Q: I'm pretty handy, how hard is it to fix my own car?
Ask The Expert: This one is really all about tolerance. Your tolerance for risk and frustration foremost, as well as your spouse's/boyfriend's/girlfriend's/child's/boss's tolerance for you to be spending your spare time working on your car rather than cleaning the basement/making out on the couch/preparing a great Thai dinner/going to the zoo/filling out expense reports. You get the idea.
There was a time -- a golden age really -- a few decades ago, when automobiles were designed by dashing characters with outsized personalities and engineered by serious men with crewcuts and slide rules. A time when a person with a sixth grade education and a basic grasp of mechanics could take apart and reassemble any of the fruits of Detroit over the course of a weekend, with only a small amount of pieces left over. But, like pull tabs on Pabst cans, those days are long gone.
Today, by contrast, it seems as though you need a degree from Caltech just to tune the radio. So what's the answer?
Well, it all depends on you. If you truly are handy, and enjoy a challenge, then doing basic repairs and maintenance yourself is a no-brainer, and can save you a lot of money over the life of your car. Of course The Expert believes that every car owner should be able to check and replace the oil and other fluids, know how to check tire pressure, replace a flat or an air filter, etc. When it comes to cosmetic stuff, anything from replacing a sun visor to a broken antenna, spend five minutes or so looking at how it's attached and what tools you might need to do the job. If it seems like something you can tackle on a Saturday morning, then do it. This is where (blatant self-promotion ahead) a place like H&H Auto Parts really comes in handy. For the diy-er, there's nothing like a well-organized and properly maintained salvage yard. They may carry engines and transmissions, yes, but they also carry door panels and bumper covers and washer fluid pumps and many other odds and ends that can be an inexpensive boon to the driveway repairman. And don't forget, with projects like these, the internet really is your friend. Do-it-yourself websites like instructables.com, autorepair.about.com, auto-facts.org and many others are filled with great advice and step-by-step instructions that often include images and video. Heck, even Youtube has a great collections of DIY auto repair videos, in addtion to those that feature piano playing cats.
If you find yourself really loving the work, the sky's the limit. You can download full repair manuals for almost any vehicle online for a fraction of the cost of an old fashioned paper manual. You can also purchase professional quality diagnostic software so you can hook up your laptop to your car's central computer to find out once and for all why that "check engine" light keeps flashing.
But of course, this is where things get more expensive and vastly more time consuming. Again, it's all about your tolerance. But just know that if you have the time and the motivation, and if you know the right places to find parts and advice, you can do just about anything. Except, of course, get that check engine light to go off.