A few years after college, I made the obvious rookie mistake of buying a new, expensive sports car. I thought I was doing well, so why not splurge? This turned out to be a tremendous mistake and potentially damaged my finances for years to come (More on this later). Aside from the foolish cost of buying and financing the car, there is also a very real and underappreciated cost associated with repairs and upkeep. When I took the car in for the regularly scheduled maintenance at 10,000 miles, I was absolutely horrified. The bill for what seemed like a simple (10 liter) oil change, topping off of the fluids, and replacing the front brake pads was $1200. I managed to talk the manager down to an even $1000, but I was furious. What a complete rip-off. From that day forward, I swore to myself I would never go back to a dealership again for routine maintenance. More than anything, I was angry at myself for relying on people who are out to swindle me. This was the beginnings of my attitude adjustment towards self-reliance.
After the dealership debacle, I searched around on the internet for independent repair shops. But each of the reviews painted a bleak picture of these shops. Now, you may know plenty of reputable repair shops, but I just wasn’t finding any in my area that handled German cars economically. A lot of mistakes and larger than expected bills. As I closed the browser, the better option became glaringly apparent: The next time my burdensome car needed maintenance, I should just do all the work myself. I started looking around online for the price of buying the parts directly, and I was shocked at how cheap car parts actually are. The repair shops were charging an outrageous premium to do pretty simple tasks. Never again.
The following year, my car needed some standard items taken care of: oil/filter change, air filter change, cabin filter change, and brake pad and rotor change. Aside from the oil, I went onto a site I liked and ordered the parts. I had to buy the oil at a local AutoZone, as many sites won’t ship oil. Total combined price: $117. I then read a few articles and watched a YouTube video to help figure out how to do the job. There is a massive amount of information available online for do-it-yourself repairs, so this was a pretty easy process. Then I went to work. Since I thought they would be the hardest and most exhausting, I did the brakes first. I was surprised how straightforward the whole process was. A few bolts and clips were all that held these parts together. It became quite obvious: These cars are designed to be repaired, and thus are pretty easy to work on. I finished the other repairs in a similar fashion. Total time: about 3 hours. Afterwards, I just sat there and marveled at how much I had saved myself. 88 percent. That’s an 88 percent mark-up that I would have had to pay for three hours of not very strenuous labor. You may look at a car and think it would be way too complicated to fix. The dealers rely on this misguided mentality. Just remember, these things are designed to be taken apart and put back together easily.
Even more than the savings, I felt really good about accomplishing something with my own two hands. I was no longer reliant on others for these simple tasks. That feeling of triumph was so strong, I started to carry this mentality of self-reliance into everything. Over the following months, I fixed anything that needed attention, like a torn shirt or leaking plumbing fixture. I actively sought out any possible problem just to gain the experience and confidence of learning how various things work.
Fast forward about five years, and I’ve continued the DIY mentality ever since. Over the five years, I’ve increasingly become aware of an even greater truth. Self-reliance is the perfect counter-action to today’s throw-away culture. The current trend is to buy a large quantity of cheap junk and throw the stuff away as soon as it wear out. This trend fuels a tremendous amount of waste and is generally unsustainable as more cultures are becoming developed – thus more people are buying mountains of cheap goods that consume natural resources. On the other hand, the DIY philosophy really promotes the exact opposite: Buy higher quality goods and repair them yourself. If you’re buying higher quality things, they will require less repairs and will need to be replaced far less often. I’m sure sustainability will be the topic of many future posts, but it’s important to draw the correlation between a strong DIY attitude and living a more balanced, less impactful life right from the beginning. So give it a try, create a little more sustainability while gaining the confidence that comes from a job well done.