How to Fix a Car

carfixLast week, the unthinkable happened: Mr. Money Mustache experienced actual car trouble.

In past articles, I have boasted about how by owning a reliable car and keeping driving to a minimum, you will find that car maintenance becomes almost negligible: an oil change every year or so whether it needs it or not, and simple things like spark plugs or air filters even less often – as the instruction manual recommends. I make a point of doing all these simple things myself, to get more comfortable with car maintenance in general.

But just recently, my luck ran out. Just before heading to Canada for the summer, I noticed that my Honda minivan started making a humming tire tread sound from the back left wheel. I figured it was just the tire, since sometimes old tires will develop a “feathering” pattern where alternating treads wear out faster than their neighbors and you’re left with a noisy Jeep-tire-like sound. I turned up the stereo a bit louder and made the 1500 mile drive without incident, rushing a bit because my Mom (Grandma Money Mustache to you) needed my help.

Once settled in to Hamilton, I used some spare time one afternoon to visit Costco, where I had them replace the old back tires while I stocked up on some groceries for Mum’s place. The new Pirelli P4s looked great when I got out, so I eagerly started the engine and started driving home.

And the roaring sound was still there, just as loud as ever. Shit.

This meant it was an actual mechanical problem, which I had not encountered before. How do you fix your car in a situation like this, when you have no idea what is wrong with it?

Most people take the car in to a service center or even a car dealer, of course, and emerge eventually with a fixed car and a shocking bill. A few hundred here, a couple thousand there. Oh well, put it on the credit card, it’s a necessity. It’s a fine strategy for some, but it can really jack up the price of keeping an older car on the road – the spectre of high repair bills even scares people into the folly of buying brand-new cars, despite the fact that this costs them far more, once you do the math.

But what if you want to take things to the next level? To slice the cost of car maintenance down by 75%, and transform yourself into one of those mythical people who can keep a 20-year-old car purring like a top and looking brand-new? Or the freaks who can buy a undervalued high-quality car on Craigslist, drive and maintain it for 5 years, and still sell it for more than they paid?

My goal is to become one of those people myself. And I’ve already got the general techniques figured out, which I now present to you:

Mr. Money Mustache’s Guide to Automotive Independence


  1. Describe the Symptoms, and then search for them online: For me, the symptom was “noise from rear wheels“, so that is what I typed into Google. This rapidly led me to the idea of worn-out wheel-bearings. Then I typed “wheel bearing noise” into YouTube, and found a video where a guy drives his car with the problem and it sounded exactly like my problem. I also found some discussions on online forums reporting that mechanics charge $250-400 to fix it* – if you can find a reliable one.
  2. Go to YouTube and type in what you want to learn: “1999 Odyssey replace rear wheel bearings”. This led me to a video from 1aAuto where they replace the wheel bearings on a van almost like mine. While watching, I learned that most people usually replace the whole “Hub and Bearing assembly”, because it is still an affordable part and it takes less work to swap the whole thing. Since the first video described a 2003 Odyssey with rear disc brakes, I also watched a video from Eric the Car Guy about 1999 Odyssey drum brakes to see how those relate to the hub and bearings. Luckily for me, the procedure looked even easier with drums than discs, because you don’t have to remove the caliper. In the olden days, you had to get knowledge like this by buying the shop manual for your car, but with YouTube, things have been simplfied nicely – a real person is much easier to follow than a cheap black-and-white line drawing.
  3. Look up the part you need: “1999 Odyssey rear hub and bearing assembly“. This led me to various auto part stores including Amazon – teaching me more about the part and the rough price range within which it should fall. Only $40.55 – surprisingly low for such an important part.
  4. Buy the part: If I were still at home in Colorado, I would have simply ordered the parts from Amazon and waited for them to arrive. After all, the van was still working, and I don’t need it for everyday life anyway. But here my options were limited. I need this thing running to safely drive my family another 300 miles to Ottawa later this week. I called around to the Hamilton auto parts stores (which I had found and mapped using the Google Maps website), found a variety of prices ($150 down to $67 for the same thing), and headed out to pick up the best-priced one.
  5. Acquire any required tools: From the video, I learned that I’ll need a car jack, jack stand, regular socket set, a hammer, and a rare giant socket (36MM) to take off the huge nut that holds the rear hub onto the axle. I bought the large socket at Princess Auto, a Canadian equivalent to Harbor Freight, which sells auto tools rather affordably. The rest of stuff I already owned or could borrow locally.
  6. Go for it! For maximum fun, it is good to enlist the help of a friend for work like this, for moral support. Or even technical support, if you have any friends who are more mechanically savvy than you. I was able to persuade the Canadian indie rocker known as The Kettle Black (aka Nick) to help me with this project, because I knew he had a 30-year-old Toyota which he has kept running all these years with his own hands.

Nick and I dove into the project. Our equipment was limited (there was no air compressor so I couldn’t use my fancy new air impact gun, and his old car jack was barely big enough for my van), but we improvised as needed and these were the results:


We got the van jacked up (left) and set onto a jack stand (right) for more stability. With the parking brake on to hold the wheel steady, we removed the 5 lugnuts and the rear wheel. This part is easy.

Here I am showing you the new hub I found at a local auto parts store - a pretty neat piece of machinery.

Here I am showing you the new hub I found at a local auto parts store – a pretty neat piece of machinery.

Once you take off the wheel, the drum can just be pried and wiggled off (remember to release parking brake for this step).

Once you take off the wheel (top left), the drum can just be pried and wiggled off (remember to release parking brake for this step). BONUS: from this stage it is easy to replace brake shoes if you ever need to do it.

This was the scary part - it was hard to get the new hub onto the axle. But,with grease, tapping, and the help of the axle nut, we got it.

This was the scary part – it was hard to get the new hub onto the axle. But,with grease, tapping, and the help of the axle nut, we got it.

Tightening the big 36MM spindle nut with a socket wrench. It called for 180 ft-lbs of torque, but we had no torque wrench. So I just applied almost all my weight to the 1-foot wrench, which should be very close.

Tightening the big 36MM spindle nut with a socket wrench. It called for 180 ft-lbs of torque, but we had no torque wrench. So I just applied approximately all my weight (185) to the 1-foot wrench, which should be very close.

As a final note, Be Patient: There are always hiccups when you do things for the first time. We did well with disassembly, but had a hell of a time putting the new hub on. It was tight, and it requires that you hold it in very straight alignment to avoid getting stuck on the axle. There was a scary moment where I wondered if my van would be stuck in the parking lot behind his apartment building with a missing wheel forever. Then I took a deep breath and remembered that this is not the first time this procedure had been performed on Earth, and if others had done it, I could surely do it t0o. By placing a block of wood over the new hub and hammering it onto the axle, then using the axle nut to crank it on the rest of the way, we got the job done.

The thrill of driving away with my now silky smooth and quiet van, knowing I had learned something new, was one of the highlights of my trip so far. I’m looking forward to more parts wearing out as the vehicle fleet ages, to provide more interesting lessons like this one.


* The reason car repairs are so expensive, is that that you often get a double whammy in the bill: many garages make a big margin on the parts themselves (a Honda dealer might price this $40.55 US hub at $245 for a “genuine Honda” version, for example). Then they earn a labor rate of $60-$120 per hour, which is more than most professionals earn in their day jobs (annualized to full-time, that would be a $120,000-$240,000 salary).  If you get good at this stuff, your friends and neighbors will start begging you to fix their cars for you, which would be yet another lucrative and flexible early retirement or side hustle job. 

  • Derek July 2, 2013, 6:15 am

    For those of us that still drive to work on a Monday morning, please make sure you start these kind of project early Saturday morning!

    There is nothing worse than the feel of being knee deep into a project like this as the sun is fading Sunday night!

    Kudos for taking on the project yourself and finishing it successfully!

    Did you ever calculate out exactly how much you saved by doing it yourself? Seems like ~$500.

    • Fred Haddad July 2, 2013, 11:23 am

      I just had this Exact problem with my car. The mechanic informed me it would cost me $500 to replace the hub, but also said if I don’t mind the noise the wheel can keep being driven another 100,000 miles..

      I weighed my options: (1) Live with the noise. (2) Fix it myself & waste ~30 hours of my time (I am stupid when it comes to mechanics). Or work 10 hours extra time at my job and pay the mechanic.

      I chose option 3. While I LOVE Mr. Moustache’s thrifty solution, sometimes your time is more valuable than money, and for me that was the case. (shrug)

      • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2013, 12:03 pm

        That sounds logical, Fred, but most people don’t do the math right on the tradeoff.

