Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is It Time for DIY Vehicle Maintenance?

Photo courtesy of

Everyone knows that going to get your car serviced can be a scary proposition.  For me, even oil changes are a stressful stop on the “honey do” list.  I have a degree in Network Administration and work in IT for a living -- I can set up and deploy servers that give hundreds of people access to resources, but you get me under the hood of a car and I am clueless!

We recently went to get our oil changed at the local Jiffy Lube that we have visited many times.   We pulled right in and they took our info.  About five minutes later, the mechanic called me over to the PC to run me through what they were going to do.  Now, not knowing cars, I trusted this guy because we have always seemed to get honest service from them.  

He talks to me about high mileage oil (we have about 150,000 miles on the car), and then he tells me my rear brake light is out.  They wanted $12.99 to replace it, but I figured I should be able to swap out a light bulb, so I declined.  I did, however, take the more expensive oil.  We are in and out in like 10 minutes.  

Part of the service package had to do with checking fluid levels.  Well, they didn’t come up with anything, but they topped off the fluids.    So I figured we were good to go.  We planned on dropping by an auto parts store to get a brake light, so I could swap it at home.  On a whim, I checked the back of the car and had Amee hit the brakes and turn signals… Everything looked good.  Were they lying about the light?  I figured I would just drop it and call it good. 

Then we had a headlight fail. No big deal, I have done these before.  So we purchased a headlight and I set up to change it.  As a side note, Amee had been telling me for about a week that the heater in the car had been really slow to kick in.  I figured it was the cold weather and the engine taking longer to warm up.  

Well, I found the cause of the heater issue by accident.  I was under the hood, working on replacing the headlight, when I found a hose and cap that weren’t attached and were just hanging off the radiator.  I wasn’t sure what it was but there was a reservoir wide open so I connected the cap and tube to it.  Now, as a disclaimer… I would NOT recommend just connecting stuff on a car if you aren’t familiar with it, but this was a pretty obvious one.  After letting the car run for a couple of minutes, the heater kicked in as it used to. 

So I am looking at two things….
  1.  I am losing trust in a place I thought would be honest. Whether this was due to a couple of bad employees or the all-mighty dollar, I know that if I had blindly allowed them to do the brake light replacement, I would be out money we need for other things.  And that I was lucky the open reservoir didn’t do bigger damage to our car.
  2. I need to get to work learning about my vehicle so I can do some of the basic maintenance on it. 

Well, I have found that they make a manual for our car.  The cool thing is, I am fortunate enough to have friends and relatives who are vehicle savvy so they can also help me as I learn this stuff.  I am hoping by the middle of next year to get some of the basics down like:
  • Oil changes
  • Tune-ups
  • Fluid level checks

I know there is a lot more to do as well, but I will start with those.  I know that I can get the supplies cheaper at the auto parts store than buying them through a mechanic.  What are your thoughts? 


  1. I have heard similar situations from this lube place in my area and I would not go there. I am able to pay for the dealer to do it but AutoZone is a great company (hubs works there) and usually willing to help out with questions and information they have to help you work on your car, especially for simple things. I am sure you have one somewhere in your area and they run sales and stuff all the time that should be budget friendly. Of course, we all know how car troubles are kinda like medical troubles and never come at a "good" time!

    1. We've gone to Autozone before too. The real problem for both of us is that we're not very mechanically inclined. Gavin wrote this post, but there's no excuse for me not to know this stuff either. Especially after the broken radiator a couple weeks ago.