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. 

  • Walt July 4, 2013, 9:58 am

    Some advice, based on years in the business, mostly if you’re not going to DIY:

    1. For anything over $100, utter the phrase “that’s a lot of money. Can you do any better?” Be nice, don’t threaten to go elsewhere, be their friend not their enemy, just ask the question. If they say no, you can push harder if you’re that sort of person, or you can shrug and say, “Hey, doesn’t hurts to ask, right?” There’s usually a lot of wiggle room in that price, unless you’re at the dealership. Dealers almost never budge.

    2. If you’re not in a hurry, ask if you can get a better price if you leave the car with them for a couple days (or weeks, depending on the work. Some things are going to take a couple days anyway.) That way they can work it in when they’re slow, and they can get parts from their preferred supplier instead of whatever local guy actually has what they need. Just like MMM shopping around, they shop around too.

    3. The independent guy, on average, is going to be cheaper than the franchise – that franchisee is sending anywhere from 3 to 15 percent of the sale to someone and they still have all the same expenses otherwise.

    4. There’s no difference in oil change competence between the dealership and the fast lube. They both have whoever works cheap in your area (might be recent immigrants, might be young, might be both) doing the oil changes. If you go to a proper repair shop, you probably have someone more experienced.

    5. Parts aren’t all the same. Top-of-the-line Bendix or Raybestos brake pads really are better than the ones you can get for $10 at AutoZone. If you insist on the cheapest parts available, don’t expect a lot of sympathy from the mechanic when, for example, the brakes squeel every time you use them.

    6. Never pay someone to change a tail light, a battery or a wiper blade. Except on some very unusual vehicles, the parts store guy will do it for you if you ask and they aren’t busy. If they do, get them to show you how so you can do it yourself next time. (For example, the battery on certain Chrysler vehicles means jacking up the car and removing one of the front wheels. Not gonna happen at a parts store.)

    7. At a real parts store, they may know enough to be able to give you advice on how to do something. But be skeptical. Sometimes they have no idea. I once had one tell me that a “half inch spindle nut would work fine” on a car that had 13mm spindles.

    8. If you’re thinking DIY, keep in mind that some work – especially related to brakes, suspension, and other “undercar” stuff – is as much about brawn as brains. If you’re just not a very strong person, you may get yourself to a point when you can’t go forward or go back.

    9. If you’re DIYing something that comes in 2’s on your car (for example, rear brakes) don’t take both sides apart all the way. Take them apart far enough that you can see the parts, then do one side, then the other. That way you always have one together that you can go look at when you can’t figure out where all the little springs go.

  • Kris July 4, 2013, 9:40 pm

    I just caught up with blog posts from the beginning, including almost all the comments (I do skip complainypants’ comments). I found your blog about 2 months ago. As others have said, I wish I’d learned these principles, and put them into practice, decades ago. But I’m learning quickly. I’m hanging clothes on the line again and riding my bike to work – no excuse not to ride as we live 1.5 miles from work. I even ride home for lunch most days.

    We enjoy learning and doing more on car maintenance. And I enjoy taking my bike out of the garage and leaving my car sitting there even more! Thanks to you and your blog I am challenged to take action and am making progress.

    I drove through Hamilton today on our way home to SW Michigan from a family reunion in Québec. To think I was in the same province as MMM!

  • Patrick July 5, 2013, 4:53 am

    Congratulations. Welcome to growing up broke in Montana.

    I don’t particularly enjoy auto mechanics, but have performed full engine swaps and everything in between out of necessity. The point of, “many people have done this on planet Earth…” is spot on. There are moments when you think, “dude, there ain’t no way,” but there is a way. Wrenches don’t care who is doing the turning.

  • Trevor July 5, 2013, 8:18 am

    Excellent article MMM. I notice you’re going to be in Ottawa (or maybe the MMM family is here now?). Any chance of an informal MMM gathering here in Ottawa so local MMM followers could meet you?

