How to Fix a Car

carfixLast week, the unthinkable happened: Mr. Money Mustache experienced actual car trouble.

In past articles, I have boasted about how by owning a reliable car and keeping driving to a minimum, you will find that car maintenance becomes almost negligible: an oil change every year or so whether it needs it or not, and simple things like spark plugs or air filters even less often – as the instruction manual recommends. I make a point of doing all these simple things myself, to get more comfortable with car maintenance in general.

But just recently, my luck ran out. Just before heading to Canada for the summer, I noticed that my Honda minivan started making a humming tire tread sound from the back left wheel. I figured it was just the tire, since sometimes old tires will develop a “feathering” pattern where alternating treads wear out faster than their neighbors and you’re left with a noisy Jeep-tire-like sound. I turned up the stereo a bit louder and made the 1500 mile drive without incident, rushing a bit because my Mom (Grandma Money Mustache to you) needed my help.

Once settled in to Hamilton, I used some spare time one afternoon to visit Costco, where I had them replace the old back tires while I stocked up on some groceries for Mum’s place. The new Pirelli P4s looked great when I got out, so I eagerly started the engine and started driving home.

And the roaring sound was still there, just as loud as ever. Shit.

This meant it was an actual mechanical problem, which I had not encountered before. How do you fix your car in a situation like this, when you have no idea what is wrong with it?

Most people take the car in to a service center or even a car dealer, of course, and emerge eventually with a fixed car and a shocking bill. A few hundred here, a couple thousand there. Oh well, put it on the credit card, it’s a necessity. It’s a fine strategy for some, but it can really jack up the price of keeping an older car on the road – the spectre of high repair bills even scares people into the folly of buying brand-new cars, despite the fact that this costs them far more, once you do the math.

But what if you want to take things to the next level? To slice the cost of car maintenance down by 75%, and transform yourself into one of those mythical people who can keep a 20-year-old car purring like a top and looking brand-new? Or the freaks who can buy a undervalued high-quality car on Craigslist, drive and maintain it for 5 years, and still sell it for more than they paid?

My goal is to become one of those people myself. And I’ve already got the general techniques figured out, which I now present to you:

Mr. Money Mustache’s Guide to Automotive Independence


  1. Describe the Symptoms, and then search for them online: For me, the symptom was “noise from rear wheels“, so that is what I typed into Google. This rapidly led me to the idea of worn-out wheel-bearings. Then I typed “wheel bearing noise” into YouTube, and found a video where a guy drives his car with the problem and it sounded exactly like my problem. I also found some discussions on online forums reporting that mechanics charge $250-400 to fix it* – if you can find a reliable one.
  2. Go to YouTube and type in what you want to learn: “1999 Odyssey replace rear wheel bearings”. This led me to a video from 1aAuto where they replace the wheel bearings on a van almost like mine. While watching, I learned that most people usually replace the whole “Hub and Bearing assembly”, because it is still an affordable part and it takes less work to swap the whole thing. Since the first video described a 2003 Odyssey with rear disc brakes, I also watched a video from Eric the Car Guy about 1999 Odyssey drum brakes to see how those relate to the hub and bearings. Luckily for me, the procedure looked even easier with drums than discs, because you don’t have to remove the caliper. In the olden days, you had to get knowledge like this by buying the shop manual for your car, but with YouTube, things have been simplfied nicely – a real person is much easier to follow than a cheap black-and-white line drawing.
  3. Look up the part you need: “1999 Odyssey rear hub and bearing assembly“. This led me to various auto part stores including Amazon – teaching me more about the part and the rough price range within which it should fall. Only $40.55 – surprisingly low for such an important part.
  4. Buy the part: If I were still at home in Colorado, I would have simply ordered the parts from Amazon and waited for them to arrive. After all, the van was still working, and I don’t need it for everyday life anyway. But here my options were limited. I need this thing running to safely drive my family another 300 miles to Ottawa later this week. I called around to the Hamilton auto parts stores (which I had found and mapped using the Google Maps website), found a variety of prices ($150 down to $67 for the same thing), and headed out to pick up the best-priced one.
  5. Acquire any required tools: From the video, I learned that I’ll need a car jack, jack stand, regular socket set, a hammer, and a rare giant socket (36MM) to take off the huge nut that holds the rear hub onto the axle. I bought the large socket at Princess Auto, a Canadian equivalent to Harbor Freight, which sells auto tools rather affordably. The rest of stuff I already owned or could borrow locally.
  6. Go for it! For maximum fun, it is good to enlist the help of a friend for work like this, for moral support. Or even technical support, if you have any friends who are more mechanically savvy than you. I was able to persuade the Canadian indie rocker known as The Kettle Black (aka Nick) to help me with this project, because I knew he had a 30-year-old Toyota which he has kept running all these years with his own hands.

