Five Car Problems You Shouldn't Fix Yourself

June 19, 2012
Do you have trouble assembling IKEA furniture? Or do you sometimes take things apart and then realize you have no idea how to get them back together?

If these questions ring true, they’re signs that you should probably leave your car repair to a qualified pro, advises Brett Bodas, an ASE Master Technician and director of the automotive professional group for RepairPal.

“One of the things that separates great mechanics from weekend-project disaster is knowing exactly what’s involved, and being able to figure out any other problem that happens along the way,” stresses Bodas.

It’s a common issue with do-it-yourself (DIY) auto repair: Just as in assembling that IKEA bedroom set, you might have a rough idea of how to do the job, yet you don’t know all the details along the way—let alone what could go wrong in the process, or what to do if it does.

Only here the consequences can be much more expensive. Bodas has seen cases as simple as a customer who replaced an air filter and accidentally detached a vacuum line, to many who’ve in the course of a brake job broken a sensor or set off a warning light—or those who have managed to foul out during major maintenance like timing-belt replacement. In all of these instances, the piece of the repair job they were missing—in addition to understanding what might go wrong—is the diagnosis and troubleshooting that's part of a real mechanic's job.

$50 saved becomes $500 in damage

And there's a lot of potential for damage in that. “If you drive a ’64 Chevy, then sure, you can save money and do nearly all the repairs yourself,” says Bodas. “But on modern cars it’s more like, maybe you save $50, or maybe you do $500 in damage.”

“In my opinion, owners should not attempt to do the majority of repairs on a modern automobile,” said Michael Calkins, who manages the AAA’s Approved Auto Repair program. “There are just too many things you can damage in today’s cars, and it’s not worth the risk.”

In this era of networked cars and onboard diagnostics, even tasks that sound very simple could prove problematic. Calkins points out that in some models, you can’t simply install and connect a new power-window switch and expect it to work. You need to take it to the dealership and update the system to recognize that new component.

And sometimes there's just a daunting amount of disassembly required. Brian Hafer, VP of marketing for AutoMD, an auto-repair resource that breaks some DIY repairs down into steps, oversaw the production of videos for his company and was surprised “how difficult it actually is just to get to the point where you can replace something.”

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