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Car Repairs Handbook: When to DIY and When You Need A Pro?

The role of a collision repair shop in the car repair process

Consumer Reports recently published some recommendations on car repair handbook highlighting when to DIY and when you need a pro.

1.    If your vehicle needs an engine filter, cabin air filter, and windshield wipers replacement, you can DIY.

2.    If your vehicle needs suspension system, head gasket, brake pads, spark plugs, and alternator replacement, you need an independent shop.

3.    You need to visit the dealership if your vehicle needs: safety system alignment, infotainment system problems, airbag and seatbelts replacements, and timing belt replacements.

If you don’t already know, there is a significant surge in cars prices globally due to the lack of microchips. With this surge, many drivers and car owners are leaning towards being more patient on their cars by fixing any repairs or having a pro resolve the issues.

Auto Repairs Are EXPENSIVE

Considering the high labor costs at most dealerships, many owners are questioning whether they have to go to a dealership for every single car maintenance and car repair or not. Furthermore, some drivers are testing simple DIYs on their vehicles to eliminate labor costs.

The question always remains, when it comes to car repairs, when to DIY, when to go to an independent shop, and when to go to a dealership? Consumperreports.com addressed all these questions in detail in their recent “Your Car Repair Handbook” article.

This article provides you with some key points and recommendations from experts at consumerreports.com to help you make an informed decision about where to go for your next repair, so you save money and do not risk causing damages to your car.

What is the difference between car maintenance and car repair?

Before we dive into the details about when to DIY, when to go to an independent shop, and when to go to a dealership? It is important first to highlight the main difference between car maintenance and car repair. This difference will give you hints about selecting the right location for your next car repairs and help you build your car repairs guide.

1.    Car maintenance

When you hear “car maintenance,” it refers to regularly scheduled maintenance any vehicle needs to perform at every certain threshold. These maintenances should be listed in detail in your vehicle’s owner’s manual and might be described as “scheduled maintenance.”

Scheduled maintenance typically doesn’t need advanced mechanical skillsets to be implemented. That’s why many car owners do their scheduled maintenance without needing a pro.

Some of the common car scheduled maintenance are:

  • fluid changes (e.g., oil change, radiator coolant change, transmission fluid change, windshield fluid change, etc.)
  • belts replacement (e.g., alternator belt replacement, drive belt replacement, fan belt replacement, etc.)
  • filters replacement (e.g., engine oil filter replacement, cabin air filter replacement, fuel filter replacement, etc.)
  • minor parts replacement (e.g., windshield wiper replacement)
  • tire rotation

2.    car repairs

on the other hand, car repairs refer to situations where something goes wrong suddenly in your vehicle and requires replacement. These situations typically happen suddenly and require immediate attention from your mechanic.

Some experts indicate that many car repairs happen due to the lack of scheduled maintenance. For example, ignoring oil change or extended time easily results in engine overheating if not complete engine damage.

Car repairs are usually linked to internal vehicle problems that require advanced mechanical skillsets requiring attention from a pro. Depending on the severity and complications of repairs needed, sometimes visiting an independent shop might not be enough, and you have to get your vehicle inspected by a professional from a brand dealership.

Car repairs guide: when to DIY and when you need a pro?

As we indicated earlier, some car repairs might be simple enough that you can handle it by simply watching short YouTube videos or probably reading through a tutorial article. However, there are some instances where you have to get your vehicle fixed at an independent shop and sometimes at a dealership.

There is a massive difference in cost between getting repairs done by yourself or at an independent shop or dealership. But also, there are instances where doing the job yourself might result in significant damages that could cost you thousands of dollars down the road.

Therefore, here’s what consumerreports.org put together in terms of what type of car repairs you can do do-it-yourself, need an independent shop, need a dealership:

1.    Car repairs handbook: when to DIY?

According to experts at repairpal.com, considering the shortage in car parts and the increased demand for car repairs, expect a significantly longer waiting time at independent shops and dealerships. Therefore, it is recommended that you are DIY whenever possible.

Here are some examples of car repairs you can do yourself:

Replacing the mentioned components should not take you more than a couple of minutes, assuming you’re fully prepared and you’ve watched all necessary tutorials. Remember to read through your vehicle’s owner’s manual thoroughly to avoid purchasing the wrong component. You can also compare the new component to the old one to double-check.

Despite how simple it is to replace the mentioned components, ignoring the problem can easily result in major damages. Typically, any filter in your car is responsible for preventing contaminants and debris from making their way to core components like the engine or the transmission. Imagine if you did not replace these filters? The pathways will get clogged, and other problems might evolve, requiring immediate action from a pro.