Nick and I dove into the project. Our equipment was limited (there was no air compressor so I couldn’t use my fancy new air impact gun, and his old car jack was barely big enough for my van), but we improvised as needed and these were the results:


We got the van jacked up (left) and set onto a jack stand (right) for more stability. With the parking brake on to hold the wheel steady, we removed the 5 lugnuts and the rear wheel. This part is easy.

Here I am showing you the new hub I found at a local auto parts store - a pretty neat piece of machinery.

Here I am showing you the new hub I found at a local auto parts store – a pretty neat piece of machinery.

Once you take off the wheel, the drum can just be pried and wiggled off (remember to release parking brake for this step).

Once you take off the wheel (top left), the drum can just be pried and wiggled off (remember to release parking brake for this step). BONUS: from this stage it is easy to replace brake shoes if you ever need to do it.

This was the scary part - it was hard to get the new hub onto the axle. But,with grease, tapping, and the help of the axle nut, we got it.

This was the scary part – it was hard to get the new hub onto the axle. But,with grease, tapping, and the help of the axle nut, we got it.

Tightening the big 36MM spindle nut with a socket wrench. It called for 180 ft-lbs of torque, but we had no torque wrench. So I just applied almost all my weight to the 1-foot wrench, which should be very close.

Tightening the big 36MM spindle nut with a socket wrench. It called for 180 ft-lbs of torque, but we had no torque wrench. So I just applied approximately all my weight (185) to the 1-foot wrench, which should be very close.

As a final note, Be Patient: There are always hiccups when you do things for the first time. We did well with disassembly, but had a hell of a time putting the new hub on. It was tight, and it requires that you hold it in very straight alignment to avoid getting stuck on the axle. There was a scary moment where I wondered if my van would be stuck in the parking lot behind his apartment building with a missing wheel forever. Then I took a deep breath and remembered that this is not the first time this procedure had been performed on Earth, and if others had done it, I could surely do it t0o. By placing a block of wood over the new hub and hammering it onto the axle, then using the axle nut to crank it on the rest of the way, we got the job done.

The thrill of driving away with my now silky smooth and quiet van, knowing I had learned something new, was one of the highlights of my trip so far. I’m looking forward to more parts wearing out as the vehicle fleet ages, to provide more interesting lessons like this one.


* The reason car repairs are so expensive, is that that you often get a double whammy in the bill: many garages make a big margin on the parts themselves (a Honda dealer might price this $40.55 US hub at $245 for a “genuine Honda” version, for example). Then they earn a labor rate of $60-$120 per hour, which is more than most professionals earn in their day jobs (annualized to full-time, that would be a $120,000-$240,000 salary).  If you get good at this stuff, your friends and neighbors will start begging you to fix their cars for you, which would be yet another lucrative and flexible early retirement or side hustle job. 

  • Ekmagos July 2, 2013, 2:04 pm

    Being a “shade tree mechanic” has only gotten easier these days. With each used car that I have purchased I have found great online forums with lots of helpful folks offering repair advice and maintenance tips. With both my Subaru Outback and later when we replaced it with a Mazda MPV I was able to quickly identify the most common issues with the car just be spending some time on online forums dedicated to those cars.

    That combines with YouTube as you mentioned is a huge upgrade from my days going over the Chilton guides!

    Great post!

  • Stephen July 2, 2013, 2:26 pm

    Juuuussttt FYI…

    It’s called a SWAGGER WAGON, not a van. Please, don’t insult those of us who are privileged enough to roll around in such style.

    P.S. Awesome article, you did a great job of simply explaining what to many would be a daunting task! Same goes for brake and fluid changes.

