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What’s Your Best Advice for Beginner DIY Wrenchers?

Automotive maintenance, no matter the scope or complexity, can be quite intimidating to your average automobile owner.
Dog investigates tool box.
Andrew P. Collins

A lot of us have been there: A friend or family member has either complained about an automotive repair quote, they don’t want to be bothered with bringing their car in for certain service, or there’s something wrong with their car that they think isn’t worth a shop’s time. Or some other matter that is keeping their ride from perfect health. But the idea of jumping into the world of DIY wrenching might not be appealing, possibly because they haven’t received the right advice to do so.

“Just do it yourself” is what I’ve told family and friends in the past in these situations. Especially if it’s something simple, like a piece of trim is falling or has fallen off or they’re sick of spending a lot of money on oil changes. I’ve often got pushback in response, usually in the form of “yeah but I’ve got to buy all these tools,” or, “I don’t have the time or space,” or even “I don’t want to break something in the process.”

Those are legitimate issues, but nothing’s insurmountable. Tools can make your life easier for years and often pay for themselves over time. Space can usually be found with a little creativity. And as for breaking things, well, that’s just an opportunity to learn more!

I’m not advocating a newbie replace a head gasket as their first foray into wrench turning, bend and flare new brake lines, or even replace a clutch. But there are many automotive maintenance tasks like oil changes, air filter replacements, and brake jobs that are approachable to anybody who can follow simple directions.

My go-to advice is usually some form of “pay a visit to Harbor Freight. You can pick up a bunch of basic tools that cover a wide variety of jobs for really cheap, which will then amortize over the next few oil changes.” Then, the ol’ “look the job up on YouTube and review it a couple of times, then when zero hour approaches, take your sweet time to accomplish it.” I should also add “search for it on” to my regular prescription as well.

With that, what is your best advice for newbie DIY wrenchers? Let’s keep it general: it could be aimed at someone who’s maybe resistant to it at first, or someone who wants to get into it but needs a little guidance and, pardon the ’90s reference, Chicken Soup For the Rookie Mechanic’s Soul. No matter the reasoning, what should they know and look out for?