Do-it-yourself repair work can save you time and money – in addition to giving you a lot of satisfaction. But doing it wrong can end up costing you more in time and money than you would have spent farming the work out to a professional mechanic – and sour you on the idea of ever getting under the hood yourself again.
* Attempting a repair you’ve never done before without having a shop manual to refer to.
This is probably the number two pratfall on any list of beginner DIY mistakes. Never disassemble stuff without knowing the proper procedure, including how the parts fit back together. A shop manual will typically have schematics, photos, diagrams and so on – as well as a step-by-step procedure for each repair. Winging it without the manual is about as bright as trying to prepare an elaborate gourmet dinner you’ve never made before … without the cookbook.
And if you plan to do more than the most basic maintenance/repair work (oil and filter changes, etc.) spend the extra dollars for a factory shop manual. These cost more than the Haynes/Chilton manuals you’ll find at auto parts store – but they’re worth every FRN. The Haynes/Chiltons manuals are ok – but they’re nowhere near as comprehensive (and specific) as the factory manuals. Often, you can find the factory manuals in PDF form online – and these can be viewed or even downloaded for free or for much less cost than buying the hard copy manual. For hard copy manuals, hunt on eBay. The thing is going to get greasy and dog-eared anyhow. Why pay full mark-up for a new manual when you can buy a used – but perfectly complete – one for half the price?
This is number one. The major mistake DIY people make at some point along the learning curve. Like touching a hot stove (or voting for major party candidates) it is – hopefully – a mistake you’ll only make once. Because like voting for a Republican in the hope of less government – or a Democrat in the hope of less government – it only leads to frustration and a lighter wallet.
Doctors don’t begin treatment before evaluating the patient and making a diagnosis. It should be no different with any automotive “operation.” Find out what’s wrong first – then fix it. The shop manual mentioned earlier will have diagnostic procedures you can use to eliminate possibilities, one by one – until you arrive at the problem. Never guess – never assume.
This is a pretty common beginner DIY issue – because few beginners have a full set of mechanic’s tools – in particular, the often specialized equipment needed to properly perform certain diagnostic and repair procedures. This leads to improvisation, which sometimes works – but sometimes also leads to physical damage of the part being worked on – in addition to skinned knuckles and a lot of cursing and – very often – a lot of wasted time, too. You might spend hours – literally – trying to remove a part/assembly with the wrong tool that could have been removed – with the right tool – in half an hour.
If specialized tools are required, be sure you have them before you begin. It’s often possible to rent such tools at auto parts stores – which is much less expensive than buying them. And: be sure you know how to use them properly. Ask the counter guy to walk you through the proper use of the tool if you have any doubt at all about how to use it. You’ll reduce the chances of hurting the car – or yourself – this way.
* Not having the right place to work.
It’s important to have a safe, secure area to work on your vehicle. The shopping mall parking lot isn’t it. A covered space – so you and the car are out of the weather – is ideal. Good lighting is also important. If you need to raise the vehicle, be sure it is parked on a level (and solid) surface, not grass. Beginners get killed or badly injured every year when an improperly supported car either rolls on top of them or slips off the jack stands and crushes them.
Deciding to tear your car apart on a Sunday afternoon but needing to have it ready to make the commute Monday morning is a really bad idea. Always allot sufficient time to finish the job – which means, whatever you expect it to take plus whatever it actually ends up taking. Remember: You are not a NASCAR pit crew. Those guys have to get it done right now. You don’t. Or rather, you shouldn’t put yourself in the position of having to get it done right now. Or even tomorrow. Rushing almost always leads to ruin. Don’t do it.
Expect delays as a result of things you didn’t anticipate – such as needing to get a part in the middle of the job (a part you might have to order – and wait for). Or spending an hour on getting a bolt off you assumed you’d be able to remove in a minute or two. Let the job take as long as it takes to get it done right. If that means driving something else to work, bumming a ride – whatever you have to do – it’s better than doing it (the repair) wrong because you were in a hurry.
This mistake often springs from the loins of the other mistakes already listed. You’ve got the car’s guts all over the driveway and have no idea how to get them back together. Or you lost something. Or need something you haven’t got. Or something’s not fitting right. This kind of thing happens to professional mechanics, too. The difference between them and a ranting/raging do-it-yourselfer is the pro knows when to step away for a minute, have a cup of coffee, a smoke – whatever – and relax.
The solution will come to you. Maybe not in 5 minutes. Maybe not even today. But it will come.
If you learn to be patient.
* Rigging it.
It can be tempting to home-engineer a fix that isn’t quite what the manual called for, but seems like it ought to work. This is ok in an emergency – like when you’re dealing with a broken down car in the middle of nowhere and just need to get it to run long enough to get you somewhere else – but don’t do it otherwise. Because the “fix” could easily end up causing more problems than it solved.
* Refusing to ask for help when you need it.
Pride definitely goes before the fall, in life and car repair alike. Even the best of us don’t know everything – but the wise among us know it’s no sign of weakness to ask someone who might know more than we do. If you can’t figure out what the manual says, or are having trouble getting something to work, there is no shame in seeking the counsel of others – friends, online resources (YouTube is excellent – just take what you view with all due caution; sometimes the info’s good – sometimes, it’s not). Also try the guy at the parts place, even a professional mechanic. Just ask – the worst that can happen is they tell you no.
Or that they don’t know.
In which case, ask someone else.
Just don’t guess!
Throw it in the Woods?