  • Joel July 2, 2013, 2:36 pm

    I had a 1992 Honda Civic and the manual transmission died. I checked on Craigslist and bought a used transmission for $75 and thought I’d replace it myself. This was when the Hanes manuals were KING for this sort of do-it-yourself work so I bought one of those as well. I nailed disassembling everything just fine but when it came to putting the new (used) transmission in, the job turned out to be WAY bigger than I had anticipated. I needed further tools and equipment, new bolts and assistance from a second person. More disassembly was required but finally, after a week of working on it, I got it. I have to echo the importance of thorough research in any sort of at home repair. It would have saved me a LOT of time and frustration. I did end up with a great degree of satisfaction when all was said and done though! Sadly, the car died 6 months later…

  • Clint July 2, 2013, 2:39 pm

    I think the moral support advice is huge. I’ve missed that spirit and support too many times since the day my dad passed. It was and is a big motivator for me. I get it from this blog. Just wish MMM was my next door neighbor.

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 2, 2013, 3:16 pm

      Aww, thanks Clint. The house next door to me will be up for sale later this year :-)

  • brkr12002 July 2, 2013, 2:41 pm

    FYI rockauto.com is a great web site to get parts cheap, unless you are away from home of course. You would be amazed at the price difference on parts when comparing to the big retail chains, let alone repair shops. Like to use them as well for stocking up on wear and tear parts that get discounted from time to time (brake pads, rotors, etc.) I try to buy name brand parts from the site as well (hey you’re saving money already). Unfortunately for a lot parts made in China, the quality tends to be lacking.

    I’ve saved big bucks learning to do this stuff for myself, let alone not having to purchase a newer boring car. And truth be told, a lot of it isn’t all that hard once you get over the fear of thinking you will mess something up. And that feeling of accomplishment from repairing your own car is awesome.

    Driving a 30 year old Datsun and getting 27mpg highway isn’t too bad.

    Also, for older cars, joining a car specific forum or a local car club can be useful for knowledge and experience, hard to find parts, and labor help that may cost a 6 pack.

  • Debt Blag July 2, 2013, 2:49 pm

    This exactly! I was speaking with friends earlier this week about how much they could save just by doing their own routine maintenance and easier repairs (Or even tougher repairs! Garages exist that will let you rent time in them).

    The one that’s the absolute worst, though, is when people spend hundreds on the labor to replace their car stereo. For basic things like the deck and speakers, it’s a job that can be done in a few hours without very specialized tools!

  • Ryan July 2, 2013, 2:54 pm

    Amazon has a surprisingly good selection of car parts. They’re not the best for *every* part, but they’re damn close. I’d be sure to bookmark it.


  • BrownThumbMama July 2, 2013, 3:01 pm

    Excellent job! I enjoyed fixing my car much more when it was all mechanical systems as opposed to electronic. The 1973 Maverick and 1964 Galaxie were a cinch to fix! Extra props for fixing it when away from home without your garage full of tools.

    • Pretired Nick July 2, 2013, 3:15 pm

      1973 Maverick — LOL, that’s what I drove in high school. Oh, the memories!

  • JBB July 2, 2013, 3:04 pm

    Good post. Great example of leading and learning by doing. More relavant since many of us out in CA are dealing with a little public transit debacle and are relying on cars. Fortunately Im working from home.

    This is exactly why I tell people that the first car a kid in HS buys should be a safe car that they can learn to do some of their own work on. (Its really more like, why don’t you ask your kid how much they think they can afford for their first car or “you sure you want to buy them a new car? They’re just gonna screw it up”)

    I had a $600 Ford Tempo that was just asking me to replace the alternator and make a few fixes on some of the luxury items in the car. Like using fishing swivels to fix the sliding seat adjuster. Custom and cheap. If I still had the car, the work I did would probably still be working.

    I think I heard a friend say they paid $500 to replace an alternator… If I only knew.

    You are right about one thing for sure. The internet helps so much with info. No internet info on repairs back in the late 90’s when I had my clunker. Youtube is more useful than Googling in many cases.

    Keep it up MMM!

  • PZO July 2, 2013, 3:20 pm

    Best article so far!
    I just bought a low millage car REALLY cheap myself. It was so cheap just because it has some deep scratches on the bumper and a small dent.
    The misses is making me fix it (I would have left it as is) but I will do this myself and save over 300 euro (new bumpers are 60 + 140 euro and having it painted is 320… doing it myself will be maximum 200 euro).
    Having an old-timer restoration hobby + tools + workshop (aka the money pit) also helps.

