CarTalk.com Blogs Car Info Our Show Deals Mechanics Files Vehicle Donation

DIY question

I work as a pizza delivery driver, and am looking into a way that i can do minor repairs, and maintenance to my car to delay taking it in to shops for big ticket repairs. What kind of maintenance can i do to my 2008 Toyota Yaris in my driveway. i am fairly handy, I volunteer as a theater carpenter, any suggestions would be very welcome.

You should be able to do most everything that a 2008 Yaris needs:
Change your oil
Change your coolant every 2-3 years
Change your air filter every 25k miles
Change your spark plugs every 50k miles
Change your brake pads
You might be able to change your brake fluid every 2-3 years, but you would likely need to buy some tools that you don’t currently have to do that, so it may not be worthwhile to do that yourself. If you live in a dry climate, you can let brake fluid go significantly more than 2-3 years without a problem.

When I drove a Toyota, I even did my own alignments. Only the toe was adjustable, and I just looked at the front tires and the natural center position of the steering wheel each time I replaced the front tires, and gave one side tie rod a half turn as necessary to center the wheel and correct uneven tire wear. That car never saw a commercial shop of any kind from the day I bought it new until I sold it 17 years later with 275k miles, and it still looked and ran great.

P.S. I suspect that you may find that even with a 5-year-old Yaris, which is about the lowest cost per mile vehicle you can own, that you make little or no money delivering pizzas after you pay the maintenance and depreciation on your car.

People think only about the cost of fuel, but in fact, most people spend about 50 cents a mile to drive a small sedan. Late model SUVs run about a buck a mile. Your car might be as low as 30 cents a mile, but no less than that. Figure out how many miles a week you drive your car, multiply by 30 cents a mile, and deduct that from your after-tax income.

I interviewed for a pizza delivery job when I was in college. When he told me what he paid, I did the math in my head and realized that I would barely break even. I cut that interview short.

You might want to start by looking at the owner’s manual (if you can’t find yours, check with the manufacturer.)

If you’re mechanically inclined and have the tools, a place to work and a good service manual no job is beyond the DIY mechanic if you’re really interested in doing the work yourself and want to save the money.

I’ve never had any mechanical training other than what I’ve learned through trial and error or from friends and family, yet I can’t remember the last time any of my cars were taken to a shop for a repair.

I probably have somewhere between $3-5K tied up in tools that I’ve collected over the years, but they’ve paid for themselves many times over. Just in the work I’ve done to my cars in the last year I’ve probably saved enough to pay for all my tools. I suggest starting out with the basic tools, but buy good quality tools or you’ll end up with as much money in them in the long run and have junk, because you’re always having to replace something. As you get extra money or when other/better tools are on sale buy/upgrade to more/better tools. Just in the past 5 years I’ve upgraded my regular open end box end wrenches to ratchet/flex head type which was about a $300-500 investment, but well worth it for the time and trouble they save.

I have Haynes, Chilton’s and Ford factory manuals for some of my cars, others I just have either Haynes or Chilton’s. Ebay is a good place to find service manuals cheap, lots of times people will sell or trade a car then sell their manuals on ebay or buy them from dealers that go out of business and resell them on ebay. I’ve bought Haynes and Chilton’s manuals on ebay for less than $5. each and bought factory manuals for about $20. a set. Although Haynes or factory manuals are good for the DIY mechanic I like Chilton’s manuals better than any other I have used because they are put in simple to understand terms, give more specifications than Haynes and plenty of picture illustrations. When a problem or service that I’m not familiar with arises I get the manuals out and study them before starting the job, once I have a pretty good understanding of what needs to be done I go to the garage with repair manual in hand in case I forget something and need to refer back to it.

If you’re just starting, start with simple things such as oil/filter changes, coolant changes, thermostat changes, spark plug changes, brake jobs, etc. then as you do more and get comfortable with doing minor maintenance and repairs start introducing yourself to harder more complicated jobs. Most of the time the repairs themselves are not hard, but there will unexpected things hurled at you where you’ll have to use creative thinking so be sure to allow extra time for the unexpected, because about 90% of the time things will not go as planned.

I started out doing my own maintenance and minor repairs when I was 16, I’m now 52 and do almost everything except internal engine/transmission and exhaust work. I have done exhaust work a few times, but I’ve found I can pay someone to do the job about as cheap as I can buy the parts and do it myself and it’s much easier than trying to get rusted and heat seized fasteners and pipes apart.

Often, the best maintenance is the simplest. Making sure ALL fluid levels are where they should be, be attentive to new noises, keeping tire pressure up and driving sanely does more to minimize the cost of repair then most things you can do yourself. Oil changes and the like do save money, but you need time, space and tools. With waste disposal what it is, it may not always be ost effective. So, at least do the check ups.