  • Chris July 5, 2013, 9:23 am

    This article was such perfect timing. I just came back from a camping trip with a grinding brake noise in the front tires. I stopped in for an estimate, $704 for new rotors, brake calipers and pads. Luckily, I was still a ways from home and decided that I could risk it and do the repair at my local mechanic. The brakes were still working just fine but made sure to give plenty of space and drive in the slow lane. I read this article after unpacking the car from the camping trip and decided to give the mechanic DIY a shot. Something that I have never really done before but love to learn about new things and feel if some other person can do it, so can I. I saved myself $520!!!! over what the mechanic shop wanted to charge me and feel great about my new found knowledge of replacing rotors, calipers, and brake pads.

    Thank you Mr Money Mustache for your inspiration!

  • Katie July 5, 2013, 9:54 am

    What you are describing is exactly the reason we are able to keep my 2001 Pontiac Grand Prix with 207,000 miles running like a champ! It has yet to see a mechanic. Anytime something is wrong, my husband googles the issue and fixes it himself. Until we have transmission, supercharger, or major motor issues, we are keeping the beast as our commuter car.

  • PrattWorks July 5, 2013, 11:16 am

    I have historically done all the regular maintenance and repairs on my cars. Our fleet now consists of a 1985 Volvo 240 wagon with 312,000 miles and a 1996 Subaru Outback with 137,000 miles. Both run well, get decent mileage, were paid for in cash, are cheap to insure, and have readily-available cheap replacement parts. They are both wagons, which provide unmatched utility for hauling our dog around and camping. The interior capacity of our Volvo wagon will shame every SUV.

    Buying parts is easier than ever for the shade tree mechanic. Amazon ships for free on orders over $25, and greater savings still can be found on rockauto.com. For the Volvo, I have had great success buying parts from ‘Pick ‘n’ Pull’ junk lots, and you get to learn how to remove the part on a junker before you try the re-install on your own car. I have good shop manuals for each car, an OBDII reader, and follow the same steps MMM used in his procedure. Google, YouTube, Bulletin Boards, repeat ’til confident.

    This weekend I’ll be changing oil in both cars, recharging the A/C on the Subaru, and replacing the muffler and heater control valve on the Volvo. Total cost: about $60.

    The only thing better would be to not own a car, but the pure utility of the Subaru to get us safely to the ski hill and my wife’s love of her Volvo are, at present, keeping us a 2-car family.

  • ShadetreeMechanic July 5, 2013, 11:21 am

    Longtime shadetree mechanic here. I agree that learning to do your own auto repairs is a great way to save money, but I don’t agree with all of MMM’s suggestions. Some repairs are best left to the pros. My dad was a professional mechanic. He and I both have never repaired a transmission. When he was in business, he had a transmission shop on call for those repairs. The trick is to learn when to outsource the repair. Next, OEM parts vs discount. I have gone through countless discount store parts, more often than not, with disappointing results. A couple of them have been winners, but typically, I’ve been disappointed, especially with anything with friction surfaces (brake pads, brake shoes, clutch plates). OEM is all I use now for those parts, even though they’re 2X as expensive. Paying 1/2 price for a clutch plate is false economy when there’s so much labor involved. With brake pads, I’ve found that the braking is never as good as new unless I use OEM pads. Braking systems, especially ABS systems, are designed with pads with certain levels of friction. Changing that friction level, up or down, can adversely affect a brake system.

    In the interest of saving money, and getting a job done properly, I still do as many of my own repairs as I can. But over the years I’ve adjusted my policy a couple of times, and now I will usually pay the big bucks for parts I know are good just so I have confidence that the job is done right.

  • Life With No Fixed Address July 5, 2013, 11:41 am

    My husband and I drive a big truck. Before this experience he was a city guy that knew nothing of what happened under the hood. In the past five years he has learned an enormous amount, especially how to trouble shoot and zero in on the problem.

    If you a think car repairs are expensive try a 500 hp diesel engine and its related goodies. Getting out of the shop for less than $1,000 is a miracle.

    And learning to do some of our trucks work, helps him talk to a mechanic when he needs a mechanic so the work we want done gets done properly.

    He says he also has learned his limitations, so he doesn’t get in over his head.

