaper ways to get things fixed.

Finally, being your own mechanic makes you relatively impervious to the “car fear of the unknown” that makes unknowledgeable car owners so susceptible to trading in their car way before its time.

9 Matt Jabs

Yeah, being in the know is powerful… especially when it is related to something that can be so costly, such as vehicle repairs.

10 Andrew

Yeah, it’s amazing how much you can save fixing your own vehicles. Mechanics can be such a ripoff that’s why it’s so great if you have a close mechanic friend, or in your case, know your left hand from your right hand when it comes to fixing cars. I know a little bit, but I’m afraid to really get down and dirty and actually cause more damage than I’m helping. Would be good to learn from someone because it’s so resourceful to be able to work on cars yourself…and you can help friends and family too. Knowing that you were able to make those replacements without any practice is reassuring.

11 Matt Jabs

One idea is to take a course at a local college… basic auto diagnostics and repair. I have considered taking this route for other trades I’d like to learn – electrician basics, small engine basics, carpentry basics, etc.

12 BG

Good stuff — I fix my own rides too. I suggest people to purchase the Haynes (or Chilton) manual for your year/make/model. You can readily find them at auto-parts stores, or online if you need to.

These books have nice instructions (and pictures most of the time) for replacing every perceivable part in your car.

I don’t work on the important stuff though, like steering / suspension / braking systems: that stuff I want done by real mechanics.

13 Matt Jabs

Yep, I always buy the Haynes manual for every vehicle I own. In reality, they are actually an investment. 🙂

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