        The research for this project took me about 2 hours. The actual mechanical work while hanging out with the Kettle Black took only 1 hour. In exchange, I saved a few hundred dollars, but MUCH MORE IMPORTANTLY I gained skills that will permanently increase my car repair skills for the next 70 years of life. And I can use these skills to trade with other people when their bearings go out, which they might give me beer, or garden tomatoes, or lawyer/doctor/gardener services for.

        Plus, it would have taken me 3 hours just to find a mechanic and coordinate a time to get it fixed, on top of the $500. This is where self-sufficiency really pays off: in most cases, hiring a pro takes longer than doing it yourself, so outsourcing can turn you into a a stranded, busy, frustrated, pro-dependent person, even though you got there by trying to be smart about your time.

        It’s always a balancing act. But the key is to place real value on the skills you acquire by doing things – knowing how to do various shit is what it’s all about.

        • Mark Oates July 2, 2013, 5:00 pm

          This is a huge and often discounted point-
          Yes you can potentially “save time” by working for the money rather than acquiring the skill (This does not just apply to auto repair)…. however, somewhere, right now people are actually paying someone to learn how to do this rather than just doing stuff themselves…

        • Kristian July 3, 2013, 1:50 am

          I can recommend Eric the Car Guy, http://www.ericthecarguy.com. He helped me a lot when I was living in a campervan from -82, with a Volvo engine from -71.

        • Derek July 3, 2013, 4:58 am

          By the time you figure in a rental car, waiting at the mechanic, finding a good one, etc. you’ve probably sucked up ~10 hours worth of costs right there…

          The only way to get better at things mechanical is to jump in with both feet and give it a try!!!

          • Fred Haddad July 6, 2013, 1:59 pm

            Rental car?

            No. I just sat in the garage for 4 hours waiting for the mechanic to replace the wheel hub. I also had my laptop, so I did some of the overtime work to pay the bill.

            I do see your point about learning new skills. I’m just not interested. I prefer electronics (inside, airconditioned) not car repair (outside, hot). Besides my time in the garage let me spend some time studying schematics & improving my job skills. :-D

            • Prem Grade January 17, 2014, 12:28 pm

              Well, i can see you really don’t like fixing cars. What would I prefer doing? Sitting at a shop for 4 hours or fixing my car? I hate sitting at a shop feeling helpless.

              But it’s OK. There may be things we all hate to do, as long as most of the time we try to save money.

              MMM’s attitude is phenomenal, motivated by learning and saving. It is the reason he retired way early.

        • Mr. Frugal Toque July 4, 2013, 7:29 am

          This is a lot like the comparison between cooking your own food and going to a restaurant.
          It certainly seems easier to go to a restaurant. You’re a busy person who makes a lot of money, after all. Shouldn’t your valuable time be spent making money instead of cooking? Why waste an hour of your day cooking and cleaning up after, right?
          But then you take into account the time to gather up the kids, pile into the car, travel to the restaurant, travel back. Add in the lower health value of that food and the inevitable surrender to the dessert menu. Now you’ll find that the restaurant meal was more expensive than the time that would have been lost to cooking – and that’s before we’ve even accounted for 20:1 ratio by which it literally costs more.
          I’ve got to think this and automotive repair are in the same line. For most people, though, cars are just a bit more intimidating than kitchens.
          But don’t worry.
          We’ve got your back.

        • Lukas Halim July 10, 2013, 4:18 pm

          In addition to the money saved and the skills learned, there is the satisfaction and sense of ownership from knowing you’ve done it yourself. I’m a beginner, but I’ve used the google + youtube method you describe to replace a broken laptop monitor and keyboard.

        • Nicole Andark August 28, 2015, 5:49 pm

          I want to thank you. You have saved me thousands of dollars and given me the confidence and opportunity to learn great new things about my car.

          We bought a used Subaru knowing there were many things that would need to be fixed. The idle was low and rough among other things. I took the car into a mechanic and was told that it would cost around $3000 but they didn’t really know what was wrong. “Maybe we’ll replace –enter part here–” I refused and have been living with the rough idle. Until I read this article. I was in the process of reading all of your articles when I came to this one and finally did the research.

          I bought a $5 can of throttle body cleaner and fixed it. For 5 Dollars. 5. And about 3 minutes of my time.

          Seriously. Thank you so much. Also, I’m going to teach other women in my neighborhood and family to learn basic things about their cars.

          • Mr. Money Mustache August 28, 2015, 5:59 pm

            Wow, that’s a great story – and now I know what to try first when somebody has a rough idle too.. thanks Nicole!

        • Bob Young July 19, 2016, 10:39 am

          I just had the same experience. Both back wheel bearings needed replacement. Goodness, only 175,000 miles…why can’t they last longer? Local chain oil-change, repair shop did an estimate: over $1000, parts & labor for hubs & brake parts which were needed. So I found a 5 minute YouTube video on what to do, spent $330 on the exact same parts (the auto parts guy confirmed that they sold the same parts to the repair shop) and went to work. Had to hunt, then “borrow” a 34mm socket, & 2.5 hours later both rear hubs & disk brake rotors & pads were replaced…saving close to $700. The whole project cost me probably 4 hours total, so I made/saved about $175/hr. Not bad for an evening’s work. Note though, I had the tools, and I am a fair mechanic, so this was a no-brainier for me. I go to that shop for oil & filter changes, with coupons for less than $20, which makes economic sense to me. But I can’t afford their labor & parts prices any more!

      • eric July 25, 2013, 7:42 pm

        The only unusual issue I’ve had on my car is multiple bearing failures. It cost nowhere near $500 to replace. They usually replaced just the bearing, which is much more difficult. I think Pep boys charged $100 (for the hub/bearing combo) when I made the mistake of going there, and $60/hr is standard around here (NYS).
        My fronts usually failed, which are very likely harder than rears.

      • vis October 12, 2018, 5:44 am

        One option that I was lucky enough to discover was to find a former mechanic from Mexico living in our neighbourhood. He charges 100/hr to assess and help you fix your car at your home with your tools. Mostly I do things myself as MMM recommends and this is easy with Youtube assistance. As semi strict mustachians we have only one vehicle so the down time for mechanical needs to be short. When the repair is over my head or intimidating I will have the neighbourly mechanic come by and help me with stages of the job. I do this so I can be quicker. He LOVES his job and I LOVE leaning to fix my own car at hyper speed. It does cost a bit more. This year was surprisingly high for car repairs after 7 years of nearly none. Both of my control arms and related assemblies need to be replaced, 3 wheel bearings were making noise, and the breaks front and back needed to be repaired. Nissan quoted $2300. We did it all for under $500 in a fun day. $150 went to the mechanic. It simply felt great. The car has been burning oil for two years and we may only have 50,000 k left on the engine. That is several years driving for semi strict mustachians. The Mechanic shop has told me that the car is junk if the engine goes because it will cost $3000 to replace. Guess what? I found lots of engines with low mileage online for $5-600, clutch kits are less than $200 and the time is close for that too, and our neighbourly mechanic will spend a full day on the car doing the switch for $850.00. I can’t get a car that I know that well in that good a shape for $1700 so it is worth the fix. That is just over 100/month on maintenance for that year. My wife found the mechanic on a Mommies group via facebook in our town. Took her 10 minutes. I am sure every town has lots of guys with expertise here who would enjoy the work, praise, and extra dough to teach the trickier jobs to people.

    • Free Money Minute July 12, 2013, 4:30 am

      You make a great point. I would even recommend you start the project on Friday night when you get home from work after you have spend time during the week gathering the right parts, tools and knowledge to do the job. If you can get it all apart before the sun sets on Friday, you can easily run to the store on the weekend if you run into issues. You will have plenty of time to do more research or buy more parts before having to return to work.

  • Siobhan July 2, 2013, 6:17 am

    And I was proud of myself because I figured out how to change my own taillight.

    • Aaron July 2, 2013, 2:39 pm

      As you should be. It is even more important to do the simple repairs yourself. From now on you will be able to fix your own taillight, instead of having to spend 500% more money (and time) to have someone else do it for you. Plus the “small” successes build up your confidence and knowledge preparing for you to take on something a bit larger like this.

    • Accidental Miser July 4, 2013, 7:40 pm

      As Aaron said, you should be proud. I started changing my head and tail lights to save money when I was in the Navy (25 years ago). From there, I graduated to starters, alternators, belts, coolant changes and oil changes.

      Now, with the advent of YouTube, Message Boards and Loaner tools at the local McAutoParts stores, I am not afraid to tackle just about anything. I have a 99 Subaru Forester torn down to the engine block in my garage right now and am planning to pull the engine in my Outback tomorrow to do the clutch (gotta love long weekends!)