  • Sean July 5, 2013, 1:56 pm

    I hate to do car work and I’m not the most mechanical person but I’d rather pay for the part and do it myself if I can help it. Youtube has been a life saver for me when I can’t figure something out. I own a 1993 Nissan Quest that I bought for $1800 four years ago and I have got my moneys worth. I’ve barely put any money into it other than the usual gas, brakes, plugs and oil changes.

    Another tip is that many of the auto part stores will loan out tools. All you have to do is put up a deposit and you get it back when you bring the tool back. Beats buying a tool that you may only use once.

  • mpb July 5, 2013, 3:32 pm

    My husband has been the master of home and car repair since we got married. Just the other day he replaced an alternator, battery, brake pads and did an oil change. All this after fixing the water damaged wood on our patio and put in new anchors on the post. He probably saved us nearly $1000 in one day. Doing it yourself is always cheaper.

  • MrMoneyMustCash July 6, 2013, 4:47 am

    When you mention the thrill received after driving away, this reminded me of a similar situation when I was on my way back from a cross-country trip. My alternator stopped working so I had to pull over, buy a gently used part, install the part myself in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart, before driving off feeling like man. Nothing beats that feeling of accomplishment. Great Article!

  • Lee July 7, 2013, 3:25 am

    I find that the most valuable piece if equipment that I’ve ever bought for any used car that I’ve owned was a Haynes manual. I know you can look anything up on the internet but I enjoy flipping through a book, plus it literally covers everything about whatever make, model, and year of vehicle you own.

  • texscrooge July 7, 2013, 5:40 pm

    Thanks for this post, it reminded me that it’s very often worth the risk to try and fix your own stuff. Results for me: Replaced clutch master cylinder on my 88 Toyota Pickup that had been sitting for months while I worried that an expensive repair was in the works. Total cost $25 dollars. Literally. The part was $18. Tools were the balance. Time 2 hours, at about 100 dollars an hour would be my guess.

  • Pedro B. July 8, 2013, 11:56 pm

    Right on MMM, I just had a similar experience with car repair last week! One quick earlier story. Door handle broke on older Tahoe ( I know… not the best low cost vehicle, but I walk and light rail or bike to work, so it only gets driven on weekends and the occasional drive after work during the week, and it was a free car, so it stays for now) we were actually going to use it for the weekend so I asked the wife to take it to a repair shop to see what it would cost to get fixed. 250 and 2 days they say. Forget it I say…. So handle is broken for weekend trip oh well… the other one worked so minor inconvenience… Next weekend, 38.00 part from Napa (yeah probably could have gotten it cheaper but oh well), 30 mins of my time, one socket wrench. Presto fixed, auto repair confidence built! Money saved Awesome!

    Wife’s friends family mentioned she had coolant leak last week, both unemployed, no cash to get car fixed, pretty old car not worth much. I say…. what the heck I’ll come take a look. Thought it would be an easy fix hose or something, maybe new radiator. Took a look, pipe between intake manifold and upper fuel injector air mixture chamber (not important but looked scary). A bit unsure I was reluctant, looked it up on the internet (pretty much in the same steps you outlined above, before I read this post) some awesome guy had the same problem and posted it on Youtube. Definitely more advanced but looked doable watching him. Friends even had the Chilton guide for the van already so saved some money there by not buying the book (which I would have). So that helped boost the confidence too. Read up on the repair, watched the Youtube video a couple of times and since I have worked on my own bicycles for years I gave it ago. Took quite some time with help from my dad who happened to be in town at the time, hit a road block with a couple of stripped out screws (which bumped the parts bill up 180 bucks, but a prof would have had to do the same thing). Probably had 8-10 man hours in it because of our lack of knowledge and being careful. Was able to get all the correct parts thanks to the net and parts department at a local dealer (very specific parts were needed, tried Napa/others no luck). But if the one part hadn’t been striped out it would have been just 62 bucks, as it was 242 was the total. Never found out what it would have cost to have done, but based on similar work I’ve had done I would guess 1000-1200. I could totally do the same job in probably 2-3 hours or less by myself next time and I’m sure on another car the process would be very similar. Cash savings estimate 800+, experience gained…. value???? incalculable. Van saved from the scrap heap, friend helped, limited money spent to keep a car going for a bit longer. Totally awesome all around. I’m going to definitely take a shot at some other repairs now, no telling how much I will be able to save moving forward.