  • Forcus July 2, 2013, 4:11 pm

    One thing to note, that is important in calculating the cost of ownership of a car, is replacement parts prices. For example, my 2005 Volvo S40 T5 is based on the same chassis as the Mazda 3 and Euro Focus. This means it should have somewhat pedestrian underpinnings. However, the wheel bearings and halfshafts are specific to the S40 and there are very limited alternatives from OE. The minimum cost for a wheel bearing job on the front, and halfshafts, with China parts is around $1200 (I used OE Volvo parts and spent around $1500). I can only imagine what a dealer would charge for parts + markup + labor. I would assume about $2500-3000. In any case, the same job on my Focus ZX5 would cost about $400 in parts. While wheel bearings and halfshafts are not an ordinary expense, you can safely assume that other parts follow the same methodology – that is, more expensive brands are going to have more expensive parts regardless of real value of said parts.

    Another note – if you are a parts consumer like me (lots of travel + lots of cars), do not be afraid to ask for a cash account to be set up at your local parts store. On certain parts it saves me up to 20%. If you shop online, Rockauto and Amazon can work great but make sure to factor in shipping costs… sometimes the brick and mortar store will be cheaper.

  • Ross July 2, 2013, 4:23 pm

    Way ti oo MMM! I wanted to do it myself last time my brake pads went bad, but I didn’t have enough time. Im almost excited to learn how to fix the next thing that breaks on my car.

  • Purple July 2, 2013, 4:34 pm

    I have been doing all my own car repairs since getting with the MMM program … awesome reduction in outgoing cash and rediscovered my mojo in the process….

    But I am stumped by an oil leak on my car. I have traced it back to somewhere near the top of the engine head but can’t find the source. I have ruled out a head gasket problem but I don’t know what to do next.

    Can anyone help? It seems ungooglable at this stage.

    • Matt July 2, 2013, 11:14 pm

      Well you post it on a forum with helpful people like us. But you didn’t quite do it right. We want a make and model and year. We want details. We want to know what side of the engine is it on. Is it closer to the transmission side of the engine or the belt side? Is it on the exhaust side of the head or the intake side? You see, most dealership mechanics and even most mechanics in general know what parts fail on a particular car. We can predict with a fair bit of accuracy on a basic description like yours and a model but the more detail you give the better the answer you get. If it doesn’t work here try a forum that fits your car closest.

    • Mike Edwards July 3, 2013, 4:50 am

      First thing is to clean the top of the engine off, using a proper degreaser and then dry it off so there’s no hint of oil around the outside. Then start the engine and look at it, see if you can see where it’s coming from.

      Oil leaks are a pain because the nature of oil is that it doesn’t necessarily run straight down when it leaks – it can find it’s way horizontally along casting marks and so on, and disguise the original source of the leak. So that’s why you need to clean it all off properly, not just the area where the oil is gathering – that might be nothing to do with where it’s actually exiting the engine.

      Other than that, search for common oil leak areas on your engine and pay special attention to those parts.

      Joining a forum for your car is often a good idea if you want to keep it going. One of the ones I’m on often holds “bacon butty weekends” – a member might have a problem they don’t know how to fix, so other members in the area might meet up and help them sort it out in return for bacon butties, beer, or whatever.

  • Jeff July 2, 2013, 4:52 pm

    I do ALL my own car maintenance.

    I can save as much as £40 for 15 minutes work replacing a rear exhaust silencer. That’s a very good hourly rate.

    In the UK, we have Haynes manuals which used to be very good indeed. They’ve dumbed down a bit for newer cars though, with less technical detail.

    As for your rear bearing:
    1 I would get a torque wrench & check the torque as soon as possible.

    2 People with a non-technical background should carefully research EVERY aspect of the job, so there are no dangerous mistakes.

    However, once some competence is acquired, DIY will generally be safer than letting someone else do the job, as you actually care about doing it properly.

  • Jeff July 2, 2013, 4:55 pm

    The other advantage of DIY is once you know what you’re doing, the garage cannot fraudulently charge you hundreds of pounds/dollars for work which doesn’t need doing.

  • Daniel July 2, 2013, 5:05 pm

    Being a car enthusiast / former mechanic, I loved seeing how you handled the job. Often it’s worth replacing both wheel bearings at the same time, since they’ve covered the same mileage under the same conditions they usually get noisy at about the same time. But in your relatively low mileage situation you could still get years out of the other one without a problem.
    One advantage of driving a 50 year old car, is that wheel bearings are only $15 and you know what they say, “They don’t build them like they used to”

  • Scott Angell July 2, 2013, 6:21 pm

    Sometimes DIY is actually MORE feasible than using a mechanic. I have a 2002 Honda Accord that had a chronic problem failing to start that seemed to depend on the weather. I took a job on rotating shift where I would sometimes work consecutive 16 hour shifts – – so I only had 8 hours to go home, sleep, and get back. Needless to say, I was really dependent on my car starting reliably, so this just wouldn’t do.

