It all started about a year or so ago when we had my 1997 Ford Explorer inspected for Maryland registration. Our friendly neighborhood Ford dealer found only two small problems that needed fixing before a clean safety certificate could be issued. One tag light bulb was out: dealer estimate to replace, $25 and the third brakelight (the one above the rear window) was out: dealer estimate to replace, $600. We declined the repair at that time and staggered home, wondering how we could swing such a costly fix for such a tiny problem.
A week later a bulb of another sort went off inside my head - the word "EBAY" scrawled in neon lights. And sure enough, a search for "Ford third brake light" brought up many hits. A quick bit of internet research yielded the information that such a problem is almost always with the ballast, not the light itself. Ballast = $40 on Ebay. Arrived two days later, installed in 5 minutes, problem solved. Oh, and that taglight: $2.50 at Walmart.
As we patted ourselves on the back for the huge savings we just banked, we realized that other "costly repairs" might be actually be easy DIY projects. Don is not a mechanic, but has the interest and aptitude for fixing things under the hood. We both are internet junkies, and instructions for pretty much anything can be found with a little patient searching.
A 12-year-old car has no shortage of things to fix, so over the course of the last year we (and by We, I mean Don) have successfully fixed the following problems:
A/C did not hold a charge from one season to the next:
-Accumulator rusted out, new accumulator purchased at Autozone and installed by Don, had dealer recharge the system: Total cost $150, estimated savings: $500 (at least).
Punctured rear tire on a 4" construction screw in a parking lot:
-Walmart patch kit and tool: Total cost less than $10, estimated savings: did not get an estimate, but probably plenty. Not to mention the satisfaction of yanking that enormous barb out of the tire, squirting rubber goo in the hole, and still having it hold air over a year later.
Speedometer/Odometer stopped working:
-Replaced entire instrument cluster (replacement found on ebay for $40), Total savings: $450.
Replaced Serpentine Belt: Total cost $28, savings $100. This one was easy (says Don).
Add in wipers and an air filter and we're approaching $2,000 saved by doing these repairs ourselves with just a bit of help and parts from Google, Ebay, Walmart, and Autozone.
There are still a few major fixes needed in the near future that we will reluctantly hand over to the professionals, but we can saunter into the service center with the confidence of educated car owners, no longer willing to sign off on big ticket repairs without a little research first.