      We have five drivers in our household and six cars, the newest of which is a 2007 Honda, which allows me to keep one in the workshop as long as necessary to keep them on the road.

      Keep doing those little jobs and don’t be afraid to stretch yourself to the next level! I’d estimate we’ve saved well over a hundred grand over the past 25 years from driving older, reliable cars until their wheels fall off!

    • Sharron Sims July 6, 2013, 4:51 pm

      I’m a 62 year old single woman and I recently changed my own headlamp. Just looked it up in the owner’s manual and it wasn’t that difficult. Probably would never have tried this but for the change in mindset I have had since reading MMM’s blog. Yes, it was a very satisfying accomplishment.

  • BeatTheSeasons July 2, 2013, 6:20 am

    Fascinating article and also another example of how your expenses can actually fall once you’re retired and no longer need to pay more for the convenience of getting things done for you while you’re at work.

    I also second your point about old cars having fewer mechanical problems than new ones, especially if you only do around 5,000 miles a year. Maybe if you pick up a 10-15 year old car you’re benefiting from ‘survival of the fittest’ as the less reliable vehicles are already sitting in a scrapyard.

    Personally I use a very cheap ex-mechanic who works out of a lock-up down a backstreet as I don’t even have a driveway and, to be honest, have been too lazy to learn to maintain my own car.

    But I can testify that the same technique has been very effective for me in fixing my washing machine rather than paying an engineer to do it.

    • turboseize July 7, 2013, 1:54 am

      In my opinion, cars from the mid-80s to the mid and late 90s seem to be the best deal. They come with all the luxury you might ever feel you need (climate control, heated seats, cruise control…), yet the mechanics and electronics are nowhere near the complexity of a modern car.

      The drawback: they have suffered 20 years of wear, so you HAVE to prepare for some major maintenance and repairs.
      Luckily, parts seem to be much heaper: brake rotors for a 1990s S-class cost less than for a modern day VW Golf. Smaller tire sizes also help: 90€ will buy you top of the edge Michelin or Continental in size 195/65 r15 (fits for example Saab 9000, and small engine Mercedes-E-class and BMW 5 series), but will not get you anywhere with 17 or 18 inch wheels… Not even chinese Wanli or Nankang (which you should never, ever put on a vehicle. Never. They’re cheap for a reason.)
      And then, there are used components. Swapping gearbox and engine will cost you less than a simple brake service on a modern sports sedan.

      Besides, 20 years seems to be when car prices reach their absolute bottom. You can make incredible bargains there. Even if you allocate a generous 5000€ to the “repair funds” that is way less than the depreciation of a new car.

      There are, however, some perils to avoid:

      Beware of rust! While nearly everybody can do some easy maintenance himself, welding and paint jobs are best left to professionals. Even if you can’t do anything yourself and let your mechanic do absolutely everything, this will always be cheaper than body work. You can basically exchain the entire drive train and replace the shocks and every single bushing in the chassis and still come out ahead compared to some welding and painting.
      That’s why you should buy rust free only, take care of whatever little rust there is immediately and then invest in some corrosion protection.

      Do your homework. The internet is full of car geeks, and they tend to organize in forums. Which models have a good reputation? What are the flaws of the particular model you are looking after? Are there good and trustworthy mechanics/workshops nearby? Are parts cheap or expensive?
      From a european point of view, you might look for
      – Mercedes (w123, 124, 126, 201 und perhaps 210 – the last ones are very reliable mechanically, but are prone to rust, so be carful what you are buying),
      – BMW (e34,e39, e32, e38, if you can do with something smaller also e46)
      – Saab (900 old generation, 9000, NEVER 900 new generation, if you like the design take a 9-3 instead)
      – Volvo (pretty much everything EXCEPT 440 and 480 – take the larger ones, 2xx, 7xx and 9xx series, 850 and V70 are all great).
      – VW (any Passat up to B5. The 1.9 TDI diesel engine is highly recommended. It makes a horrible noise, but is extremely efficient and will last forever, contrary to it’s successors. DO NOT buy a b5.5 with the 2.0 TDI. If you like small cars – which I don’t- stay clear of 3rd generation Golf, they are built cheaply and are prone to rust. Take 2nd (veryy spartan, but somehow cool) or 4th generation instead.)
      – perhaps even Audi 100/200 (I think they called them Audi 5000 in the US), early (!) A6. They are great cars, and will literally last forever, but when they eventually break, you have a problem. Spare parts situation is grueling.
      – Peugeot, Alfa and Lancia are better than their reputation, but the two Italians require a skilled mechanic. When buying an Alfa, be sure it comes from northern Italy (164,166) – it’s the southerners that ruined Alfas reputation…
      Citroen are great cars, but relatively complex and the build quality is inconsistent. Buy one if you like them, but do not expect them to be cheap and easy. Either educate yourself, or be prepared to travel long ways to a really good mechanic. Do NOT buy one when all you expect from a car is to get you fom A to B cheaply.

      Some people swear by japanese cars, and while they are very reliable and extremely well made, spare parts are hard to get and extremely expensive, at least in Europe. I do not know how the situation is in the US, the very same thing might apply to european cars over there!
      Check out parts availability and supply before you buy the car.

      All these cars will get decent mileage on the highway, but (with the exception of the VW 1.9 TDI) will drink enormously in the city. As good mustachians, however, you do not drive in city traffic anyway. After all, that’s what bikes and public transport are for, aren’t they? ;-)

      • Zaphod June 24, 2015, 7:08 pm

        It’s been a long time since you made this comment, but I was wondering what car forums you recommend? I know very little about cars and can’t tell who knows what they’re talking about.

        • Melanie February 7, 2016, 8:16 pm

          It’s been a bit since you made this comment too but just in case this helps here goes! From what I can tell, people tend to centre around the particular make or model. For example there are lots of BMW forums that I don’t know much about because I’m not a bummer enthusiast. If by chance you’re looking into VWs I can highly recommend vwvortex for gas or diesels (I’m partial to diesel VWs myself!) and any model.

          An awesome resource if you know the make you want are the mechanics at the dealership. I’ve basically become good friends with the VW mechanics in my city and they have no problem with me occasionally stopping by with questions when I’m stuck on some troubleshooting. Then I go back to my pace and have at er!

          Also, and this is my two cents, don’t let anyone scare you away from potentially doing your own body work. If you can get your hands on a half decent welder and a good grinder it’s a really rewarding thing to learn. I’ve done all my body work with an old arc welder and a 20$ grinder from Canadian Tire.

  • Jacob July 2, 2013, 6:27 am

    I agree with that final feeling. My 1995 Acura died on me last winter. I went carless for a week (no biggie, seeing as I walk/bike/train to work every day), then figured out it was a bad distributor & distributor cap. The local mechanic wanted me to pay close to $800. HA! The whole thing cost me $350 in the end (probably should have been less, looking back), and now I know how easy it is to replace a distributor. Also…I now know what a distributor is and how it works :)

  • Half-Borg July 2, 2013, 6:27 am

    I can strongly suggest becoming your own mechanic, since most garages do a very bad job at diagnosis!
    One day my check engine light goes on. I was kind of freaked out, since my car was very new (too me). So I drove to the next garage to get a checkup.
    The guy plugs in his Laptop, gets a reading and tells me the lambda sensors need replacement, at a cheap 400$.
    I told him I need to think about it, read some stuff on the internet and ordered a car interface for myself at 112$, did some test drives and figured that the sensors are ok and some hose must be broken. A few minutes searching later I found the broken hose, fixed it with tape and everything was ok again.
    So I saved 388$, got new knowledge, a very new hobby (I now love working with my car) and a new tool to help me with future problems.

    If you own a Volkswagen/Audi model I strongly suggest buying an diagnostic interface from ross-tech, even the latest, top of the notch interface is only 349$ and can you save a lot of money and trouble.

    • PJN July 2, 2013, 8:34 am

      Nice. However, if it was not a false positive, and your lambda sensor was truly busted, you we’re out of pocket more than the original amount. It’s a bit of a gamble, some tools are likely only used once.

      • turboseize July 7, 2013, 2:28 am

        If you have a smartphone and a new car, the “torque” app cannot be overvalued. Buy a bluetooth OBD-II adapter and read engine sensor data and fault codes.

        Way cheaper than any diagnostic tool. Use ist limited to engine and emission-relevant fault codes, as most manufacturers use non-standard protocols for everything else.

    • Mr freeze July 2, 2013, 9:29 am

      For most people it’s probably not necessary to drop $100 to $300 on a scanner. Almost any auto parts store will let you borrow their OBD scanners for free and even show you how it works, since that usually means you’ll buy a part from them =).