    You can do this folks. Only took 3 different sockets (medium sized nothing fancy) and a screw driver. Such a timely post!

  • windawake July 9, 2013, 4:46 pm

    I have a bearing that’s all messed up on my front left wheel. It’s been making that terrible noise since January 2010 (when someone hit my car and drove off, leaving no note). I took it in and they said essentially that I can drive it until the bearing seizes up and won’t drive anymore. Three and a half years of very limited driving later and she’s still going strong (although noisy)!

    I think if you don’t drive too much, you can just put up with little annoyances like no AC, a noisy wheel bearing, having to manually release the gear shifter by sticking a screwdriver in a hole every time you drive, a hood that sometimes won’t close, a trunk that won’t pop with the remote, a wacky blinker, and a car alarm that will go off three hours later if you ever lock the car with the remote. I find my car’s quirks funny, because I don’t have to deal with them very often.

  • Jeremy July 11, 2013, 1:12 pm

    I am the actual guy that made that 1A Auto repair video! I’m mostly just hands in the video, but you can see all of me @ 5:11 torquing the axle nut on! I’m glad that you found our videos helpful!

    As one of those freaks that buys undervalued cars on CL, maintains and drives them for 5 years and sells them for profit, I’d say thank you for the kind words.

    Also, I agree that Eric the car guy is awesome. Anyway, happy motoring!


    • stagleton July 19, 2013, 5:20 am

      You and Eric TCG are awesome. thank you!

  • Margarita July 15, 2013, 10:36 am

    HI Mr. Money Mustache! My husband and I have been reading your blog for a few months and LOVE what we have seen! My husband is a natural mustachian, and has biked to school or work for years. We live 9 miles from his office, and he is antsy to move closer so he doesn’t need to bike/take public transportation so far. Most everyone we know thinks we’re crazy!! “WHat do you mean, you have three kids and only 1 car- a tiny little 10-year-old Mazda protege?!? And your husband bikes to his professional job?!? Doesn’t he get too sweaty doing that?!? And you remodeled your own house during graduate school?!? And you do your own car repairs?!? What?!? You’re crazy!!” That has been normal for us to hear for quite some time. Here is how you have influenced us, however. . . We currently have killer bee’s swarming us for deciding to use a student loan while my husband was getting his PhD in mechanical engineering. SO. He graduated last August, and our student loan came due last July. We were already paying it off aggressively before starting to read your blog, but the “killer bees” analogy really got to us- especially to my husband! So, because we are budgeters (using YNAB, which I HIGHLY recommend to anyone who needs a budget!!) we decided to basically take ALL our discretionary spending away for just a few months and get rid of the killer bees! So, we will be finished paying off our big chunk of debt this November:) And as I am less mustachian by nature, it has been fun to see that planning to be more frugal and planning to be content with what we have brings much more happiness and creativity into our lives than I would have guessed. Also, it’s super exciting to think of all that extra cash being available after just over a year of paying off our debt! Our plan is to finish our basement next, then hopefully buy a house closer to the husband’s job, and rent our current home.

    This article made me laugh in delight more than all the rest, because my husband had to do EXACTLY what you have described 3 weeks ago- for our two front tires.He googled, watched YouTube videos, and changed out the wheel bearings on our Mazda. Same exact process:) Funny how people so like minded end up doing similar things all the time, and having a great time doing it. My husband can fix anything, and loves the learning process and skills developed by trying. Some people in our family don’t seem to respect the time it takes, but like you pointed out, it will continue to bless our lives for next 70 years.

    Lastly, the way you have influenced me, specifically, was when I read that you guys cloth diapered your son. I have NEVER wanted to do this, thinking it would be so gross and messy We had our third baby recently, and I decided to try it, (especially since our kids tend to stay in diapers over 3 years! Yikes! So much money down the drain!!!) and I have to report I LOVE it!! Our little baby girl has NO blow outs in cloth!! I thought it would be such a “poopy” experience, but I am touching way less poop now than I was with disposables! Hurray!

    Anyway, thanks for influencing us and others for good in our desires to retire early and be smart and content in the meantime. Your very practical advice is SO useful, and we really appreciate what you do! Now, to conquer the grocery budget!!

