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The Truck Repairs You Can DIY – And Those You Should Seek a Mechanic For

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According to estimates from AAA, the average cost of owning a vehicle is more than $9,000 per year, or roughly 60 cents per mile, based on the average annual automobile usage of 15,000 miles. Of course, a considerable percentage of that expense estimate can be attributed to the cost of the mechanical labor needed to facilitate repairs and ongoing maintenance.

In an effort to save money, many vehicle owners opt to go the do-it-yourself (DIY) route. Most truck owners can handle routine maintenance procedures safely. However, it’s definitely possible to find yourself in over your head on certain repair projects, especially if you’re not prepared to properly complete all of the steps involved in disassembling and re-assembling the parts that are being repaired.

Improperly repaired and installed parts can drive up the cost of truck ownership by leading to expensive failures and secondary repairs later. If you’re confronted with a vehicle repair that would be prohibitively expensive to pay a mechanic for, and you’re not confident in your ability to DIY the job, you may be wondering to yourself, “is it time to sell my truck?”

To help you avoid such costly and frustrating mishaps, here’s a list of truck repairs that you can safely DIY, as well as a list of more complex jobs that should be left to a professional mechanic:

Truck Repairs that are DIY-Friendly

If you have a basic set of tools and some common sense, chances are you can handle these repairs yourself:

  • Oil Changes – There’s a 99% chance that there’s already a video online of someone showing you how to change the oil in your truck’s exact model, make, and year.
  • Changing the Brake Pads – This one can seem intimidating because it involves brakes, and you have to jack the vehicle up, but if you have a decent set of ramps and/or jack stands, you can save a lot by changing the brake pads yourself.
  • Changing the Battery – Batteries are kind of heavy and there can be a lot of corrosion built up around the terminals in older trucks. With a bit of elbow grease and the appropriate tools, anyone can change a battery.
  • Change Your Spark Plugs – It’s best to check your spark plugs every 30,000 to 40,000 miles, even though extended-life plugs will regularly last for 100,000 miles. The only part to be careful about when changing your spark plugs is to not overtighten them, as stripping the socket could cause expensive repairs. 
  • Replacing Lights – Any kind of light bulbs or fixtures are generally easy to replace, whether it be a headlight, tail light, turn signal, or interior light.
  • Replacing the Air Filter – Most air filters only cost about $10-$20 if you buy them online or from a local auto parts store. However, if you go to a dealer or repair shop, the filter alone will cost closer to $50 and the labor will add another $50-$100, which is quite costly for a job you can do yourself in less than 15 minutes.
  • Replacing Windshield Wipers – Wipers only cost about $20-$50 and you can change them yourself in minutes. Meanwhile, a dealership or shop will charge you an inflated price for the wipers plus $50-$100 for labor if you have them do it. 
  • Repairing a Cracked Windshield – You might be inclined to have your entire windshield replaced if there’s a noticeable crack in it. However, there are windshield repair kits that will keep the crack from spreading and they only cost about $15.

While the above repairs are certainly DIY-friendly, it’s still wise to exercise caution and do your research before getting started.

Truck Repairs You Should Leave to a Professional Mechanic

If you’re confronted with the need for any of the following repairs, it may be best to take your truck to a qualified mechanic:

  • Internal Engine Repairs –  All sorts of things can go wrong when you start trying to rebuild an engine, and anything that a mechanic will have to fix later on will probably be more costly than the original repair.
  • Transmission Repairs – The transmission contains a lot of small and precisely placed parts that often require special tools and expertise to repair and install. Leave the transmission repairs to a transmission repair shop.
  • Balancing and Rotating Tires – It takes a long time to do this yourself and if you do it improperly you can cause all sorts of problems. It’s best to leave this job to the tire shop.
  • Check Engine Light Problems – Any issue that is causing your check engine light to come on should be investigated and diagnosed by a mechanic to avoid the problem of replacing the wrong parts due to false positives.
  • Suspension Problems – While traditional suspension systems are easier to work on than the complex, computer-driven air suspensions found in newer trucks, any job that involves the suspension should be taken care of by a professional.

It’s possible that you may be mechanically inclined enough to handle tire rotation and balancing, as well as some check engine light problems, but in general, it’s best to avoid the DIY approach for the above repair types.

When Is It Time to Sell Your Truck Instead of Fixing It?

The general rule of thumb for older vehicles is that it doesn’t make sense to pay for a repair when it’s going to wind up costing more than the value of the vehicle. Obviously, if it’s going to cost that much just to make the truck functional or road-ready again, you might as well just buy another one of the same year and model and keep the unrepaired original for backup parts. Since newer vehicles are much more valuable, in trucks that are less than ten years old there will be few if any repairs that are going to cost more than the full value of the vehicle.

Another factor that forces the repair option versus selling is that many newer trucks are being paid for via lease agreements, and you still have to make your truck payments even when it’s having mechanical issues, so you might as well pay to have it fixed. Alternately, if you have a newer vehicle that only has minor or moderate mechanical problems, you may be able to get some trade value out of it at a dealership.

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