I am, admittedly, reluctantly mechanically inclined. My DIY career started off in a fitful, hesitant manner. I did things (as many of us do) out of necessity (translation: save money). I did not always enjoy working on cars, dishwashers or toilets…actually, I still don’t like toilets.
But I work on them. I’d rather be under one of my kids’ cars, or unclogging the dishwasher, or even up to my elbows in a toilet tank than call a professional. I’ve saved thousands of dollars over the years buying over-the-counter parts and putting them on myself. Money can be a big motivator. Let’s see…have a “certified pro” fix it for $500, or buy $100 worth of parts and spend an hour or two on a Saturday getting my hands a little dirty?
It’s A Nasty Job, But Somebody’s Gotta Do It
Fixing things around the house wasn’t always easy. In fact, it didn’t really come naturally. Oh, I could figure out what was wrong easy enough. I could think through how things had to come apart and go back together. But, this is the great difference between academic and hands-on knowledge. Knowing and doing are two very different things. I learned the hard way that, especially with cars, it rarely goes the way you expect.
Maybe you glanced through a Hayne’s repair manual you picked up at the local auto parts store. Or you’ve watched a YouTube video. They make it look so easy. So you think, “ah, give me an hour and I’ll have both front brake discs and pads changed on my kid’s car.” That, my friend, is fantasy. In reality, an hour and a half later when you’re just getting the first side put back together, and you’re muttering to yourself, and the occasional wrench goes flying across the garage accompanied by a much louder, far more emotional outburst, you’re thinking, “what did I do wrong? This should’ve gone so much easier than it did!” Welcome to the world of DIY.
If you’ve only occasionally tried to fix something around the house yourself and had a bad time of it, you’re not alone. There are those who are truly gifted with their hands. They can knock out a repair job like nothing the first time through; they can really “spin a wrench”, as the saying goes. Then there’s most of the rest of us.
But take heart! Just like anything, practice makes perfect. Not that we want stuff to break around the house so we can chalk up more training hours, but it’s a simple fact. Unless you’re naturally talented at something, it’ll take several times before you’re really proficient at general around-the-house repair.
The Benefits of Doing It Yourself
Besides the money savings, if it takes a while to get proficient at it, why do it at all? Most people have a budget for emergencies, or car repairs. Plus, it’s so much nicer to have someone take care of it for you, isn’t it?
Believe it or not, there ARE tangible benefits to DIY. For one, your problem solving improves. It also aids creativity. And, if you find that you like fixing things yourself, it can become a hobby and even a weekend side gig. Not to mention, you’re learning something new and keeping active at the same time.
A former neighbor of mine is a certified Honda mechanic at a local dealership – he can really spin a wrench – and he’ll take several side jobs a month for a little extra cash. He’ll even go to people’s homes, if they can’t get their cars to him. He’s helped me out a time or two.
My current neighbor, who bought the house of my mechanic friend, is a builder and an expert at home improvement projects. He spent a couple of weekends helping me rebuild our deck from the joists up. He just loves to stay busy, and he likes helping people. Not such a bad thing, eh?
The Co$t of DIY
But…don’t you have to have a lot of nice tools and equipment to do a lot of repairs? No, not really. It depends on what you’re doing. Most plumbing jobs require just a few simple tools.
For example, when I work on our slow, stubborn drains, the only thing I need is a pair of regular pliers or small channel-locks, and a long screwdriver. Our plumbing is all PVC under the sinks, so I can easily hand-loosen the joints to remove the trap and pipe from the sink drain. The screwdriver is actually used to shove the paper towel through to clear out all the gunk. You can use a butter knife or any similar long object.
Now, the garage is another story. I’ve put some money into my tools for car repair. But…I still did it economically. I have hardly any name-brand equipment. The vast majority of my tools, both hand and power, have come from Harbor Freight. If you haven’t been to Harbor Freight, look up the closest one to you and go wander through. It’s a veritable toy store for the DIY-er.
Both of my tool chests came from Harbor, as well as my floor jack and my electric impact wrench. I have an old reciprocating saw that, if you believe the reviews, is cheap plastic junk that doesn’t last more than a few jobs. But I’ve had that thing for years now…I’ve used it to cut suspension components off of our cars. And it’s still running strong, for less than half of the name brand competition.
Harbor Freight has really increased the quality of their lines of power tools recently, and they have some good quality products that rival Snap-on, Milwaukee and other top brands. And they’re still much cheaper than the big names. Everything in my garage was bought at a fraction of what I would’ve paid if I’d gone name brand.
Are there downsides to DIY? Sure, a few obvious ones. Such as…
- You Have To Buy Your Own Tools: If you don’t have many tools, you have to go out and get them. This is especially true for the car repair side of DIY. Like I mentioned earlier, this is where my biggest investment is. And I can’t count the number of times I had to stop what I was doing and run back to the store to get just the *right* sized socket or wrench for something I encountered further in.
- You Could Make It Worse: Then there’s this elephant in the room – if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re liable to mess it up even worse, which could mean a very costly professional repair (or replacement).
- Time Is Not On Your Side: Doing it yourself takes time, especially the first time or two you do a job. Like I said, you don’t get good until you’ve paid your dues. I’m much faster now at most around-the-house jobs than I was when I first started out. But I still sometimes make mistakes that cost time.
Try It, You Might Like It
Despite the few drawbacks, everyone should give some DIY a try. The benefits outweigh the negatives. The biggest, most obvious benefit is the money savings over having a professional do it. But the other benefits can be just as positive – learning a new skill, improving problem-solving thinking, even finding a new hobby that’s useful as well as stress-relieving. You might just surprise yourself and enjoy it. And, you can use some of that hard-saved cash to spend on something fun.