You Race It, You Break It, You Fix It

4 years ago How-To

Whether it’s a simple repair, major rebuild or mod’ing to your liking, you should seriously consider doing work on your car yourself. Here, I will list some useful and maybe encouraging ideas that will show you how and why.

I never went to any special school or training for any sort of subject relating to auto repair. Everything I’ve learned has been out of necessity – and this is how you and I are probably similar. First, you have a love for automobiles. Second, you probably don’t have tons of extra money laying around to dump into paying someone else to work on your vehicle – nor do I. So performing your own work on your vehicle can kill two birds with one stone: saving money by doing the work yourself, and not paying insane amounts of labor costs as well as fulfilling that spot in your heart of gratification by being able to say “Hell yea, I did that myself!” All the while, you’re spending time doing what you love, which is bonding with your vehicle (assuming it’s with a vehicle you enjoy). Not to mention, you likely have friends that share the same passion. Working on your car or a friend’s car is the perfect “bro-date” for auto enthusiasts.

Myth: It costs body organs on the black market to purchase tools to perform such projects.

In a sense, this is true – if you were to try to outfit your garage or tool box from zero to full functioning shop in one lump purchase that is. However, that is totally not the way it has to go.

I own a modest amount of tools. And the old saying is, “The right tool for the job.” This couldn’t be more true. This is also the key to getting started. Last summer, I blew my motor. More specifically, I broke 4 pistons because of detonation from boost on my car. I wanted to die. No way I was able to afford to have this repaired, and I definitely wasn’t equipped to do it myself. Or was I? What I can tell you (I will dedicate a full post to this later) is that a few friends and I pulled, rebuilt and reinstalled my motor in my basement with tools I already had (and you likely already have). The only thing outsourced was having the cylinders honed at a local machine shop.

So how did I get to a point where I could do a complete motor rebuild in my basement/garage? Its simple. The right tool for the job. “What the heck do you mean???” If you have zero tools, or very few, here is how to get started. I would like to suggest a nice 200+ piece mechanics tool set (1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″ ratchets and metric/standard sockets, wrenches) as the fundamental starting point.

Something as simple as this can get you on your way.

So pick your first job. Brake pad replacement, oil change, install a spoiler. What you’ll find is that you have most of the tools you need. And here’s where the process begins. Notice I said “most the tools you need”? You already bought the foundation of your tools. I can tell you almost every new task you get into, you’re going to be short a tool or two. Take it one project at a time. Every new project you start, and are lacking a tool, purchase only that tool you need to complete the job. So you are spending $15-$50 a project on tools. You will find out on your first repair/project that “Dang it, I need a 1/4″ drive 10mm deep socket.” OK, you have several 10mm sockets. But not THE one you need to fit in that one small space on this project. The 10mm deep socket you have is for 3/8″ drive, and that ratchet just won’t fit in that small space. So go buy a small metric deep socket set in 1/4″ drive.

The next project you decide to take on, you will find “Damn, I need a 1/2″ drive breaker bar.” So go get one. $20. You are getting the right tool for the job, out of necessity. Before you know it, you’ll have enough tools in your chest to tackle the biggest project. So don’t get intimidated to tackle some jobs yourself because you might not have the right or enough tools. Start with small projects and put your tool collection to the test and see what you are lacking. And only buy what and when you need. Sure, there are “specialty” tools that you may need through your journey. And these tools are usually expensive and you will probably only use them that one time. Often, you can still get the job done without said specialty tool, but it will take 10 times the effort and time. When possible, borrow or rent if you do find yourself needing something that special. In most cases, purchasing a $150 tool you will only use once negates the savings of doing it yourself, especially if you will never use it again. If you do have to buy it, look for used/ebay/craigslist/forums and then try to sell after in the same fashion. I am lucky enough to have a close friend and wrencher who indeed does purchase every speciality tool he needs when the time comes. It works out great for me because we have the same model car. However, in most cases, I don’t suggest doing that unless you plan on one day working on other people’s cars for money. Most local parts stores rent specialty tools for no charge.

Currently, I am building my Dodge Challenger SRT® Demon to have 1100 hp and run in 8 Second index in the quarter-mile.  Years ago, there is no way I would have believed this to be something I could be doing. Same story when I did my first full HEMI® engine rebuild in my basement 8 years ago. But with a few small tool purchases before getting started, lil’ ol’ me had enough tools to do a motor rebuild. With the popularity of model-focused forums on the web now, almost every question you could ever need answered is a click away on a forum. And it likely will have detailed write-up threads, photos, tool list, instructions and all. All performed by someone like you. So get out there, set a bro-date with your buddy, and change your oil, change your brakes, install an exhaust system on your car. It’s not out of your reach. Fix it, make it better, then sit back and revel in the glory that you did that yourself, and saved lots of money. Before you know it, you will be welding up a complete turbo system for your car and installing it yourself, installing forged pistons, fixing the little ol’ lady next door’s 1998 Cadillac, and being the star of your circle of friends.

If you own nothing (I am sure most people here own some selection), here are some things to get started:

  1. As mentioned above, a 3 drive mechanic’s tool set (your foundation)
  2. Floor jack
  3. At least 2 jack stands
  4. Lots of 10mm sockets in all configurations
  5. A drill of any sort and drill bits
  6. Gloves
  7. Eye protection
  8. Breaker bar (any configuration for now)
  9. Hammer

Trust me, this is enough to get you started on your first adventure. Now go fix something!




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