  • stagleton July 19, 2013, 5:18 am

    I am ashamed to say I had a wheel bearing problem, knew it was the problem, wanted to do one of these jobs myself, have a friend who used to be a mechanic, have passed 6 of 8 ASE exams, but STILL took the car to the mechanic because I had a stressful day and just wanted the job done because I didn’t have the tools at home and I wanted to go skiing the next day without worrying about my car. I’m living in an expensive country and I ended up spending about 1000 dollars. Shame on me.

  • Jeff Hendricks August 8, 2013, 8:17 am

    Just started following MMM, and this explains exactly why I started getting into car repair: to save money! I don’t particularly like fixing cars, but when a shop charges $1000 to change my minivan’s axles, and I did it myself for $150 and a weekend, well… that says something. It wasn’t that hard, either. Been doing it for years out of frugality.

    Some tips for those who wish to tackle this:
    1. Haynes manuals aren’t complete, but they usually have enough info to get it done. $20 well spent.
    2. Most auto parts places will loan you tools for free, including torque wrenches, large sockets, pullers, etc. for a deposit (which they credit you when you bring it back)
    3. I bought a BatteryMinder lead battery reconditioner, it was $45 but has saved me from buying a new car battery at least twice, maybe more. It triples the effective life of the battery. Well worth the money.
    4. Sometimes it’s worth it to buy a tool so you won’t have to worry about it again. If the tool is less than $30, I’ll usually buy it.

    I didn’t start off by yanking engines! I started with oil and belt changes, moved up to brake jobs (which are SUCH a shop ripoff), and eventually got to radiators, alternators, water pumps, timing belts, CV joints and axles, shifter cables, sunroofs, etc. etc. etc.

    Just take it slow, study before you try it, and keep trying! It’s worth the effort in the long run.

  • Jason August 18, 2013, 2:40 pm

    Hi first time visitor, and love the premise and principles.

    I spose this is mostly an add on comment, but the point about learning and rounding out your skills is so on point. While yes, everyone has to find their own balance, knowledge is power. To not be taken advantage of…

    A great case in point:

    Our home has one of those bi-annual HVAC maintenance plans. I wouldn’t normally get one, but this company offered a deal I couldn’t pass up. $100 for 2 units to be maintained every 6 months, for 5 years (or put another way $10 each trip). Since I live in Phoenix, its bloody hot in the summer, and it takes about 90 min to complete both units, this made since to me.

    I knew the real catch was they were doing this as a loss leader to get two chances a year to either up sell repairs, or try and convince me to purchase new HVAC units. This was made abundantly clear on their 2nd trip out when they pointed out that a start run capacitor was cracked and dried out and needed replacing. It was a legitimately needed repair, but suspecting possible shenanigans I had my iphone handy when I asked them what it would cost to replace.

    How much you ask?

    $250 they wanted!!!

    So, remaining diplomatic I asked how that broke down between parts, and labor etc. while simultaneously looking up the part on google. The technician gave a fumbling explanation about how that’s not how they do things, and it’s all one price, overhead, their repair truck etc. Sure I don’t deny anyone a chance to make a FAIR profit. Meanwhile, I’ve located the capacitor at a local HVAC store for under $3!!!!

    The repair involved pulling two wires off the capacitor, putting them on the new one and done.

    I pointed this out to the technician who became agitated, until I calmly thanked him for making note of the needed repair, but that I would be holding off and examining my options.

    As in your example, there are many, many ways that having a broader base of experience and knowledge empowers you and gets you off the “hedonic treadmill…” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedonic_treadmill).

    • eric August 19, 2013, 11:23 am

      $250 is a rip-off and I wonder if the crack was just superficial. Up to $100 seems OK to me though. Places have to charge at least $50/hr to stay in business. I imagine they often don’t have the part on hand, and it takes time (that the customer doesn’t “see”) to obtain the part, and then make a 2nd trip to the house to install it. Similarly, when you go to an automobile repair shop (even though they are not driving to your house), it’s pretty hard to get out for under $200 for replacing a sensor; etc.

