How being my own mechanic saves me tens of thousands

Now I am a pretty humble person, but I will say you don’t reach an impressive savings rate of over 80% without a fair bit of creativity and effort, and I think I’m doing a pretty good job at keeping my costs of living down low.

I am still an idiot motorist though and spend far too much time driving in my clown car to the airport and back – I am getting better and recently sold my motorbike and have been researching an electric assist road bicycle to commute to work.

How I got started

Back when I got my first car at 16, I paid for the first servicing which was $400. This blew my fricken mind. I didn’t have that kind of money to spend on a bloody car every year! On the list of charges was injector cleaning, new wipers, and a bunch of other silly things like blinker fluid top up.

Mechanic
If your not afraid to get your hands dirty you can save thousands, but the constant struggle is getting a wrench with enough leverage!

I knew this was something I didn’t want to ever pay for again, so I bought a Haynes maintenance reference book for about $30 which has all the nitty gritty details of car maintenance and I started slowly buying tools to get the job done with.

I think these days my cumulative toolbox is probably only worth about $300 (although I only seem to use a $50 ratchet set to service my car) so this isn’t going to break the bank.

I also use YouTube before attempting each service to brush up on my skills and the steps required, so I could have probably done without buying the Haynes manual – but I like it as an authority and cross check against what I watch on YouTube. I have an old large iPad with a Lifeproof cover – the cover is ESSENTIAL to protect it from oil and tools – don’t ask me how I know 😅 and I take this with me into the garage and watch the step by step videos as I am doing the work.

So I got the manual, the tools, the parts, then went online and did some comparing to the manual and used good old fashion ingenuity to learn how to do it. The first few oil changes were a bit rough and messy but I got quicker each time, and have found ways to stay clean (hint: Always have multiple pairs of disposable surgical rubber gloves handy!)

The savings

Being my own mechanic has saved me tens of thousands of dollars so far. The average spend on vehicle maintenance in Australia is around $20 per week, adding to over $1000 per year, or a compounded opportunity cost (of not investing) of nearly $18,000 per decade! Over the 13 years I have been driving, that average figure would compounds up to $27,600!

Doing the math for my situation which was a $330 outlay and about $50-100 a year in parts, I have still saved over $24,000 in opportunity costs, which has allowed me to invest much more effectively (although I was doing it pretty stupidly at the start with certain managed funds). The figures are just incredible when you actually put them through a compound interest calculator and write them down. Yes doing your own oil changes can make you financially independent!

captainFI mechanic
This oil cost me about $20 on special, and the filter was a standard $12 Ryco

Servicing your car is something almost everyone can do, male or female, young or old. It now only takes me 30 minutes to change the oil on my car (and most of that is cleaning up!). While it’s draining I can check other things like filters, brake fluids and brake pads. It’s mostly quite easy but I will say, some jobs are easier than others – but not everyone is going to be able to do some of the tougher jobs like replacing brake rotors or larger structural / suspension jobs themselves, but recruiting an experienced friend could make this much easier. My car is a Subaru station-wagon which sits with slightly higher suspension than most standard road vehicles, so I don’t need to jack it up for standard oil changes – I just slide under on a piece of cardboard. I actually take any opportunity to use a lift if the opportunity presents itself though.

On a recent road trip, I didn’t have my big tool kit but I did have my small bag of ‘road tools’ and some parts for the car. When my rear wheel bearings went (Ugh, yes you can recognise the sound as it is the sound of money being torn up) I had to resort to a local mechanic for help. Luckily she was a great chick and didn’t mind me coming into the shop floor to fault find with her – just make sure you ask as some businesses don’t allow this as it can void their insurance etc and sometimes its just downright annoying. I sparked up a good conversation with her, asking her about her experience as a mechanic and shop owner and also explaining my suspicions with the car. I mentioned my experience as an engineer, how I have worked on aircraft, and also how I previously had experience with racing karts, cars and motorcycles but since transitioned into the flying side of aviation. This established some rapport and I was able to quickly change the oil, filter and my brake pads whilst the car was up on the stand and she went over the wheels and drive train to confirm the suspicions of busted wheel bearings. She ended up doing the complete bearing change for me (would have been a bit rude for me not to give her the job right?) which was pretty reasonably priced, but it still stung since I could have done that job myself at home for cost price.

Self sufficiency and personal satisfaction

Financial aspects aside, working on my cars and other vehicles is incredibly satisfying to me. I feel self-sufficient, and know I am not going to be ripped off by some grease monkey again like I did when I was 16.

I also feel like the vehicle is a giant puzzle, and I really appreciate all of the amazing design and engineering work that has gone into building it. When I get to work on a vehicle, I get to experience its magnificence and learn about its design and internals. Touching and feeling something is so different and so much better than just reading about it – I am a very kinesthetic learner!

I rebuilt the water pump on my Yamaha with some help from a friend of mine: Total cost was $100 in parts, and a $30 growler of craft beer consumed on the job! I was quoted Minimum $1200 for this job from a Sydney dealership.

Heck, I even service friends or families cars as a gift or nice gesture, and sometimes they even compensate me for my time with lovely meals or a case of beer!

Summary

If you’ve previously put this in the too hard basket then I would recommend you take it back out and give it another go. The return on investment is 100 times better than you’ll get on any index fund or investment property!

When I wrote about this on Facebook, I got blasted in the comments by an army of boomers telling me you can’t save money by changing oil and how dangerous it is and that it can cause your expensive brand new Mercedes to explode. I think those comments really speak for themselves about how dumb the majority of people really are when it comes to cars. It also highlights just how many people are infected with the complainypants disease!

We all know my rule of thumb by now which is your car shouldn’t be worth more than 5% of your take-home salary – even if it does spontaneously ‘Blow up’ as the boomer army suggested, you can just go out and buy another one!

Just make sure you are using the right parts, and your local auto store can direct you to what that is – double check with your cars Haynes manual or glovebox handbook, and of course check whats on YouTube and the internet and cross check it with a good dose of scepticism. Perhaps recognise your skill limitations and don’t try anything ridiculous until you know what your doing, or recruit the help of a more qualified friend and offer beer (which is exactly what I do with a new job!)

To become Financially Independent, you need to find where you are haemorrhaging money and stop the bleeding. For most of us, its usually to do with vehicles.

CaptainFI

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