    Took it to the shop multiple times; they couldn’t find anything wrong. Meanwhile, I kept getting stranded. I was on the verge of selling it (which I really didn’t want to do) when I did basically what MMM describes here – – Google and YouTube. Long story short, it was a relay that controlled the fuel pump. $50 and 15 minutes. Done and got to keep my car. Has run great ever since. And now I know all about relays!

    Sometimes, YOU just have to be the expert!

  • David P. July 2, 2013, 6:35 pm

    Glad you figured out how to get this fixed yourself. For future jobs, I’ll suggest that shopping for replacement parts strictly by price is not awlays going to get you the best part. That is, some aftermarket parts are better than others. Knowing which are good and which are dodgy is sort of specialized knowledge, but you can find that out without too much trouble on places like enthusiast forums for whatever vehicle (even Odysseys!) or sites like Bobistheoilguy. Sometimes good enough is good enough when it comes to parts, but other times it pays, in the long run, to spend more on a higher-quality part. For instance, for an alternator, you can get a reman from an auto parts store for far less than an OE reman will cost, but you have an excellent chance of having it fail in a year or two. Sure, there’s a warranty on it, but do you really want to replace alternators every couple of years? Better option for that would be having a good starter/alternator shop rebuild it. This good enough/maybe-not-good-enough distinction does apply to hub assemblies, too.

  • SZQ July 2, 2013, 6:56 pm

    Another fine example of “DO IT YOURSELF” and save a boatload of $$! If you don’t know how – there’s always YouTube and the library. I cannot tell you how much money we’ve saved over the years because my husband can fix/repair/build virtually anything. From the coffee maker, to the vacuum, to the roof when a tree fell on it, to the car – there’s really nothing he can’t do! It all adds up – and money saved is HUGE! And the sense of accomplishment – PRICELESS! My younger brothers often seek out his help on “projects” – which he loves to assist them with (now that we’re early retirees). They learn so much from him – so he’s helping them save $$, too! Why pay someone else to do something you can probably figure out how to do yourself??!!

  • Micro July 2, 2013, 8:05 pm

    I remember going through something similar with a different repair. Back when I still had someone else change my oil, I was told the serpentine belt was getting cracked and old and needed to be replaced. They told me this could be done for only $600. I said I would get back with them, immediately wondering how hard it would be to fix the thing myself. I did some research and found out the belt itself could be purchased for $15! I figured that changing the belt must be a pain for that much. After watching some videos, I discovered that belief was a big load of crap. If your arms are skinny enough, you don’t even have to take anything apart. Just needed a wrench to move the one pulley in to slip the old belt off and put the new one on. I don’t know how the hell 30 minutes of work and a $15 part translated to $600.

    The auto shops are handy if you can’t find the solution on Google though. After they tell you what is wrong with it, you can simply look up online how to fix it yourself. :)

  • Lindsey @ Cents & Sensibility July 2, 2013, 9:33 pm

    This is awesome! I have done smaller repairs on my Honda to save money using Youtube, the Hayne’s manual, and some good ol’ fashion guessing. Worked like a charm and i saved a bundle!

  • Matt July 2, 2013, 10:51 pm

    Speaking as a Honda Technician there are a few things I thought I would add to this.

    1. The shop may charge you 120 an hour. We don’t get it. By the time they have paid the overhead on the building, and the nice service adviser (they usually get more than the technicians) and the fancy showroom, and the valet parking and most importantly the owners of the dealership they usually leave 15-25 dollars an hour for the technician.

    2. Things sometimes go wrong. Ask any technician out there about things he’s learned the hard way. If you get stuck we will probably be able to fix it. Do not be ashamed and give us as many details as you can.

    3. When something sounds wrong: STOP until you have an idea what it is. There is usually a warning sound when you did something bad. Loose lug nuts sound like two boulders rubbing together with some gongs and squeaking in the background.