      I love maintenance on my 1987 Toyota pickup. My experience has been that almost no matter goes wrong, it’s a $50 fix and super easy to access. That’s a big contrast from our 2005 Sienna where the parts are 5x the cost and everything is crammed in, plus I worry about messing up with a nice vehicle, whereas I can bang around in the truck and if I screw it up just spend another $50. There’s so many cost saving advantages to older vehicles and AAA pays for itself in discounts as well as the free tows should you need it.

      • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2013, 12:15 pm

        Scanners are cheaper these days – $50 or so, or for $80 I got an Ultragauge OBD reader that gives me real-time fuel economy and about 12 other engine stats. Which can also read and reset trouble codes.

        • Rich July 2, 2013, 2:25 pm

          Or just pick up an OBDII Bluetooth reader and use it with an app on your phone (I use Torque, lite version is free, pro version is $4.95). On Ebay the scanners can be had for $9.51 shipped (just search for obd2 bluetooth). I have one and works great for me! I can see real time diagnostic data (mph, fuel economy, rpm’s, etc, etc) and also the check engine codes.

        • CincyCat July 2, 2013, 6:48 pm

          The guy at my local auto parts store showed me a hack… no scanner necessary! If you turn the key to “on” then “off” for a second or two, a few times in a row (do not actually start the car), then the defect code will display. Of course, this only works with cars that have a computer, but I thought it was a great idea!

        • Half-Borg July 3, 2013, 1:27 am

          Of course you are right, but the ross-tech scanner can do more than ODBII, it also has the VW protocol to diagnose everything, even not engine related parts like A/C or door locks, even the freaking radio has an diagnostic interface. Should have mentioned that.

          Also I do not need the top notch thing, since my car is from 2001 and I don’t need a CAN interface.

      • slowth July 2, 2013, 1:17 pm

        My 1989 Pickup says hello! If your car has an OBDII port, and you have decided to maintain your vehicle, then buying a scanner is mandatory. You’re wasting your time otherwise.

      • Chris July 3, 2013, 1:17 pm

        I recommend a simple Scan Guage/OBD reader off amazon for about 50$. It gives me real time stats like fuel economy, a host of other engine data and allows you to read fault codes.

        I also like the Blue tooth idea-seems like a great price!

        My CEL just came on and I read the code off my Scan Guage, googled the code, read up on the issue on a VW/TDI forum and used that info to direct my local mechanic on what I wanted replaced (of course I asked his opinion as well). Originally, he wanted to chang out another part and I politely and confidently declined.

        We’ll see if I’m right. It’s empowering to understand your vehicles for basic maintenance!

        – Note: typically I’m a DITY’er, but in this case, I outsourced, considering we’re in the middle of unpacking a house move.

  • brighteye July 2, 2013, 6:28 am

    Gotta love the internet!!
    That is how I solve most of my problems these days…

  • Million Dollar Journey July 2, 2013, 6:28 am

    First time commenter, great site you have MM!

    Did you consider purchasing the part then going to a backyard mechanic to do the install? If you phone around, their labour rates are likely half the dealers. But I agree in that learning something new is worth the time that you put in.

    All the best!

    • CALL 911 July 2, 2013, 12:11 pm

      I’m certain I can answer for MMM (OK, so I’m presumptious), but he never considered it. Why would he pass up the opportunity to learn a new skill? People pay good money to mechanic school to gain the knowledge he could get for FREE! That’s like riding past the library on the way to spend money at Barnes And Noble!

  • UK Money Motivator July 2, 2013, 6:28 am

    Yes! More of these how to blogs please :)

    For tools, a lot of universities (and some towns) have car clubs, where you can pay a little bit of money to rent professional tools that would be prohibitively expensive / too bulky for us average Joes to own.

    I am currently doing a full service on my motorbike prior to selling it. With no time constraints, you can take your time, learn new skills, and save a bundle in the short term and even more in the long term.

    If you could also get excited about hydroponics, I’d love to see how the MMM tackles green things!!

    • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies July 2, 2013, 6:39 am

      “For tools, a lot of universities (and some towns) have car clubs, where you can pay a little bit of money to rent professional tools that would be prohibitively expensive / too bulky for us average Joes to own.”

      And places like Auto Zone have tools that you can borrow. A $50 deposit (or something similar), and you bring the tool home to use. The deposit is returned to you when you bring it back.

      • Done by Forty July 2, 2013, 11:08 am

        That’s a fantastic tip. Borrowing (or even renting) seldom used tools is way more efficient than buying.

      • Chris July 3, 2013, 1:20 pm

        If you’re military, all bases have a fully decked-out Auto Hobby shop where you can get affordable maintenance done or do it yourself!


  • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies July 2, 2013, 6:37 am

    And don’t forget to double check that everything is torqued to spec! I’ll never forget the day that Mr. PoP’s little brother changed his brakes and his wheel fell off when he took it for a test run down the street.

  • TurtlePower July 2, 2013, 6:39 am

    Long time reader… first post ever!

    Glad you got your car fixed. Next time, “break” the wheel nuts with the vehicle on the ground. It’s a lot safer in that you’re not potentially shaking a lot of weight that’s perched up in the air, and also a LOT easier on your transmission (say you’re doing a front wheel of a FWD) – bonus if you have an assistant simply stand on the brake pedal while you’re breaking the nuts, then they get out of the car, then you jack things up

    Thanks for an informative and always entertaining blog!

    • Mike September 10, 2014, 6:11 pm

      He also should have used the jack which came with his car, as it would have the appropriate weight rating and vertical lift. Someone who rotates their own tires would know all of this ;).

  • Neal July 2, 2013, 6:42 am

    Excellent article and frugal concept. My first car after college was a nine year old BMW (before MMM), however there are lots of online resources to DIY nearly anything. After an early shop trip for control arms, everything but new tires have been DIY’d, most recently the fuel pump and some driveshaft parts. The savings from self work over shops has passed $2000 in three +years. It drives me 900 miles/week for work (required) and I hope to get it past 300k miles.

    Sorry, point is, great money saver and you feel awesome after fixing it. But the hardest part for some may be building the nerve of disassembling and repairing their “complex” machine.

  • rod July 2, 2013, 6:45 am

    Excellent repair! Not only saved money, but learned a new skill. Seems people cringe on any of that car voodoo, I work on many machines, construction is not my bag. I often remember, someone built it, it is a 3 dimentional puzzle, of course tools add to the cost of diy repair, but then it is a part of your arsenal of stuff for good. Also, just fyi, timing belts will stop the car all at once, and probably destroy the engine. I am sure you could do that also, and usually a repair manual will lead you through it. That’s a good time to really see how all the belts are doing, and hoses. A good mechanic friend is helpful of course for that moral support and a second set of eyes and tool grabber. You may have already been savvy to that repair.

    • plam July 2, 2013, 8:03 am

      I was driving my dad’s Mustachian Toyota Corolla out on the highway near the Eastern Townships of Quebec and then the check engine line started flashing (it wasn’t just solid-on, it was blinking, which is bad). Then the gas pedal stopped working. That was the timing belt.

      It turns out that, for the purpose of timing belts, there are two types of engine: interference engines and non-interference engines. If you have a non-interference engine, nothing particularly bad happens from timing belt failure, except that the engine stops producing forward power.

      For me, a search for “timing belt non-interference” gives lots of useful results.

      • Doug July 2, 2013, 9:12 am

        How “timely” this topic should turn up. It was 25 years ago on July 2, 1988 I was going through Sudbury, Ontario when there was a total loss of power like the ignition switch was turned off. I put the transmission in neutral, luckily going down a hill, and coasted into a residential street. My diagnosis was the timing belt broke. It was on a Ford Pinto so it was a non interference type and not that difficult to change. Luckily I had the old one (it was changed many years ago), so I replaced it right there. Before leaving Sudbury, I bought another one (just in case) and was on my way again. I’m not going to let a broken timing belt spoil my trip!

  • Miser Mom July 2, 2013, 6:48 am

    I love “how-to” videos on You Tube! A few weeks ago I was sharpening a lawn mower blade myself (not as studly as replacing a wheel-bearing, but still a minor pat-on-the-back for trying something new for me). I had the blade etc off and sharpened, and for some reason it wouldn’t go back together again right. A few You-Tube videos later, I convinced myself that I had the reassembly stuff in the right order, and tried again. Success!

  • JJ July 2, 2013, 6:55 am

    You get a little more for auto-cast than you do for regular cast iron at some scrap yards. If you hang onto enough of the good heavy ferrous scrap (throw it in a barrel in the corner of your garage or something) you can get at least 50 bucks or so at the scrap yard when the barrel’s full. My yard will pay .10 cents a pound for shred (anything magnetic) and they pay a little more than that for auto cast.

