The most "Do it yourselfer"

Dear Tom and Ray,

I’m tired of having car problems that require a visit to a dealer. I’ve been to them all, and they are so dishonest.

I want the most “Do It Yourself” repair car out there. What is your recommendation for a car that, if it breaks, I can fix it myself, or at least not be forced to go to a dealership.

I’m very mechanically oriented and can fix most things. But finding the right information or the right parts can stump the best of us DIYers.

Tom and Ray rarely visit here. There’s just us neophytes.

My recommendation would be a small 2WD pickup truck with minimal options.

It’ll have

a longitudinally mounted inline 4 cylinder engine and drivetrain (much, much easier to work on than a transversely mounted engine & drivetrain used in FWD vehicles),

a solid rear axle on leaf springs (much tougher and less problematic than some of the independant rear suspensions on FWD vehicles,

shock absorbers instead of struts,

a double A-frame front suspension sustem (much tougher than McPhereson struts IMHO)

Manual steering (if that exists anymore)

No AC (okay, I might compromise here),

crank windows,

and a full frame with the body and bed bolted on.

I’ve had a couple of these. They’re far, far easier to work on than a FWD vehicle IMHO.

I have one of those small pickups, 2002 Ranger – it’s been bad. And all the parts that failed on me were only available from the dealer. Besides, I need a car that can fit all 5 of us.

Consumer Reports from the local bookstore should help select something with a better reliability record than your previous truck. And there are some vehicles out there that fit most of my criteria that seat five.

Emission system failures and driveability issues do not require a Dealer visit but they do require a man with training. Since all cars have one and the potential for the other what are your plans on handling emission or driveability issues?

Subarus with standard transmission work for me. You still need a good mechanic with a lift, code reader and the experience to keep things right. They are not all dishonest and you can find one if you spend some time asking. Try old guys. They finally found a good one. Dealership does not come to mind. Independent with lots of cars out front does. Finding the “right parts” is a function of talks at a good auto parts store while viewing the screen and getting on the wrecking yard circuit. “Right information” is a function having a good manual AND a good mechanic. Again, there are good mechanics where you live just like the Top Contributors who keep the ball rolling at this site.

For five people, DIY friendly? I say a Grand Marquis or Crown Victoria. They are pretty reliable too. You just have to dare to be dull. You can’t say Grand Marquis without Grandma.

Aftermarket parts abound. You can probably choose between at least a half dozen options in ball joints, for example.

75 and 76 Impala and Caprice. They are easy and inexpensive. Just about any mid size to large GM car from 1972 to 1989. I may be missing a few of the later ones. You can include pickups too.

65~69 Mustang, 67~69 Camaro, 55~57 Bel-Air, 59~72 Corvette, 64~72 Chevelle, 60~72 Impala

Would seem to be a good time to get a reliable vehicle, one that is common (lots of parts available), and one that you get a good manual for. Then get the tools needed to work on it. There are no modern cars that can be fixed just with some wrenches and screwdrivers. Honda and Toyota come to mind.

Thanks for the suggestions. I’m going to study the parts lists on some of the big online sites to help verify the most available parts.

As an aside, I just got my wifes Chrysler back from the dealer because she couldn’t wait 'til I got around to fixing it even though she had another perfectly comfortable working car to use in it’s place.

The dealer couldn’t tell me what was wrong, and wouldn’t commit to anything but a schedule of parts they wanted to replace, after which they would call me if it still didn’t fix my flashing ETC. When it was over, I swear I paid enough to buy an engine,-- not a problem for me to replace myself given enough time.

I just can’t get used to the idea that dealers are not going to go much farther than a couple of minutes diagnosing problems, and start replacing parts at your premium expence, rather than home in on the only failed part. Something a good guy private garage wouldn’t do to me.

In this case, a private garage looked at my car and told me to go to the dealer.

Agree with others that a rear drive car/truck without a lot of electronics is the most “do it yourself friendly” car or truck.

I would say a 2 wheel drive picup truck with a stick shift and no power accessories is about as simple as it gets. The older models with carburetors before electronic fuel injection are good bets. My last simple car was a 1984 Chevy Impala with a 305 V8 and a non-electronic carb.

I recommend you find independent, non-chain shops that specialize in the brand or country of origin of whatever vehicle you have.
Once the warranty is expired there’s no need to go to the dealer except to buy some parts.

How about finding a vehicle that doesn’t require a lot of repairs??

I’m a “Do it yourselfer”…but I don’t have time (or equipment) to do anything BIG that might crop up. The only BIG item I had to farm out to a mechanic was the clutch on my 90 and 98 pathfinders…I also farmed out the timing belts on my wifes Accords. I did the first one…but there was so little room to work it wasn’t worth my time to do it again. Outside of that…the rest was just PM which was simple (tuneups, brakes and such). After over 1 million total miles on those vehicles…couldn’t be happier. If I had a vehicle that kept breaking I’d get rid of it…I don’t care how easy it is to fix. I don’t have the time to constantly work on a car to keep it running. When I was young and single it wasn’t a problem…but married with kids…it’s a pain.

My 1998 Civic DX (the discount model), has a lot of room under the hood to do work, in spite of the fact that it has front wheel drive. It also has crank windows.

Ross33, perhaps you should check out an extended cab Toyota Tacoma or a bottom-of-the-line Accord or Camry.

One more thing, Ross33. I think you have more choices than “dealership” and “do-it-yourself.” You should also explore independent mechanics and other repair chains, like RPM Automotive, Goodyear, Firestone, etc. When it comes to DIY, it is easy to get in over your head. You can’t do everything yourself.

Like mikeinNH, I have found lately that I hardly ever DIY on my cars anymore just because they are so much more reliable and long-lived compared to the old days. I change my oil, coolant, brake fluid, spark plugs, rotate my tires, and that’s about it.

I drive manual transmission four cylinder cars that are pretty easy to work on. My latest, a Toyota Corolla, has a timing chain, not a belt. I have also had good luck with Ford Escort and Mazda Protege. Ocasionally I have replaced an alternator or starter and a radiator or two. I have done three clutch jobs, but the last time my hands were sore for a month. I’ll probably pay for the next one. I never had any engine problems with less than 200K miles on any car. By that time, something else (ususally the A/C) and boredom lead my to another vehicle.

As far as finding information, Google is your friend. It is really incredible how quickly one can get good information on the internet about a specific problem you are facing. I also use the Alldata online manual which is pretty helpful at times for $15 a year. The guys on this forum are an amazing resource, too.

I don’t really have many special tools. I have the sockets and wrenches and some basic test stuff like fuel pressure and compression gauges. I have bought several “pullers” over the years but usually have only used them once. I now borrow tools from Autozone if I don’t have one. All you really need is patience and persistence and the desire to save big $$.