Top Five Biggest Mistakes You Can Make Fixing Cars

I'm not saying I'm never guilty of any of these sins.  Quite the opposite.  In fact, I learned all of this from personal experience.

1) Buying OEM parts

Sometimes, you are dealing with a part that seems so strange and obscure, that you just assume that no aftermarket manufacturer would bother to make them, so you just go to the dealer and pay.  Big mistake, especially in the age of the internet.  Perhaps my biggest failure in this area was these Honda front stopper mounts.  (motor mounts, kind of)  I purchased these from Honda for $80 apiece, and later, came across them on the internet for, are you ready for it, $14 apiece.  I don't know whether I was more surprised that some other manufacturer actually made them, or that they were so much cheaper then OEM.  Take the few minutes to check for possible aftermarket alternatives before going and bending over at the dealer.

2) Buying junkyard parts without checking the price of new.

I know it's hard to believe, but often, you can buy brand new parts more cheaply than salvage ones.  These Toyota truck turn signals are a good example.  The thirty year old salvage ones are going to be faded, cracked, and brittle.  

 I once had Auto Glass Specialists come to my home, replace an broken side window on a Ford Tempo with new glass, and clean up all the broken glass inside the car, for less money than the junkyard wanted for a used piece of glass that I would have had to install myself. 

3) Not doing research/not having reference materials

If you own the car, buy the book.  It's that simple.  If you work on your own car, and you violate this rule, you will pay for it - much more that the $15 that the book costs.  These books aren't perfect, but they beat the shit out of winging it with nothing.

You Tube videos are also a great source of info, and actually show you how to do the job.  Sometimes the books can be confusing.  Watch a video, and you will be saying, "Oh, that's what the book means."  

Videos are great, but not a replacement for the books.  When you're down and dirty, in the middle of a job, it's a lot easier to refer to the book than trying to type on a keyboard with greasy fingers.

Every minute you spend, doing research on how to do a job correctly, will save you five to ten minutes (if not more), actually doing the job.

4) Not having the correct tools.

Don't be such a cheap fucker.  Buy the tools you need.  You're doing the job yourself to save money.  What are you going to use that money for?  Buy the tool.  It will save you time, and prevent damage to parts that cost more than the tool, and in the future, you will have that tool.  This is where the real payoff is.  You will never have to go through the "Should I spend the money on the tool dilemma?" again, and you can tell you're friends that they suck because they don't have shit for tools.

5) Buying new instead of junkyard parts

Wait a second, I thought you said it was a mistake to buy junkyard parts instead of new.

It is, except for when it's not.  Sometimes, salvage parts are dramatically cheaper than new, plus you can often get an entire assembly for less than the price of the one needed part.  This can save you the time of tearing down and repairing an assembly.

   Taking out parts at "pick a part" yards can also give you insight on what to do, and what not to do, when disassembling your own car.  Better to break something on the junkyard's car than yours.


  1. Agree except (sometimes) for 1:
    Just fixed the rocker covers on the Harley, OEM seals to fit the quite complex sealing grooves four times the price of aftermarket. Thing is, the HD ones FIT, the aftermarket are ever so slightly different and tend to pop out on one edge when you are pulling them down - instant oil leak. I have seen plenty of cheap junk with thin metal, poor quality rubber and seals and bad fit, always check the OEM part to see if you are being fobbed off with a piece of crap thats " so much cheaper", it's often a false economy.

    1. I understand what you are saying and in some situations, you are certainly correct, but H.D. overcharges for their parts. As consumers, our only recourse is to find out what acceptable substitutes exist and let everyone (including the manufacturers) know that we are using these alternatives. In other words let your friends know how to save some money on parts and let the manufacturers know that they are losing parts business from us, simply because they are charging too much for parts.

  2. One possible exception to your #1. I had a friend who had a Mustang with a bad water pump. Disassembling the front end was quite extensive, nonetheless, he bought a remanufactured H2O pump form a Parts in a Box store, because it was cheaper & "100% guaranteed"! And it was. As was the second one he took back after reassembling/disassembling his 'Stang. And the third. I can't remember if it was the third or fourth one that worked and didn't leak. But I know he disassembled and reassembled that front end at least three, maybe four times.

    My rule: If the part is going somewhere extremely difficult or time consuming to access, go new.

    1. I agree with your rule. Use new, high quality parts in those situations, but not necessarily OEM.

  3. My experience is that if you don't know EXACTLY what you're doing - leave it, especially if your vehicle is still on warranty.

    1. The only way one can reach the point of knowing exactly what they are doing is to jump in and tackle a job without knowing exactly what they are doing. It's the only way to truly learn, and there is no way around it. Everyone who knows exactly what they are doing has had to tread through this valley, and they must repeat the process every time they encounter something new. Sure, you will have some failures, but you'll also have some great stories to tell. The cost of learning is seldom as high as the cost of paying someone else to to the job.

      I agree with you about not doing work on a vehicle still covered by warranty, but you should NEVER buy a vehicle covered by a warranty. You will almost always pay more for such a vehicle than it cost to do almost any repair, including the cost of parts, any mistakes you may make while learning, and tools it takes to do the job.

      Never be afraid to jump in and tackle a job. The worst thing that can happen is that you will fuck something up. Big deal. The value of what you learn will almost certainly be higher than the cost of any mistakes you may make.

      You have to take the long term view on things like this. You might not save much your first time around on some repairs, but you will more than make up for it in the future, and you will retain the skill, tools and knowledge for the rest of your life.