      If not for the tech, you likely never would have figured out the cap was bad when it stopped working, so don’t pat yourself on the back too hard in that respect. :-) I suppose you could think of it as the money you paid to them (the maintenance plan) was for diagnosing issues.

  • Joost Verboven September 11, 2013, 7:22 pm

    Hey, I love your blog — finding myself already implementing a good deal of the strategies you share on your pages. I have a 1993 Subaru, with 225.000 miles, a leaking engine and body rusting away. Maintain it as much as possible myself and don’t hesitate taking it on 3000 mile road trips. Summer or Winter. Just keep checking the fluids. Bottom line; $700,- bought me a good ol’ car, insurance is about $150,-/year and it’s got permanent license plates which set me back $120,-. I’ll drive this rust bucket in the ground (hopefully still a 100.000 miles or so off). “Unfortunately”, I live in a beautiful remote mountain valley and biking is not a very practical means of commuting (I love biking and know this will change one day). I’m grateful I found your blog. Keep up the great work!

  • JT October 29, 2013, 9:14 am

    The thing that keeps people from trying things they’re not familiar with or good at already is fear. Fear of screwing up, fearing of looking stupid, fear of making it worse, and/or fear of not being able to ever get it figured out. Two of those fears are ego-based (the first two), and thus must be told by your rational brain to shut their fucking mouths.

    The latter two, on the other hand, are irrational. Unless you’re an unbelievable moron who’s trying very hard to make it worse, like a mustachioed evil henchmen (sorry!), just carefully taking something apart isn’t going to make things worse. Take pictures if you’re nervous. And, as MMM says, whatever task you’re preparing to do has been done thousands of times, by people no smarter or more capable than you. Hell, the nickname for professional mechanics is grease monkey!

    The key to learning things that are scary is to talk yourself out of being scared, and transition your mindset until you’re EXCITED about the challenge. You’ll learn a new skill, you’ll get dirty, and there is nothing more satisfying than fixing something you didn’t know you could fix while saving yourself a big pile of cash.

  • canadian December 2, 2013, 2:19 am

    I’m curious where you found the part cheap in Canada. Often parts here are 2 to 4 times the US price. Usually it works out cheaper to order from RockAuto even with the crazy cross-border shipping doubling the price (parts are heavy). Is there a reasonably-priced source for parts in Canada (Ontario) that I’m missing?

  • timkrik January 13, 2014, 10:40 am

    I too am a proponent of repairing my vehicles myself. The internet is a great place to find the necessary information to perform the repair correctly and frugally. Kudos to all that do the same.

    I first learned the basics of auto repair in an auto shop class during high school (pre-internet) and have increased my auto repair experience and knowledge throughout my adult years. Over time my confidence increased such that, a couple years ago I converted a 1986 Jeep CJ7 engine from naturally aspirated (carburetor) to fuel injection.

    There are times when I don’t have the technical expertise and/or specialized tools and I pay a trusted professional mechanic to perform the repair. My previous knowledge and experience allow me to speak intelligently with the mechanic to ensure I am fully informed of the vehicle issue and the work being performed.

    I wanted to expand on this articles footnote regarding “labor rate of $60-$120 per hour…a $120,000-$240,000 salary”. This rate does Not go directly to the mechanic performing the repair. This rate goes to the business and covers all overhead costs including, lease, tools, utilities and employee wages, i.e. the mechanics salary. The mechanic performing the repair makes a salary of $35,000 – $50,000 on average.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 13, 2014, 4:58 pm

      I hear you – the mechanics definitely are not getting rich. But the dealership and garage owners are (unless they have massive overhead). Either way, what matters is the price YOU pay, since that is how much you save once you have the skills yourself.

  • David January 18, 2014, 5:41 pm

    I recently replaced the electric window motor in my ’99 Jeep using this same process. Youtube’d everything and paid 20% of what the cheapest quote would have charged. I will take this approach for everything involving my car that does not require expensive new tools or potentially dangerous steps (have heard horror stories of amateurs using spring compressors when working on shocks / alignment).

    On another note, just read your Q&A on Marketwatch, and I will now be frequenting your blog. Your perspective on investing echoes many of the questions I’ve already had in my young/amateur investing experiences.

