DIY or Bring It In: 3 Car Repairs You Can Do at Home And 3 You Should Leave to the Pros

mechanic working on a car

During the pandemic-related shutdowns, many of us learned new skills. We baked bread, learned a second language or became YouTube-taught handypersons. 

And an increasing number of vehicle owners opted for DIY car repairs rather than bringing their autos into the shop. According to a survey, the number of car owners who did the DIY thing grew by 11% throughout 2020. 

Rolling up your sleeves and doing the work yourself can be rewarding and even save a few bucks. However, it’s important to know when to bring in the experts. Attempting certain repairs without the necessary tools or knowledge can result in costly mistakes, damage and even injury. 

In this post, we’ll highlight three repairs you can tackle at home — and three that should always be left to the pros. 

3 Car Repairs You Can Do At Home

While the following repairs can be done at home — even by amateur mechanics — it’s important to remember that there are always safety risks involved with any repair job. If you don’t feel comfortable or lack the proper tools to get the job done, calling a qualified professional is the safest, most responsible choice. 

1. Changing a Flat Tire

This one should be at the top of the list for all car owners. Sure, roadside assistance exists, but knowing how to change your own tire can get you out of a pinch quicker than waiting on a service call. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you find yourself with a flat: 

  • Check the pressure and integrity of your spare tire (called a donut) monthly or before heading out on a long road trip. Not only will you ensure a healthy spare, but you’re also guaranteed to know where it’s stored and how to get it out. 
  • All the tire-changing tools you need should be in your car since most manufacturers include things like a jack and lug wrench. It’s also a good idea to have wheel wedges to stabilize your car as you change out the tire and a tire pressure gauge to make sure it’s inflated properly. 
  • If you do find yourself with a flat tire, move to the safest location possible and switch on your flashers before starting. If you’re on the side of a busy highway and can’t safely access your flat, your best bet may be to call for help. 
  • Your spare tire isn’t meant as a permanent replacement. According to the Automobile Association of America, you shouldn’t drive on your donut for more than 50 miles or exceed 50 mph. Once your spare is secured, make a plan to swap it for a new one on your own or take it to a trusted tech.

Fast Fact: According to a 2018 Cooper Tires survey of 2,000 car owners, 74% say they know how to change a tire. And while you might expect a generation gap, the survey found there wasn’t too much of a difference among Gen Xers (78%), Millennials (77%), Boomers (71%) and Gen Z (70%), who say they can change a tire. 

2. Replacing the Battery

There’s nothing like that click-click of a dead battery when you expect the engine to roar to life. Changing a spent battery (or swapping one out that’s on its last legs) is straightforward enough to do at home and can save you the time and hassle of getting a jump to make it to the shop. Heed these tips to stay safe while working under the hood: 

  • Before diving in, check your owner’s manual for specific instructions on changing the battery correctly. Your manual will also tell you the type of battery to use in the replacement. 
  • Wear protective gear. This includes gloves, safety glasses and close-toed shoes to protect you from any hazardous materials or a dropped battery. 
  • When disconnecting the old battery, start with the negative terminal first, then the positive terminal. When it’s time to connect the new battery, reverse the order, placing the positive terminal first, then the negative. 
  • Clean the terminal connections of any corrosion or debris to ensure a secure connection. 
  • Dispose of your old battery properly. Most auto shops will accept dead batteries for recycling. 

Fast Fact: More than 90% of lead-acid batteries are recycled, making them the most recycled consumer good in the country.

3. Changing the Oil

About 31% of drivers have put off a needed oil change for at least a month, according to a Utire survey. The same survey found that delaying oil changes comes with an average procrastination price tag of more than $3,000. Time and money are both factors cited in skipping or delaying oil changes. For the DIY enthusiast, changing your own oil can mitigate both. 

  • Find the right type of oil and filter. Your owner’s manual should be able to tell you precisely the type of oil your car needs and how much. Using the wrong kind of oil or filter can cause damage to your engine. 
  • Before you begin your oil change, gather basic tools, like a wrench, funnel, drain pan and new oil filter.
  • Don’t forget the filter. Swap out the oil filter at the same time as your oil to ensure your car is running on the cleanest oil possible. 
  • After changing the oil, it’s important to dispose of the used stuff properly. Tossing it out in the trash or pouring it down the drain is bad for the environment and violates Ohio’s used oil regulations. The state has information on where to recycle or dispose of used oil. 

Fast Fact: Nearly half of American car owners aren’t confident they’d be able to change their car’s oil, and almost 30% aren’t sure they could even pick out the correct oil their car needs in the first place. (Cooper Tires)

3 Car Repairs You Should Leave to the Pros

1. The Engine 

The engine is the heart of your car. Unless you have a solid understanding of what’s happening under the hood, engine repairs should be left to the experts. Attempting to repair the engine yourself can be dangerous and could result in further (read: more expensive) damage. 

If your car’s engine starts overheating, stalling, smoking or leaking — or if something just feels off — schedule a trip to your local mechanic immediately. 

2. The Transmission 

Without a functional transmission system, your car is not going anywhere. The transmission — a series of gear sets and gear trains — directs power from the engine to the wheels, allowing the car to move and controlling your speed. There are several reasons why it’s best to trust transition repairs: 

  • You don’t have the right tools. The average weekend warrior does not have easy access to the specialty tools needed to take apart, diagnose and repair a car’s transmission. 
  • Time and money are the big reasons most people take up DIY projects. Unfortunately, you’re more likely than not to sink hours (days, weeks) into a transmission job only to realize you’re in over your head and can’t finish the job. 
  • The cost of getting it wrong is high. Your transmission is a vital part of your car. Mistakes during your repair can cause further damage and even be dangerous down the line. 

Fast Fact: Automatic transmissions typically fail between 80,000 and 150,000 miles depending on the car. Regular maintenance can extend the life of your transmission. 

3. Your Car’s Computer

Your vehicle’s controller area network (CAN) is a communication system that allows different electronic devices in a car to communicate. The CAN system is made up of a network of sensors and control units that are connected by a series of wires. These sensors and control units monitor and control various car functions, such as the engine, brakes and transmission. The CAN system allows these systems to share information and work together to ensure your car runs smoothly. 

When something goes wrong with the CAN or associated components, it can require specialized knowledge and tools to diagnose and repair the delicate system. It’s all too easy to do more harm than good inadvertently, causing further expense and headaches and, in some cases voiding the manufacturer’s warranty. 

Whether you bring your car to a trusted technician or take care of repairs at home, regular car maintenance is critical for your vehicle’s safety, reliability and performance. Some car repairs are easy (even fun) to do on your own, and learning to care for your car at home can be a rewarding experience. However, it’s important to know your limits and seek professional help from a trusted automotive technician for more complex repairs. 

*Attempting to repair a car on your own can be dangerous and may void your manufacturer’s warranty. We recommended seeking the assistance of a certified mechanic to ensure the repair is done safely and correctly.

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