Therefore, to save yourself thousands of dollars on repair costs and to prevent extended waiting times, you must learn about some of the common symptoms indicating that these filters are about to clog so you can replace them immediately.

2.    Car repairs handbook: when do you need an independent shop?

As things get a little more complicated in terms of car repairs, that’s when you need to start thinking of a local independent shop. This way, you prevent causing some mistakes that can result in significant problems.

Here are some of the common car repairs that might need an independent shop to get fixed:

  • Suspension struts and shocks replacement (parts cost between $628 and $658)
  • Head gasket replacement (parts cost between $1,532 and $1,943)
  • Brake pads replacement (parts cost between $167 and $228)
  • Spark plugs replacement (parts cost between $232 and $232)
  • Alternator replacement (parts cost between $549 and $735)

In the previously mentioned car repairs, you will notice that prices get a little higher, and problems are more related to safety features. Still, these repairs don’t need significantly advanced mechanical skillsets.

That’s why you want to make sure that the job is done without mistakes that can impact your safety and without spending extra money on unnecessary expensive labor costs at the dealership.

Many of the mentioned problems occur relatively frequently. Still, the exact frequency of such repairs depends heavily on your road’s environment and your driving habits, especially for suspension and brake pads replacements.

3.    Car repairs handbook: when do you need a dealership?

Finally, there are some instances where your vehicle requires advanced mechanical skillsets for more complicated problems. While labor cost might be a huge component in these repairs, you’re still recommended to get them done at a dealership to prevent high repair costs due to mistakes.

Here are some examples of car repairs that require visiting a dealership:

  • Safety system alignment (can cost between $280 and $178 in certain vehicles)
  • Problems with infotainment system (varies from vehicle to another)
  • Seatbelts and airbags replacement (can cost between $442 and $609)
  • Timing belt replacement (can cost between $1,215 and $742 in certain vehicles)

Many of the mentioned repairs require specific skill sets in certain brands, making it challenging for all mechanics to take care of all such repairs. For instance, some infotainment system glitches might need a software update, which is not available anywhere else except at the dealership.

Other problems related to the airbags might be linked to manufacturer recalls where you can get the repair done free of charge while ensuring top-quality mechanical skillsets.

It is also important to note that many of the mentioned repairs do not require frequent replacements, which means you don’t have to worry about costly labor costs as you deal with them once now and then. For instance, timing belt replacement is expected to happen once every 100,000 miles, which is relatively a very long time between car repairs. So it’s not something you have to do once every couple of months, if not weeks.

Electric vehicles replacement

There is a very significant increase in the number of people driving electric vehicles. Therefore, many of the listed car repairs might not apply to them (e.g., head gasket replacement, timing belt replacement, etc.)

The nice thing about EVs is that they don’t suffer from regular wear and tear, which means they don’t require as frequent car maintenance as gasoline vehicles. However, there are still elements that might need frequent repairs, including:

1.    The EV batteries

Since the batteries are the most critical component in any EV vehicle, you must keep up with any problems these batteries might go through. Therefore, whenever you notice a symptom indicating a bad EV battery, you must take it seriously and get the problem resolved as soon as possible.

2.    The EV software problems

EVs are heavily software-dependent, which means that whenever there is a software glitch, you will have to get it resolved; otherwise, you will deal with significant problems, making your driving very challenging.

3.    The EV charging systems problems

Finally, charging is a big deal in any electric car, and unfortunately, it is not rare to deal with common charging problems requiring attention from a pro immediately.

It is important to note that since EVs are still new to the market, most of the time, you might need to visit the dealership to take care of major repairs, especially those related to the software updates.

However, there is an increase in the number of experienced mechanics at many independent shops familiar with resolving general electric vehicles problems. Many of these mechanics might have previously worked at the larger dealership, where they gained enough experience before moving to independent shops.

It is important that you speak to the mechanic first and get an idea about his level of experience and whether he worked with similar vehicles or not before. This way, you get a better understanding of whether you can trust this mechanic on fixing your car or paying extra on labor costs and getting the job done at a dealership.


Our vehicles are not designed to last forever, and there will be a point in time where we must deal with some car repairs. With the significant shortage of car parts and the huge demand for car maintenance, learning about when to perform car repairs yourself and when to go to an independent shop versus a dealership is critical.

This article summarized consumerreports.org recommendations on which car owners can do car repairs and which repairs require a pro. It also broke the car repairs further down by which needs an independent shop and which needs a dealership.

If you realize that your car is giving you a hard time getting fixed, it might not be worth your time and effort learning how to repair it or spending hours waiting at the dealerships and independent shops hoping for your vehicle to work. Instead, it might be the right time to sell your car and use the money towards a better vehicle that doesn’t suffer these mechanical problems.

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