    I happen to pass by this particular place about twice a year.

  • maxime prati July 2, 2013, 6:56 am

    Ottawa… Ottawa !!! OMG….Do you have plan/time for a meetup there ???

  • Jake July 2, 2013, 7:03 am

    Not sure if you can do it with a wheel bearing assembly, but the old mechanic’s trick for getting really tight parts on is to heat one part and cool the other.

    I.e., in this case, apply propane torch gently to the part that fits onto the axle and it will heat up, thus expanding. When you put it on, it cools and shrinks to fit.

    The other way to do it (better if you’ve got a bearing you want to fit inside of something) is to stick the bearing in the freezer for an hour or so. It’ll slip right in, and then heat up to fit snugly. You stand less chance of damaging the part this way than with the blowtorch.

    • Mark W July 2, 2013, 12:09 pm

      As someone who works for a bearing manufacturer, I can verify that heating and cooling is a good way to install something with a press fit. Although, with heating you have to be careful how hot the part gets. For steel used in bearings, if you go above 100 deg C, you risk changing the properties of steel that make it useful. Another thing with installing bearings with a press fit is that people use a hammer to get them on. We pretty much always don’t recommend it as it damages the internal raceways where the balls (or rollers) contact, and roll, and pretty much kill the bearing from the start. US$40 seems about right for the cost of a new bearing, from a manufacturing stand point. I can’t tell who the manufacturer is from the photo of the box, but it doesn’t look like an OEM or major manufacturer, which leads me to believe that it is a cheap aftermarket product. Of course, on cars it is sometimes hard to tell when you should use an OEM part vs. an aftermarket part. Knowing the complexities of bearings, I would be weary of using aftermarket bearings since it is probably made cheaply in China and not up to the manufacturer quality of the major bearing manufacturers. However, since you drive very little, you may not experience any trouble for a few years if damages did occur during your install. It seems like an easy install process, though, so I hope it works out well for you.

      • Doug July 4, 2013, 8:37 am

        Another option is when you press the outer shell of the bearing into the wheel assembly, place the old one on top and GENTLY tap it with a hammer to press the new one into place. It has worked well when I did it.

  • Mr. 1500 July 2, 2013, 7:04 am

    Yes, YouTube is an awesome teacher for just about anything. No matter what problem you have with just about any device, it seems that someone else has had the same issue and posted a video of how to resolve it.

    Sometimes, I do fall back on manuals though too. Haynes makes very good ones and most libraries have them.

    • turboseize July 7, 2013, 2:48 am

      Also look for manuals by “Bentley publishers”. I find them to be more useful, that is more detailed and easier to follow than Haynes.

  • MsSindy July 2, 2013, 7:15 am

    I’m very fortunate to have a Hubby that can fix anything, and is always willing to do so. He’s an industrial mechanic by trade (ex-DOFASCO employee for you Hamilton, Canada folks!). So, to work on a car is mere child’s play. It does help to have the right tools, but if you purchase right, you’ll have them a lifetime. I think it’s his willingness to roll-up his sleeves and tackle any job that has helped him build his confidence/skill so that he feels that he could fix any mechanical problem, without hesitation. Also, a good reference book helps. Now, if I could just get him to cancel cable….. :)

  • Matt Becker July 2, 2013, 7:17 am

    Good stuff here. I’ve been having lots of trouble with my car recently and I’d like to learn more about fixing things myself. First project: replacing the battery. Can’t be too difficult, right?

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2013, 12:21 pm

      That’s a good start, Matt – batteries are a very easy thing to swap, yet pretty rewarding. Tip: If you have access to Costco, it will save you a bundle on the battery and they have great warranties too. Bring an adjustable wrench and other small tools to Costco, take out your old battery in the parking lot, then bring it in to the returns desk to get a core credit to be applied to the new one.

      • Matt July 2, 2013, 10:57 pm

        Battery posts are tapered. Make sure the terminal goes down on the post before you tighten the nut.

      • Darin C July 3, 2013, 4:27 pm

        In my experience I’d say Costco/etc… batteries are over-priced. I’ve done fairly well with batteries from a junk yard, that are generally no more than a year or two old.

        As long as you have a core, they’re only $20-25, which is a quarter to a sixth of what a new battery costs and will probably last almost as long.

        It’s been much less expensive to buy a used battery every four years rather than a new one every 8-10 years, and if my current battery goes flat I generally have another one charged up and ready to swap in.

        • Mr. Money Mustache July 4, 2013, 6:10 am

          Nice, Darren! It is always good to be out-badassed by a reader. I need to find one of these mysterious Junkyards and see what they have in store for me. Even if I don’t need to repair my cars very often, the access to neat discounted metal stuff might come in handy for other reasons.

          • Darin C July 5, 2013, 5:11 pm

            Thanks Mr. MM! If you have any around you should check them out. They aren’t the greatest for relatively common mechanical items that have warranties from auto parts stores, but for fasteners, basic items (batteries, windshields, maybe tires), and parts that are only available through the dealership, or aren’t available there, they are hard to beat.

            Just look for a battery that fits with the newest date code. The yards I frequent even have a 30 day window for free exchanges if the first (or second I guess) battery you get doesn’t work. They also have “warranties” on other parts, which are just higher prices that allow you to get a credit at the j-yard if you don’t like what you bought for some reason.

    • Insourcelife July 2, 2013, 2:14 pm

      Matt, you can certainly do it yourself as it’s very easy but also remember that many places will install the battery for free if you buy it from them. I usually shop for batteries at Autozone or Advance Auto and they will install the battery and recycle your old one for you. I found that their prices are competitive and sometimes you can get an even better deal with a coupon.

      • brkr12002 July 2, 2013, 2:59 pm

        I like to get my battery from AutoZone, because when it dies before the warranty expires, they tend to be a little more conveniently located and some are open 24 hours. Saves you some money since you get some money applied to the new battery.

        • Anne July 3, 2013, 10:54 am

          On batteries I have to give a shout out to AAA membership. Mine died last year and they came to me with the battery (which cost me a few dollars less than it would have at Autozone) changed it free, disposed of the old one free, and the battery came with a 6 year warranty, 3 of which is full replacement.

    • CincyCat July 3, 2013, 7:37 am

      My only advice on changing your own car battery is to first determine if the battery is easily accessible. In our case, we had every intention of changing the battery ourselves, but discovered that the geniuses who designed our car’s engine put the battery in a really bizarre location, sort of crammed up next to the passenger tire wheel well. My husband tried for hours to get the durn thing off. Then, he called AAA, and they couldn’t get to it, either. We had to have the car towed to the shop (it was totally dead). As it turns out that for this particular model, the battery is impossible to remove without a lift (which we did not have). This is RARE, though…

  • My Financial Independence Journey July 2, 2013, 7:18 am

    Car repairs are not something that I would try to do myself. I’m not very skilled at fixing mechanical things, don’t have a garage to work in, and don’t know anyone who does fix cars. The cost of messing up the repair (which is 100% likely if it’s my first time) is possibly an even more broken car.

    I find it a more efficient use of my time to have the car fixed by a professional while I’m at work. I realize that this isn’t the most frugal option, but it does prevent me from wasting my time on menial tasks and ensures that the job is done right (or at least more right than I could ever do it).

    • Gerard July 2, 2013, 7:40 am

      I share your fear. But surely, nobody’s skilled at fixing things until they actually start fixing things, right?

      • My Financial Independence Journey July 2, 2013, 10:59 am

        True, but I live in an area that is far from walking, biking, or public transportation friendly. Essentially I can’t get anywhere, including work, without a car. I don’t really have the luxury of taking my time learning how to fix a car. Also, I don’t have a spare to tide me over and getting a rental will rapidly chew up any DIY cost savings.

        If I had an extra car and someone to teach me the ropes, I’d be open to learning some basic car maintenance. As it stands right now, it’s not a feasible option for me.

        • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2013, 12:10 pm

          No offense, MyFiJourney, but what you’re doing here is called “complainypants” in the lingo of this blog:


          Summary: why tell 300,000 people that you happen to not be willing to try something in one of these articles? It’s totally fine if you don’t want to do it, but making a public statement of it is not in the spirit of this blog’s (admittedly unusual) comments section.

          • Rob aka Captain and Mrs Slow July 4, 2013, 10:25 am

            One point if you decide to outsource the work is to shop around and find a good mechanic. Too many people accept at face value the quote gevin. Read a story about a lady whose car broke down, got it towed and the garage quoted some outragous amount to repair it, so she did what any Mustache would do, called around got a better quote called back the garage (remember it was sitting there) and asked them to price match. Saved herself some good coin.

