Is It Worth Doing Your Own Car Maintenance?

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From fuel costs to car insurance, breakdown cover and even vehicle tax, a car is an expensive piece of kit – perhaps the most expensive you will own in your life. It therefore makes sense to take care of it and maintain it in good condition as much as possible, but can you do this yourself?

The costs of asking a garage to undertake all of your maintenance certainly add up over time, so is it worth doing your own car maintenance?

Doing your own car maintenance you will save you thousands of dollars over the years. You will avoid paying the significant hourly labor charges that garages command, and you’ll only need to pay for the parts required. A huge saving.

So we know that it’s worth performing your own car maintenance, but how can you learn to fix your car, and what routine maintenance is needed?

How Much do Garages Charge Per Hour?

The rate that garages charge per hour varies depending on location, the type of car you own, and whether you use a main dealership or an independent garage. Charges can vary from $40 per hour to $200 per hour, but $80 – $100 per hour is considered reasonable.

Our BMW 840 being fixed at a garage

Main dealerships will generally charge more per hour than independent garages, and you can expect to pay more if you own an expensive car which requires more specialist knowledge to work on.

In the UK, the average hourly rate that garages charge is £75, but this depends on location and whether your car needs a specialist to work on it.

Both in the USA and the UK these charges can seem high, but these labor charges are essential to making their businesses viable. They also have to spend out on parts, tools, premises and business rates.

The wage of the mechanic working on your car also needs to be factored in by the garage, which is why we regularly see them charging over $100 / £75 per hour.

Is it Cheaper to Work on Your Own Car?

There may be an initial outlay to buy the tools required, but over time it always works out cheaper to work on your own car.

If you’re just starting out you may want to consider borrowing tools from family or friends. As you learn more, you can buy the tools required.

Whilst tools can be expensive, you’ll only need to buy them once and you can reuse them multiple times.

BMW M5 being fixed
Our BMW M5 being fixed at home

We know that garages can charge over $100 per hour to work on your car, so buying your own tools and working on the car yourself is a very cost-effective way of looking after it.

What Routine Maintenance is Required For a Car?

Routine maintenance includes oil and oil filter changes which are required regularly, along with air filter changes. Engine fluids should be checked and changed routinely, such as transmission fluid, brake fluid, and coolant.

Car manufacturers provide a maintenance schedule which is based on mileage or a period of time. For example, every 10,000 miles or two years, whichever comes soonest.

Typically the oil and oil filter should be changed every 5,000 – 10,000 miles, or every year. This will depend on the type of car you drive, and how you drive it. Under certain circumstances such as frequent short journeys, the oil will need to be changed more regularly.

Other fluids should be checked regularly and changed when necessary. Look up your manufacturer’s recommendations for each fluid to see how often it should be changed. 

Some, such as the windscreen washer fluid, will just need to be replaced when they’re low.

Brakes, tires and battery wear will also depend on how you use your car. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to change the tires yourself as this requires specialist equipment, but the brake pads, discs and even calipers can be replaced yourself once you’re ready to take on more advanced jobs.

Tire change
Specialist equipment is required to change a tire

It is possible to replace the battery yourself, but thoroughly research how to do this beforehand as anything involving electrical current does have the potential to be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

There are plenty of other parts that can be maintained and repaired yourself when necessary, such as the spark plugs, belts and hoses, and windshield wiper blades.

What is the Most Important Maintenance on a Car?

The most important car maintenance is anything that affects safety. Keeping the tires, brakes, and windshield wipers well maintained is essential. Regular oil changes are also important to keep your engine healthy and prevent long-term damage.

Cars can be inherently dangerous if the safety features are not maintained. If your tires or brakes are too worn, you may not be able to stop in time if there’s an emergency.

A mechanic servicing a car
A mechanic servicing a car

If the windshield wiper blades are not functioning correctly, or you run out of windshield washer fluid it could spell disaster when it rains. If you can’t see the road you’re likely to end up in an accident.

Engine maintenance is also essential to keep it functioning properly and to prolong the life of your car. There are many components working in tandem, but perhaps the most important maintenance is ensuring the car always has a fresh supply of clean oil.

What is the Easiest Vehicle Maintenance?

Replacing fluids such as the oil and coolant is the easiest vehicle maintenance to do yourself. You can also tackle basic part changes such as air filters and headlight bulbs with little experience.

Adding oil to an engine
Adding oil to an engine

Oil and filter changes are a great way to start out working on your own car as they’re fairly basic, don’t require many tools, and instructional videos specific to your car can usually be found online.

Bulbs are very low cost and are often simple to replace, although on some modern cars access to the lights can be an issue.

Other basic parts such as wiper blades are also easy to change. Changing spark plugs is a little more advanced but still possible for those with little experience and will save you 1-2 hours in labor costs. Although this will depend on how difficult they are to access on your particular model of car.

Can You Service Your Car Yourself?

You can service your car yourself if you follow the servicing checklist the manufacturer provides for your vehicle. How difficult this is will depend on the type of car you own – high end models will be far more challenging than cheaper cars.

Basic servicing can be carried out with a little research online and watching some videos, but if your car needs a major service there may be some things that require a specialist’s help (depending on how experienced you are).

Servicing a car
Your own basic servicing can be done with some online research

High end cars such as BMWs or Mercedes require a lot more skill and knowledge, as they’re far more complex than normal everyday cars.

Whatever type of car you own, you will need to invest some time into learning how to perform a service, and some money into buying the correct parts, fluids and tools to carry out the service.

How Can I Learn to Fix my Own Car?

Start by working on an older car as they’re far simpler to fix than modern cars. Join the forums and look for videos online specific to your model of car. If you know anybody who fixes their own car, ask them for advice.

Most people starting out fixing their own cars buy an older car. Older car engines are far less complex than today’s cars, so it’s much less daunting.

VW Beetle engine
The basic engine in an older car, the Volkswagen Beetle

Nowadays there is an owner’s forum for almost every make and model of car. These forums are full of useful information that will help you get started, and if you have a specific question you can ask other members.

There are also plenty of videos online, again specific to each model of car. If there’s something in particular you want to fix, videos can save you a lot of time by showing you exactly how to do the job.

If you know anybody who works on cars then speak with them and ask questions, perhaps even watch them working on their car. 

Older people are more likely to work on their own cars and will have more experience, so perhaps ask a parent, a friend’s parent, or even a neighbor if you can speak with them.

Is Doing it Yourself Worth it?

Car maintenance can be intimidating for a lot of people, but there’s a certain pride in knowing that you can fix your own car and save the money that otherwise would have been spent on asking a professional to do the work for you.

It definitely helps to know some basic things about servicing your car so that you can ensure that your investment remains in top shape for years to come.

You will need to put in the time to learn how to fix and maintain your car, because if something goes wrong you will likely end up causing damage to the car and spending more. But once you’re experienced it will be very rewarding and car ownership will become much more affordable.

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Adam Chinn writes about the intersecting worlds of classic cars, driving pleasure, and smart investment strategies. Starting his journey at 26, he’s proven that one doesn’t need to be wealthy to begin investing in classic cars.

Adam’s insights have been recognized on platforms such as MoneyInc, Swagger Magazine, and Top Speed.

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