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Save yourself hundreds (or thousands) by just learning a little bit – I saved $800 in one day

Ah what is this magical thing I must learn!?  Is it how to sell things on eBay? (No)  Is it how to  write a blog? (No, trust me on that one).  Today I will teach you enough to where you can save yourself at least part of that money.  The rest will be up to you.

In fact it is nothing you will see on any of those “How to make money/save money/be frugal/whatever” websites.   Its something much simpler.

Ok, I will stop dragging this out, for those of you that get annoyed when I don’t get to the punchline in the first few sentences of my paragraphs (And you would be surprised, some readers get very annoyed with me for that.  C’est la vie, eh?).  Its a little thing called:

Learn to be handy.

I know that there is at least a certain percentage of people that immediately dismissed this as soon as I said it, but its downright true.  A couple weekends ago Lauren’s car stopped driving in the middle of an intersection.  It didn’t die, it simply stopped going.  Instead of immediately calling a tow truck and having the car towed to the nearest garage and having them diagnose and fix the problem (Ill get to shop estimates later.  The Stealership wanted over $800 just to fix it)  I nursed it into the nearest parking lot.

I began to take some mental notes about how the car was behaving.  Since the engine would not rev my first thought was a fuel problem.  This is your first step to saving money.  In order to pinpoint common problems you need to figure out where the problem is originating from.  I did not smell gas and the car was remaining on despite the lack of response from the throttle.  This made me less suspicious of a fuel related problem because generally if there is a fuel problem the car will not run, or will be very sporadic.

I also pushed transmission problems to the back of my mind because of the lack of engine revving, and the gears would still shift flawlessly between drive where it would creep forward and reverse where it would creep backward.  Next (several times) I shut the car off and restarted it.  It labored to start, and the lights dimmed a lot.  Aha! We’re on to something.

If funny things are happening with your electrical there are 2 major culprits: battery and alternator.  Your alternator is the piece of your car that recharges the battery while the car is running.  It has a drive belt hooked to it which turns a wheel, which generates the electricity to charge the battery.  In our case, I had just replaced the battery recently so I had a strong suspicion that it was the alternator.  Which brings me to my next points:

DO NOT PAY TO HAVE YOUR ALTERNATOR TESTED IF YOU THINK IT IS BAD. Places like Autozone will test it for you for free.  I had my dad come and give Lauren a ride home and then use his battery to charge our battery for a while. (Heres another tip: you can recharge a battery just by doing what you would do to jump start a dead battery, hook positive to positive and negative to negative.  This is something that confuses a lot of people, but you want to create a parallel circuit).  Lo and behold, the car would drive after some charging so I drove over to autozone and sure enough, alternator dead as a doornail.

Now we know what is broken, oh Lord, what next?

I will just tell you, I wanted to be lazy about it because we have so much else going on and have a shop do it, so I called around and there was nothing less than $500.  The Stealership as I mentioned earlier wanted $800+ to fix it.  So guess what, time to do some car work.  I know it can sound like an overwhelming task but the truth is working on cars is more method than anything else.  They are very complex machines, but for a lot of common car problems, the fixes are fairly easy.  So if you don’t know where to start, heres some steps for you:

1) Find the shop manual for your car – Most of these can be found online and they are very different from the owners manual, or even the owners repair manuals.  These things are huge, usually thousand pages or so.  I found the PDF for Lauren’s altima online for $10.

2) Determine if it is something you believe you can do – There are some things you just wont be able to do.  For example, anything involving the engine block.  There are plenty of common ones that are very fixable though: alternators, fuel pumps, fuel filters, radiators, brakes, batteries, water pumps etc.

3) Consider the age of your car – As a general rule older cars are easier to work on.  This isn’t to say you cant work on new cars, Laurens car is a newer Altima and I have even done work on my 2007 350Z.

4) If you are nervous, document every step –  A car is just a huge assembly of parts.  Thats all it is.  Note how and where you took everything off, and you will have an easy time putting it back together.

5) Dont get frustrated – There is always 1 bolt that does NOT want to come off.  Make sure to use the right size wrench so as not to strip it.  If you need more leverage, here is a little trick, get a piece of pipe (PVC, copper, whatever) and put it over the wrench handle to essentially extend the size of the lever.  Force over distance my friends.

 6) Ask for help – If you are stuck or frustrated, you must have at least one handy friend that you can convince to come over and help….after all, a dinner and some beer in payment is still better than an $800 repair bill.

It took me a good solid 8 hours to fix everything on her car, but I managed to do it for parts only.  The total cost?  $150.  If you figure time invested 8 hours for $800, thats $100/hr after tax that my labor was worth.

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