        • Steven Cummings July 3, 2013, 7:31 am

          You’re in a place where walking, biking, and public transportation are not options. There is a fair chance, then, that you have somewhere that you could store an old beater ($100-$500) that you could buy just for the purpose of learning how to fix it up. Buy the beater and restore it a little bit at a time. If you mess up, it was a small investment, but you can learn valuable skills that you can then apply to your everyday vehicle.

        • Brian July 3, 2013, 8:23 am

          You’ve got a very long journey ahead of you. . .

      • thegreenworkbench July 2, 2013, 4:36 pm

        I am a big believer in DIY and learning by doing, in fact just wrote an article about that very topic, but car repairs are a tough one for me to get excited about. I enjoy all sorts of DIY work, but car repairs is not one of them. I have done a variety of repairs on my cars and have often joked that the only things I know how to repair are the things I have already had to fix or replace. My issue is that it takes me eight hours to do a job a skilled person could do in one or two. Invariably there is an extra trip to the auto parts store mixed in. My HOA (which I will be glad to finally leave) doesn’t allow car repairs in the driveway, forcing me to be sneaky about it. In the end it is always a toss up between spending way too much to have it professionally done or waste a weekend doing it myself. And is it really a waste when you are learning a lifetime skill??? Maybe I can get my son to help and turn the task into a great father son experience. I know I enjoyed learning at the side of my dad.

        I’ve been the guy who puts car repairs on his credit card before and will not be that guy again. So I guess I better find a friend with a driveway as I have an a/c compressor to replace. Sigh.

      • Mr. 1500 July 2, 2013, 9:45 pm

        It really isn’t hard .Like MMM said, watch the YouTube video over and over until you feel comfortable and then just take your time. If I’m taking something complicated apart, I just whip out my phone and take some picture. However, I’ve never really had to go back to them

        Also, start small. Change your oil or rotate your tires before working your way up to the brakes.

      • PermacultureNovice January 28, 2016, 2:21 pm

        Yes, it’s true that you don’t really learn anything until you try, but as the partner who knows the cooking, cleaning, sewing, healing, and growing skills in my partnership, I will encourage my mechanical, designer, engineer to do the repair while I hold the light and pass the tools. As they say, it takes two to make a thing go right, and I’m just as proud as fixing it myself!

    • Done by Forty July 2, 2013, 11:13 am

      It’s true, we all pick our spots when it comes to DIY. But the learning curve for a task like this isn’t likely to be that steep, if you can identify what the problem is. I mean, you’re not really “repairing” a broken part. In most cases, you’re replacing one, so it’s a matter of turning bolts left, taking off, putting on, and turning bolts right.

      The juice may be worth the squeeze.

  • Ruz July 2, 2013, 7:41 am

    I have always struggled with used cars. I want to be frugal – but I seem to buy every lemon out there. I think there is an alert when I buy a car and get the extended warranty because I blow through those things like candy. Things like engines blowing, tires falling off, wheel bearing melting. shocks cracking. It is not like I drive crazy or anything. I bought 1 new car, had it for 10 years, and other than oil changes, I bought some new tires. I have had 4 used cars, and seem to average $2000 per year in repairs in addition to regular maintenance. It is not worth my time and money to dismantle the engine to fix leaking seals inside the engine and things like that! (Especially time)

    • Mister money pinch July 4, 2013, 7:25 am

      Buying a used car is a little trickier than a new one, if only because masking a defect is quite lucrative. Next time you are on the market,buy directly from the owner instead of a salesman and insist on getting a complete stack of maintenance receipts. Read them and buy only if there are no holes in the history. You will save on the car AND be sure it has been well-maintained.

      • Rob aka Captain and Mrs Slow July 4, 2013, 10:28 am

        Andrew Hallman has a great article in his book Millionaire teacher on how to pick up a good used car for almost nothing, chapter two I think.

      • turboseize July 7, 2013, 7:54 am

        Also, ALWAYS do some internet research. As I have already said so often, there are quite a lot of car fanatics out there. And a lot of them contribute to internet forums.
        For many models, you will be able to gain a first overview on the typical quirks and faults. Often car communities and sometimes car magazines have prepared buyers guides to the specific models. Download them, read them, prepare a check list, print it – and remember to take it with you when you set out to have a look (and perhaps buy).
        If you still feel insecure, ask someone to accompany you. Everybody knows a car freak, so do you.
        In the unlikely case you really have no knowledgeable friends or aquaintances, again, the internet is your friend. Offer a barbecue and a crate of beer, and the odds are very good you might convince a detachment of the local car subculture to come over. ;-)

  • Stephen @ SE July 2, 2013, 7:42 am

    I enjoyed this article as much for the content (fixing a car) as the approach. I think the process of learning ‘how to learn something’ is equally as valuable as the actually fixing a car.

    @My FIJ, I think if you see the task as a one time event the returns surely are not worth it, however, with fixing almost anything, you learn a ton while you do it (even if you do it wrong) and that knowledge will stay with you for years and years and continue to pay dividends.

    I would also tell young people to experiment with DIY because the value last for a lifetime and your opportunity cost are extremely low when you are young. The more you know, the less you have to spend later.

  • Insourcelife July 2, 2013, 7:48 am

    This is a great primer on fixing your own car and saving thousands of dollars on ridiculous car repair bills. One thing that I would add is to use internet forums as a confidence builder and a step by step DIY guide. There is a forum for pretty much every model of every car ever made out there. If you intend on maintaining your own car it would be very helpful to find and join one for your model and read up on different DIYs that people post, most of the time with great pictures. I also use these forums to research common problems with a particular car to plan ahead. Often you can do some preventative maintenance to avoid a large break down all together. Crowdsourcing is truly one of the best uses of the Internet!

  • Emily A July 2, 2013, 7:49 am

    Impressive work. Gone are the days where you say “I wonder why ______. Hmm, I guess we’ll never know!” I love that now, everything comes down to Google searches and the occasional YouTube video.

    And yet you still have to remind people of this fact! At this point, I would think it would be second nature. The second I have a question or doubt about anything, I grab 4 or 5 sources online and learn, learn, learn.

    • BeatTheSeasons July 2, 2013, 7:59 am

      I wonder if this is becoming second nature for younger people? Google has only been around for 15 years after all.

      Even now at work I can impress my colleagues with ‘research’ into the simplest of problems.

      On the other hand, sometimes I have to stop myself going online to answer every question and actually engage my brain or speak to people instead.

      Somebody stopped me for directions just now on my lunchtime walk and it made me realise that it doesn’t happen much anymore due to maps on ubiquitous iPhones. A bit sad if technology replaces all human thinking and interaction.

  • Jon July 2, 2013, 8:21 am

    Good job and good article. This is basically how I learned to work on cars. I started off with small, simple jobs, and gradually worked up to more and more advanced repairs. I now do all work myself and never use mechanics anymore. I haved saved myself thousands over the past few years and have learned many valuable skills.

  • Brandon (And Higher Still) July 2, 2013, 8:36 am

    Bingo! More posts like this!

    I think an article on a recommended bicycle maintenance schedule would be extremely popular.

    • Joe (yolfer) July 2, 2013, 1:14 pm

      Bikes don’t really have a schedule, because as long as you do regular ABC Checks (see below), a bike part failure isn’t likely to get you killed.

      Here’s my recommended bicycle maintenance routine:

      “ABC Check” every few rides = Air (inflate tires), Brakes (make sure they work), Chain (make sure it’s in good condition and free of debris)

      Clean drivetrain monthly = take a rag and run the chain through it. Remove debris and road grime from chain, cranks, derailleurs, and gears. Oil chain (REAL BIKE OIL ONLY)

      When brakes don’t stop you = replace brakes

      When bike starts making noise = figure out what’s making the noise, then use MMMs “google your symptoms” trick to learn what’s wrong and how to fix it (see above). A quiet bike is a safe bike.

      Everything else falls under “OH SHIT!”, such as popped tubes and chains falling off. But keeping your bike clean and quiet, your drivetrain oiled, and your tires full of air will reduce the OH SHIT moments.

      • Purple July 2, 2013, 4:28 pm

        This is brilliant Joe. Thanks.

      • _C_ July 9, 2013, 2:48 pm

        I’ll add:

        Keeping your tires inflated will dramatically reduce your chance of getting a flat due to the tube pinching itself (you’ll notice this as two little punctures that look like bite marks). Different tubes will lose air at different rates, so if you keep an eye on them, you’ll see how often you need to refill them.

