Automotive DIY: 8 Common Mistakes

Whether it’s topping off your engine oil or jump starting your vehicles battery, most of us are comfortable dabbling in some casual automotive DIY. Doing so can save you cash and, hey, maybe even impress your neighbor, but reaching for the wrench can also result in some disasters.

We’ve all heard about the importance of “learning from our mistakes.” But in the interest of saving you time, cash, and frustration, let’s bypass that painful lesson altogether and learn how to avoid common mistakes that DIY’ers sometimes make when working on their vehicles. DIY pitfalls you should steer clear of include:

Assuming You Can’t Do It

A common roadblock new DIY’ers face is thinking they can’t perform any preventive maintenance or minor repairs. One look under the hood of a newer vehicle is all it takes to get you scared entirely out of your wits. Obverse, this isn’t the 1969 Camaro you drove in high school. Just look a little closer and you’ll see that things really haven’t changed that much. There are still containers with fluid levels clearly marked, dipsticks for oil and transmission fluid, rubber belts and hoses, and a battery.

When it comes to preventive maintenance, the basics haven’t changed, so don’t be afraid you’re going to break something simply because it looks a little different under here. In fact, one of the worst things you can do is ignore the warning signs displayed by your vehicle.

Know Your Limitations

When you overestimate your ability to complete a project is just as dangerous as having too little confidence in your abilities. Just because you’re an avid racing fan doesn’t mean you can go out to the driveway and change four tires in 12.6 seconds or swap out an engine in 75 minutes. When it comes to vehicle maintenance and repairs, small steps are best. Don’t try and change your brake pads and rotors if you’ve never even jacked up the car or removed a wheel. You must build up your confidence, and experience, by successfully tackling easier, beginner projects in the beginning. This way, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money, and potential injury.

Don’t Postpone Preventive Maintenance

If you ignore the problem and it’ll go away. That has never been good advice, particularly when it comes to vehicle maintenance. Those flashing indicator lights on your dash are there for a reason – to alert you to the need for impending or immediate attention to a vehicle system. If you ignore vehicle maintenance indicators, as well as new sounds, vibrations or smells coming from your vehicle, this could spell trouble, and money, down the road. If you take care of your vehicle by performing maintenance based on your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended intervals, and your vehicle will take care of yourself.

Don’t Make It a Practice of Ignoring Available Resources

You may not be a physician but you still know what’s good for your body, correct? The same is true for your vehicle. There’s a world of free, expert advice hiding in your glove box and online, which means you don’t have to be a professional technician to dig into some basic maintenance.

All you have to do is check your vehicle owner’s manual to view the maintenance schedule detailing how often vehicle systems and components should be serviced. There are many online, countless free resources, many of them video-based, show you step by step how to approach some of those maintenance items. Just make sure to reference tip #2 before delving into anything complicated.

Be Careful to Not Use an Improper Jack Point

Today’s vehicles have pacific points where the jack can be placed without causing damage to the vehicle body. These locations aren’t all that noticeable at first glance, but they’re easily identified after consulting the owner’s manual and looking in the indicated areas. Using these points plays a large role in ensuring a stable and damage-free vehicle lift.

Don’t Make It a Habit of Not Labeling Parts

Taking it apart may be easy. Putting it back together properly is another story. You may have no idea which part goes where or even if you have all the parts. You may have to draw diagrams, take photos, and use tape to label parts every step of the way to help make the installation process considerably smoother.

Choosing the Incorrect Fluids or None at All

The pint of 30W oil sitting on the shelf is fine for your lawnmower in July but you need to be more specific with the fluids for your vehicle. What type and color coolant do you need? What type and weight oil is best for your engine? Should it be fully synthetic or something else? What about the transmission fluid? The answers are critical, and can be found in your owner’s manual or by consulting your technician.

Try to complete the fluid change job uninterrupted. There is countless horror stories exist about DIY’ers draining their oil, walking away and returning later to drive away without adding fluid. This can happen even to a professional!

Don’t Make an Improper Tool Selection

The correct tool makes the job easier – it’s a popular saying because it’s true. But tool selection is actually a three-step process that you need to work through before you go under the hood. First, determine the appropriate tools you’ll need to complete the job. Second, if you don’t poses the tools, determine whether it makes sense economically for you to purchase the tools and complete the job or if you’re better off letting a professional do the work. Third, if you get the tools, decide if you know how to use them correctly or if you’re comfortable learning how.

There are plenty of roadblocks – some real, some imagined – that can prevent a DIY’er from correctly completing a vehicle repair or maintenance project. Perhaps the most important ingredient for successfully completing a project, however, is knowing your own limitations.

This article is the intellectual property of Simmons BOSS CREATIONS. Any reuse of the contents must include the following attribution:

Marcus Simmons, ASE Certified
Phone: (248) 461-6977