  • Kale May 10, 2015, 5:21 pm

    Haven’t read through all the comments (and I’m reading so many of these posts that I’m skimming), but using Reddit’s auto repair sections is insanely useful. Make a video recording of the sound, post it on youtube, and describe when the sound occurs. Very, very useful (so useful it has all but replaced my incredibly mechanically adept brothers as my primary resource for diagnosis).

    To give you a round-about hint as to the mechanical adeptness of my family, I was named after a NASCAR driver.

  • J_Michaels January 18, 2016, 1:12 pm

    Great post! One tip I’d like to add: Go to your local library and check out either a Haynes or Chilton manual on your make and model. They do a complete vehicle tear down and engine rebuild and offer step by step instructions with photos for all repair jobs. The books have tables and charts on the recommended fluids, fastener torque specs and tools needed. Plus they have a troubleshooting section at the beginning that helps you narrow down specific issues your having and what parts or systems might be causing the issues.

    Doing repairs myself has saved me thousands of dollars over the past 16 years, and that’s just the routine stuff like oil changes and belt replacements. I’m still driving my 2000 Nissan and I’ve done all the work and routine maintenance on it myself since day one. It’s so rewarding and with the current hourly labor rate at most franchise repair shops between $80 to $120 depending on where you live, it’s a no-brainer since it puts so much money in your pocket. I plan on driving my 2000 Nissan till it falls apart on me. (My biggest fear is that some yahoo hits me and totals it!)

  • Matt August 4, 2016, 8:34 pm

    Educate yourself. Search Amazon or eBay for Bluetooth obd2 adapter and get the torque app for a total of about $15. And you have yourself a fantastic diagnostic set up to start with.

    Binge watch schrodingers box YouTube channel to learn how to diagnose problems and not just change parts hoping the problem goes away, huge money saver there. He is a smart guy who figures out ways to diagnose problems on the cheap and won’t replace a part until he know it has failed. Beats the piss out of Eric the car guy.

    But parts at dirt cheap prices from rock auto.com and don’t be afraid to buy cheaper aftermarket components.

    If you feel like you can’t fix it yourself (you can), at least save yourself the 100% part markup by buying your own parts and brining them to a trusted shop. If they won’t install them, go somewhere else.

  • JBL August 24, 2016, 9:30 am

    Nice post, it motivated me to change the brake disks of my car myself :)
    However, do I notice fancypants Nitrogen in MMM’s car’s tires? Plain old air isn’t good enough? ;)

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 31, 2016, 2:05 pm

      JBL is referring to the green valve covers on the tires – a gimmick put on by Costco because they refill tires with nitrogen instead of just plain air. The theory is that nitrogen passes more slowly through rubber than plain old compressed air, so you will be properly inflated for a longer period of time.

      But yeah, that’s just because I had recently bought those back tires from Costco. At home I just pump up my tires with a normal hand pump or air compressor.

  • Steve McF April 7, 2017, 11:39 am

    Thanks, this post and thread are very useful. I bought a used car in 2015 according to Mustachian principles, but have spent almost the cost of the car again for various mechanic’s fees since then. I’m going to try some DIY repairs from here.

    Seems like the advice for keeping maintenance costs low boils down to: do the oil/filters/fluid changes recommended in the manual, and then when something goes obviously wrong, use diagnostics and youtube videos to fix it.

    My questions are:
    1. Is there anything that car owners should be checking on periodically to prevent something from going wrong in the first place, that if you don’t look after for a while until it starts barking at you it can get really bad and more costly (or unsafe) in the long run?
    2. Are there any areas of car repair that a reasonably smart amateur is liable to do more harm than good at in first attempts at repairing?


  • Dominic July 21, 2019, 11:13 am

    I had a tire tread flip up and smack my driver side mirror off about 2 weeks ago. It would have cost nearly 600 dollars to have it replaced at a repair shop. Fortunately, 5 minutes on YouTube, 5 minutes looking for the best price (52 dollars), and 5 minutes to replace it saved me over 500 dollars. All it took was unscrewing 3 nuts and the electrical clip, then replacing them with the new mirror. Awesome!


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