I’ve always been a handy person. It’s one of the reasons why I studied engineering in college. Not everybody is like that, so I understand why some people are hesitant to try DIY ideas, especially for things that can seem scary or intimidating. However, you can’t learn unless you try.
I like DIY ideas that can save a lot of money. Experts can charge over $100/hr and in many cases they totally deserve it. Like brain surgery, although you may want a second opinion if your surgeon is only charging $100/hr. But there are many tasks where experts still charge a lot, but what they’re doing isn’t that difficult. I also like DIY ideas because it’s a great feeling when you’re finished. Well, if you do it correctly. If you mess up, it’s more a sense of abject failure, cursing, and embarrassingly calling a professional to fix what you messed up. But I promise these tasks are fairly easy, so the odds of that happening are slim!
This should not be news to anybody. You can waste hours or even entire weekends on YouTube, watching cat videos or whatever floats your boat. But it can also be a tremendous resource when it comes to DIY ideas. For almost every common household task, there’s a video showing you how to do it. For any task, I recommend watching the whole video first before you start. This way you get to see all the steps involved and you make sure you have all the right tools. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve realized halfway through a project that I was missing a part or tool.
Easy Car Tasks
I’m a car guy, so here are a few examples of where you can save money on your car. It’s also helpful because fixing these things helps you understand how a car works. This is important because shady mechanics prey on people that don’t know anything about cars.
Changing Your Car’s Oil
It can sound intimidating to some people, but changing your oil is one of the easiest things you can do by yourself. I like doing this because engine oil is the lifeblood of your car, so you want to make sure it’s done properly. I can’t tell you how many times I used to take my car to get the oil changed and they used the wrong oil, forgot to replace the oil cap, or added too much or too little oil. When you DIY, you’re certain the work will be done correctly, unless you’re the type to cut corners. If that’s the case, then maybe this article isn’t for you.
To change oil, the tools you’ll need are, with some rough estimates on price:
Floor jack to lift up the car ($60)
Jack stands to support the car ($20)
Ratchet set to take off the oil pan bolt ($20)
Engine oil ($30)
Engine oil filter ($10)
Oil wrench filter (maybe)
Engine oil drain pan ($5)
Storage container to put the used engine oil ($5)
Disposable rubber gloves
Step 1: The Safety First Part
Make sure the engine is cool or warm, not hot. A hot engine means hot oil, which is not good. Warm oil will flow faster, but I usually do other stuff waiting for the oil to come out, so it’s not a big deal to me. Find a video specific to your car, as the oil pan and filters are in different places for different cars. Next, put the car in park and then lift it up with the jack. Most cars have lift spots identified by notches under the car, behind the front tires and under the door. If you’re not sure, remember that you should only lift the car where there’s metal. If you try to lift under plastic, it will break. After lifting up the car, place a jack stand underneath. This is extremely, extremely important. It’s never happened to me before, but the jack could fail so you need to have a jack stand underneath to make sure the car doesn’t fall. Lift up both sides of the car and ensure that the jack stands are secure.
Step 2: The Dirty Part
Next, you’ll need to find and unscrew the oil pan bolt. Position the drain pan underneath the bolt because as soon as you take the bolt off, the oil will flow right out! This is very important to remember – don’t work underneath the bolt unless you want oil on your face or any other part of your body. Again, the oil will shoot out as soon as you take the bolt off. It’s 50/50 whether it improves your complexion or gives you cancer. Okay, maybe there’s a 1% chance it improves your complexion, 99% chance of cancer. Now, if it were radioactive oil, then it’d be a whole different story.
Step 3: The Frustrating Part
When the oil is out, you can change the oil filter. Sometimes you’ll need an oil filter wrench, but other times it can be removed by hand. I like to wipe the rubber seal of the new oil filter with oil before replacing it, but I don’t know if this actually does anything. Changing the oil filter can be frustrating because it’s usually in some weird spot where you need to contort your arms to reach it. Also, no matter how clean you try to be, some oil is going to drip out of the filter, making a mess.
Step 4: Putting It All Back Together
When all of the oil is out, put the oil pan bolt back in by hand. It’s important to put it in by hand first so you don’t cross-thread the bolt, which will not only ruin the bolt, but your car will leave a nice trail of oil in case you forget where you live. Once it’s in, use a small ratchet to tighten it. Each car has its own specs for how much to tighten, but just make sure it’s secure and don’t over-do it.
Finally, start adding new engine oil back into the car. Check the oil level on the dip stick every once in a while as you don’t want to overfill it. It’s easier to add more oil than remove. When it reaches the right level on the dip stick, start the car. Sometimes the oil level will drop after starting the car because the oil will circulate through the engine. This will give you a chance to see if oil is leaking (note, it shouldn’t).
Once everything looks good, turn off the engine and lower the car. In most projects, Step 4 is the scariest because you may have leftover parts. It is not a problem in this case because there’s only one bolt to remove. If you forgot to put that back in, you’d be standing in a pool of oil right now.
Step 5: Clean Up
Pour the oil from the pan and into your storage container. Oil is extremely toxic so you can’t pour it down a drain or sewer. The easiest way to dispose of it is to take it to an auto parts store. Most will let you dispose of the oil and oil filter for free.
DIY Ideas Can Save a Lot of Money
The cheapest oil change shops charge $20-30 for an oil change, depending on where you go and where you live. Up above, I estimated the total cost of the oil, filter, and equipment at $150. So you’re probably thinking, “How much oil have you been sniffing? Why would I pay $150 for something that costs $20-30?”
I have sniffed too much oil, but that’s a different subject. The cheap oil changes are good for 3 months or 5,000 miles. So in a year, you’d need 3-4 oil changes, or $100/year. This oil would cost you $10-15 if you bought it at a store. I recommend Mobil 1 Extended Performance instead, which is ~$25 for 5 quarts. It’s guaranteed up to 15,000 miles, so you only need to change your oil once a year. In the first year, the price difference is really $150 vs. $100. Every year thereafter, it’s $40 vs. $100. So you’ll break even after two years, with one car. If you have two cars, you’ll break even in a year since you’re leveraging the fixed cost of the tools.
Why don’t you get a professional to put in Mobil 1 for you? The problem with that is synthetic oil changes will run you $60-80 each at a shop. So it’ll cost a lot more. The second problem is you have to hope they put in synthetic. Synthetic oil and conventional oil look and feel exactly the same. The only way to tell the difference is through testing. Many shops have been caught charging for synthetic, but actually using conventional oil. So even if you don’t think you’re saving much by doing it yourself, at least you’re making sure you’re getting the right product and not getting ripped off.
Other DIY Ideas That Can Save a Lot of Money
Here are a few other DIY ideas involving cars that can save a lot of money, and are also easy to do. Remember to look for videos online for step by step instructions.
- Changing the air filter
- Changing the cabin filter
- Recharging the AC in your car
- Changing light bulbs
For projects in the home, you can thousands of dollars by switching out your old light bulbs with LEDs.