        Try to keep the factory grease on the chain as long as you can. It’ll get dirty or wash off in the rain before long. If you rotate chains every 1,000 miles or so (keeping several in rotation) or every 2-3,000 miles you’ll save wear on your cassette. If you really push it, you’ll wear your cassette out too, causing your new chain to skip. For re-lubing purposes, I like heavy lubes which are gear oil based as opposed to the “dry” lubes that wash off quickly.

        Your rear tire will wear out about twice as quickly as the front. Keep the more worn out tire on the back. Having a blow out on the front is NO FUN!!!

        If you ride a lot, recable and rehouse your bike every year or so. Mileage wise, I’d say every 5 or 6,000 miles.

        I typically do a bunch of this in the spring or summer, once the weather turns. I pull the bike completely apart and inspect everything. You can catch that problem that will be major later in the year at this stage. Clean, relube, and regrease everything. Grease is your friend where dissimilar materials meet.

        For brakes, many pads have grooves or wear indicators. Replace before you get to these. Some pads like the salmon kool-stops dramatically improve your braking performance.

        If you correctly set your derailleurs, both limit screws and actual cable pull, you shouldn’t ever have a chain pop off when shifting.

        If any of this doesn’t make sense, Park Tool’s videos are your friend. The “big blue book” by them is also invaluable.

  • Kaytee July 2, 2013, 8:42 am

    One of the few complaints I have about our cheap-for-the-area 2-bedroom apartment is the strict lease, which includes a clause that doesn’t allow us to work on our vehicles on the premises. It is grounds for immediate eviction. Lucky for me, I have a friend that is a mechanic who has carpentry needs, so we barter. Each party purchases their own materials, and it works out very well.

  • Melissa July 2, 2013, 8:59 am

    Awesome! I have always enjoyed working on my cars with my dad (who worked as a mechanic in HS and to put himself through college). It’s not something I have quite the strength for on my own!

    However, my recent victory was replacing my rear brakes (with the assistance of dad) a couple months ago….for the grand total of $21.
    (This was after being quoted by a local auto shop upwards of $250 and them telling me I would also need ‘all new rotors’–which was total BS and I knew it even before confirming it by taking the wheels off).

    It’s quite a satisfying experience isn’t it?

  • Pretired Nick July 2, 2013, 9:14 am

    It’s amazing how much easier the internet has made this kind of thing. Same thing for me with cooking. I have no idea how to cook, but a few YouTube videos later and a delicious dinner is on the table!
    Also sounds like you need to find yourself a tool library: http://pretired.org/saving-money/save-money-with-a-tool-library/

  • Robb July 2, 2013, 9:19 am

    I might recommend re-torque-ing the nut to spec with a torque wrench. The life of the bearing will be reduced if it’s installed to tight or loose.

    Of course, for $40, it might not be worth the trouble.

  • Todd July 2, 2013, 9:20 am

    Nice article. I’m inspired to retry my recent failed project of flushing my coolant. I gave up when I couldn’t find the drain valve after a couple hours of searching, but I recently bought my car’s service manual on eBay for $7 (!) and will take another shot this weekend.

    • brkr12002 July 2, 2013, 2:51 pm

      check underneath your car. Should be a little plastic type screw somewhere on the bottom of the radiator. Just place a bucket underneath to catch the coolant. Place the coolant in a clean milk jug and take it to a shop to properly dispose of it, should be free of charge.

      • CALL 911 July 3, 2013, 9:40 am

        If you have “city” water (as opposed to a well/septic system) you can just dump it down the plumbing drain. Municipal water systems in the USA are equipped to neutralize it. Do not dump it into the storm drains or leave it out. Ethylene glycol is highly toxic, and sweet tasting. It will kill fish, pets, birds and people if ingested.

  • Doug July 2, 2013, 9:22 am

    I can relate to this topic as do most of my own car repair and maintenance and have done many on the road repairs like a timing belt replacement (see above posting) as well as a broken CV shaft replacement, and once overhauled a carburetor on a picnic table. That’s a good idea using Youtube videos to learn how to do it yourself. Another idea is buying a Haynes Repair Manual. It’s one of the first purchases I make when I get another car. They typically go for $20 to $30, cover most repairs and maintenance, and are thus good value for the money. Also, they can be used for breakdowns in areas where there is no internet coverage.

  • Joe July 2, 2013, 9:47 am

    That’s awesome. I’m not very handy and I’m afraid I would mess up the car even more. I have done simple maintenance stuff like changing fuel filter and flush the radiator.
    We also don’t have a garage at the moment. Maybe when we have a garage again, I’ll try to learn more about cars…
    For now, we’ll just drive as little as possible.

  • Dragline July 2, 2013, 9:53 am

    The “Scotty Kilmer” video series on YouTube is good for many basic repairs and diagnostics — and just explaining how things in your car work.

    The guy is such a goof-ball, its also entertaining.

    • JaneMD July 3, 2013, 11:00 am

      Any other suggestions on basic parts/workings of cars or bikes for real beginners? As a woman, when I enter any business establishment related to cars or bikes, I get treated like a sweet little girl who shouldn’t trouble her little head about complex mechanical things. (For that matter, I would say electronics and computer guys treat me the same way. I’m a DOCTOR dammit, I can help bring someone back to life, but you think I don’t know how to plug my computer in?)

      • David July 3, 2013, 11:21 am


        To learn to work on your bicycle(s), your best bet, if there is one where you live, is a bicycle cop-op. These places almost always have classes that teach people basic (and, eventually, non-basic) bicycle maintenance and repair. Typically they are free or low-cost. Sometimes there will be classes that are specifically directed at (and taught by) women, to avoid the mansplaining/condescension factor. I don’t know where you live (maybe you’re in the boonies somewhere) but some searching ought to get you an asnwer with little difficulty. For an example of the kind of place I’m talking about (in my own city), look up Ciclo Urbano / West Town Bikes in Chicago. You can find instructional videos on YouTube, but some care is advised – some of these (I’ve seen a fair number) either contain bad advice or show bad techniques. You may not have the knowledge to determine whether a video is good or not, which is where the value of being taught by mechanics comes in.

  • Mr. Risky Startup July 2, 2013, 10:01 am

    I have even better solution – car mechanic genius brother…

    You are right about parts – VW charges $25 for a tiny plastic latch on the armrest storage compartment – production cost probably 5 cents. It snaps in place, but VW dealer wanted $99 minimum labour and “investigation” charge. Sick.

  • George July 2, 2013, 10:14 am

    I enjoyed the article on your wheel bearing repair. It reminded me of a few years ago when I tackled replacing the whole engine in my car. The car was so scrap if without a engine so I had nothing to loose. I bought a used engine at the salvage yard. Then googled several blogs/articles on replacing my type of engine. Every time I ran into a problem I googled it and always found someone who had the same problem and solved it. I felt great satisfaction when it ran and ran till I sold it two years later. used engine $530 + 100 in misc parts and tools = $630 total and about 40 hours labor (my first engine swap) . Amount saved = about $4500.

  • RubeRad July 2, 2013, 10:14 am

    I remember taking car shop in high school, and that experience greatly lowered my inhibitions about working on cars. I bet many community colleges offer similar classes on intro to auto mechanics that would be good for people that want to get their feet wet.

  • LMaS July 2, 2013, 11:10 am

    I’ve been debating replacing my own brake pads and possibly front rotors (I’m pretty sure they are original at 110k). It sounds like it should be pretty easy compared to your bearing fix. Thanks for the giving me the motivation to do it myself!

    • Mister money pinch July 3, 2013, 9:58 am

      Do it! Brakes are one of the easiest and most lucrative things to DIY. Proof: it is done by the lowest-certified mechanics :)
      For most cars, disc brakes are an easy job, and all you need is 2 types of grease and a socket set. Drums are slightly trickier because those little springs seem to seek freedom for some reason :)

      I highly recommend getting a manual (Haynes or OEM) because every car has it’s little quirks, like the placement of adjustment bolts. Also, with modern cars the manual combines with a code-reader for point-and-click diagnostics. Knowing is half the battle, even if you decide to have it done at the shop.

  • CincyCat July 2, 2013, 11:26 am

    This story reminds me of the time my husband and I, newly married & extremely poor college students, changed the heater core in our 1989 Chevy Celebrity in 12 degree weather. We literally could not afford the labor to have it changed at a shop, and the part itself was less than $20.

    I cannot promise you that it was easy, but we got it done (and we stayed married!). My “favorite” part was lying on a towel in a puddle of antifreeze under the front passenger seat/dashboard desperately trying to guide my husband as he was blindly feeding the tubes through the firewall. Good times… :-)

    • CincyCat July 2, 2013, 6:08 pm

      I do feel compelled to clarify that this repair was completed in the days before Google & YouTube existed. It was 95% Haynes Manual + 5% calling a mechanic friend for advice (on a landline).

    • Doug July 4, 2013, 8:50 am

      I had a heater core that was leaking on my previous car (fogging up the windows) so I bypassed it in February 2007 and toughed it out with no heater as it’s such a major job to fix, especially in a cold northern winter in Timmins, Ontario. Next summer I salvaged some pipes and other plumbing parts out of the garbage, and refitted it so the old air conditioning evaporator (the air conditioner wasn’t working anyways) became the heater core. The only expenditure was for heater hose and clamps. It did work, although it only produced about a third of the BTU’s of a regular heater. Not a big deal, just put it on recirculate to warm up the interior on really cold days. Since it was always delivering heat I would simply disconnect it during the summer months. So how’s that for a badass mustachian budget heater repair?

  • Ralf July 2, 2013, 11:43 am

    I do almost everything on my cars. It is easy..

    In the beginning it was hard, but the key is to get started.

    The only un-mustachian thing about fixing and maintaining your own car is that you do need some tools. The savings are big though.

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2013, 11:56 am

      Note: tools are very Mustachian – whether they are mental/psychological, software, or physical ones. A tool represents the capability to accomplish something more efficiently, and I think some frugal people actually underspend on tools, confusing cheapness with frugality.

      You just have to learn to avoid the nonsense tools, like leaf-blowers and snow-blowers and riding mowers applied to a suburban life where your muscles would benefit from the occasional task.

      • Tim McAleenan July 2, 2013, 11:04 pm

        “A tool represents the capability to accomplish something more efficiently, and I think some frugal people actually underspend on tools, confusing cheapness with frugality.”

        Brilliant. I think the second stage of Mustachian Enlightenment comes when you recognize that seemingly pricey goods can represent value when adjusted for emotional utility (i.e. ease and a lack of frustration) and long-term usage.

      • Jon July 3, 2013, 8:36 am

        Tools are an INVESTMENT. With all the money you save fixing things yourself, the tools will pay for themselves many times over. I’ve bought tools, even expensive ones, that instantly paid for themselves the first time I used them. And they continue to pay me back every time I use them thereafter.

        I’ve also bought tools that I thought for sure I’d use only once and never need them again, only to end up using them over and over again. Having to buy tools has never discouraged me from fixing something myself.

      • Jeff September 2, 2013, 10:55 am

        I recently started doing my own car repairs and learned that it is a very fun hobby for me. Being an artist I am quite handy, and for some reason didn’t think I could do my own car repairs. I just bought a bargain car on craigslist that needed about $1000 worth of work to be in perfect working order for about $3500 under market value of the same car in perfect working order. I did the work myself for about $200 (new brake pads, rotors, some electrical problems, tie rod ends) plus about $300 for some new tires and an alignment which is not a DIY thing. Anyways, to do these repairs I had to spend about $50 on tools. I could have spent $2000 on tools and still come out ahead. Win/win/win situation for me: bought an awesome car I could afford to buy in cash that otherwise would have been out of reach, had fun learning all these things and enjoyed the empowerment of it, and I have new tools that are essentially free (if looked at from the opportunity cost angle) and will allow me to have even more fun and save even more money later.

  • Tutone July 2, 2013, 12:08 pm

    YouTube is indeed awesome for Do-It-Yourself projects. I recently replaced my car stereo with nothing more than a quick YouTube video for guidance. This was one of those jobs that historically I would have taken to the shop.

    About a year ago a friend and I tore the guts out of my giant rear projection TV and replaced the color wheel. I had parts scattered all over my living room. That was a scary project because there were literally dozens of parts scattered all over the place. But with the help of YouTube we just worked step-by-step through the process, and when we were done the set worked great and no longer sounded like a jet engine. Replacing a $40 part spared me the expense of buying a brand-new TV!

  • Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) July 2, 2013, 12:35 pm

    Fixing cars (or more realistically, having my husband fix cars) is definitely one of those awesome things to know how to do. I think my car is old enough now where I wouldn’t mind using you tube videos to try to fix a thing or two!

  • Ric Sake July 2, 2013, 12:53 pm

    I’m also a You-tube fan for do-it-yourself jobs. Most recently I wanted to re-plaster the ceiling in our upstairs landing.
    Step 1: Watch a You Tube video
    Step 2: Buy the stuff
    Step 3: Do it!
    Okay I had to repeat step three a few times, and our ceiling is not as high as it once was, but I’m pleased with the result now!

  • OverGrownRich July 2, 2013, 1:18 pm

    It is very satisfying fixing your own broken shit, and YouTube is great for the DIYers amongst us. Just this month I replaced my garage door opener, changed out some bicycle pedals, adjusted my rear derailleur and “trued” one of my bicycle tires. Future DIY projects will be replacing a wood deck with a nice concrete/stone patio, and tiling our dining room….grow mustache grow.

  • ketchup July 2, 2013, 1:29 pm

    Less than a year and a half ago, I knew next to nothing about cars. I couldn’t even drive a manual transmission. Then I bought a 24 year old car with a manual transmission. I learned how to do all the maintainance myself, and fixed all the dumb things that go bad on old cars. A clutch, thermostat, water pump, timing belt, and a radiator later, I felt quite confident fixing anything that went wrong with that car. I even have helped friends out with this sort of thing. I replaced a head gasket in a Geo Metro on the side of my street in November and later a rear wheel bearing in it. A few weeks back, I helped my friend replace his ignition switch in his 1995 VW in a mad scramble before he had to leave for work. It was a $10.99 part and the dealer would have charged $350 for the job, plus it wouldn’t have gotten him to work that day.

    Want to learn about cars? Buy an old car and keep it going! And no, a 2002 is not old.

    Once you are good at this kind of thing, people will start asking for help with their cars. Pay it forward and help people out. Later this week I’m going to help a coworker learn how to change her oil. People get great satisfaction out of learning thus sort of thing. It helps take away the mystery of the machine.

  • Jennifer July 2, 2013, 1:29 pm

    I have learned how to do so many things from YouTube, including car maintenance. Technology is great!

  • City Girl July 2, 2013, 1:29 pm

    We went through this last weekend. Country Bloke thought the transmission was acting up. After going to the local auto parts store and using their computer fault finder machine you hook up to the car, he discovered it was a $34 sensor that needed to be replaced. A YouTube video, couple of hours and $34 later, the truck was back on the road. No need for a big auto mechanic bill, just a little common sense!

  • lckeeper1 July 2, 2013, 1:32 pm

    Great post! I’ve gotten more and more proficient at repair car things. There are a TREMENDOUS amount of resources online (Youtube, car-specific forums, etc) for DIY work.

    I remember my first DIY repair (blower motor on an hold 93 Accord). The mechanic said he charges about $500 due to all the labor, but I told him I’d give it a shot myself. I remember his reply distinctly; “You have the same grey matter in your head as I do. Go for it.” I figured he had a great point and have done a lot more since then.

  • Tara July 2, 2013, 1:34 pm

    This really makes me motivated to get on fixing my car. I have an ’02 Corolla with 175k miles that I know still has some life in her but does need a few fixes. baby steps first of course, but I love your honesty on your initial paranoia that turns to zen as you realize you will get it fixed and won’t be stuck there forever.

    • Cats Eye July 4, 2013, 3:08 pm

      Corollas are great. Mass produced cars = cheap parts, because there’s at least a half dozen scrapyards carrying parts.

      I recently had an unexpected not at fault accident and damaged body parts. Went to a salvage yard, got parts in identical color, bought simple tools like wrenches and socket extenders, about 3 hours of time to install and the car looks nice and shiny like it had stealership treatment.

      Cost of repairs quoted by fancy pants body shop = $2000. Cost of parts from salvage yard and tools= $200.

      Most of the DIY was just simple screws and stuff. It was the first major repair my 10 year old Corolla ever needed. I will always look at DIY options if something needs fixin’.

  • Dave July 2, 2013, 1:52 pm

    Here’s another reason to do your own maintenance. My sister took her car in to Midas for an oil change recently. The guy doing it didn’t tighten the drain plug, and she didn’t learn this until the check engine light came on. I haven’t heard an update, but it can’t be good. I have never in my car-ownership life paid someone to change the oil in my car. Sure, it’s relatively cheap to pay someone else to do it; until they forget to tighten the drain plug or the filter. I enjoy doing car maintenance less now than I used to when I was in to cars more than bicycles. I feel a tremendous amount of peace of mind doing my own repairs. It’s just that I now prefer to maintain and get around on my bike. Although I do own one, I think cars suck…your money, your energy, your life. Bike on.


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