    4. Do NOT listen to MMM about how to loosen lug nuts. You crack them loose when it is safely on the ground, then you lift the car. You may get away with it on a solid jack stand on pavement. When you are using the spare tire jack on the gravel shoulder of the road you WILL regret it. You also finish torquing them down when the car is back on the ground. Sorry MMM.

    5. The little light that looks like an oil can (or aladins lamp) with a red background is important. It should go out as soon as you start the car and it should NEVER come back on when the engine is spinning. If you see it so much as flicker at any time when the engine is spinning you turn the key off and coast to the side of the road. Check the oil and fix the problem. If you are lucky you will save the engine.

    6. The check engine light is a little important. It usually means a small problem like an oxygen sensor (that hurts gas mileage). When it starts flashing it becomes very important. Flashing of the Check engine light means there is enough fuel going through the engine unburned that it may burn out the catalytic converter. Catalytic converters are expensive parts.

  • Micheal July 2, 2013, 11:09 pm

    I always do my own repairs if possible. Just fixed a fuel injection sytem for the very first time. Learned “on the job” so to speak. Would have cost me $750 at the only mechanic in my area I trust. Instead I purchased the parts I needed used at a local junkyard for a faction of the price and did the work myself in an afternoon. Now I can probally fix and replace any friends fuel injection system or it’s constiuent parts until things change too much. Good for a case of beer and an afterneoon hanging with said friend and BSing. Skills gained IMHO are worth alot more than the time I could have spent working. There are a few things I will hire someone to do, but not many. With the internet and mobile data upon us I see no reason not to learn how to do anything for myself, cheaper, and in a lot of cases better.

    Edit: Also your local library wil usually have the service manuals for your car in the refrence section. You can’t check them out, but copies are only .10c – .25c most places. They are usally Mitchell manuals and sorted by Import, GM, and Ford. Adn will have al lthe info you need to repai, replace, and test just about any sytem on teh vehicle.

  • MadMax July 2, 2013, 11:39 pm

    This is awesome! I consider myself mechanically retarded but I’ve pulled off the following in the past few months using Google and Youtube:
    1) Changed Oil and filter
    2) Replaced wipers
    3) Replaced the battery
    4) Replaced fuse for power adapter
    5) Installed Boost gauge

    While most of the list above may seem laughable for the DIY crowd on this blog, it’s a pretty big step for my former complainypants self.

    BTW, I followed the exchange between you and the guy who (deservedly) got himself banned on Reddit and I really admire how you followed through on your commitment to include more DIY content on the blog.

  • jd July 3, 2013, 12:04 am

    I had a bit of a surprise when I used google to diagnose the broken sliding door in my minivan. I found out that it still qualified for a special extended warranty that Toyota had issued for that problem. As my van was well out of its original warranty, I wasn’t expecting to have it repaired for free!

  • Bryan July 3, 2013, 12:20 am

    MMM your post came at just the right time. Today I replaced a GFCI outlet AND in the same day dislodged a quarter from my garbage disposal that was SERIOUSLY stuck — kids must have put it in there. I would have called an electrician and a plumber but for your post. Would have cost me $300 probably. I did both jobs by myself, saved $300, and feel great now! If you are ever in Tahoe, look me up for a free speed boat ride, you’ve earned it :-)

    (the speed boat is a little less mustachian than you might approve of, LOL)

  • Kevin Wilson July 3, 2013, 2:44 am

    Hi, I am totally supportive of this post and of working on your own car.

    However, I have to provide a warning for those that have never tried to do their own car work- many times you need a torch to heat up bolts, big 3 ft. long pry bars, impact wrenches, and many tools that you will need only for that job. Also to do a wheel bearing on some cars it requires being pressed on and off of the hub at a machine shop unless you can manage it yourself.

    I consider myself reasonably mechanically savvy but I usually take my car to some good friends of mine who are professional mechanics. They usually are able to better deal with the challenges of working on older cars. I had wheel bearings done and my friend used a socket and a vise to hammer on and off the bearings so that we didn’t have to pay for a machine press as he didn’t have one. Also, he put a mix of anti-seize mixed with a bit of motor oil on most threads of the brake system to make it easier next time to come apart. Very helpful.

    Plus they can spot things that an amateur cannot, such as my friend noticed my transmission cooler line attached to the radiator was almost rusted off. He wouldn’t let me leave with it like that because the transmission would be destroyed if the fluid leaked out and so he fabricated a new one out of some steel line and some fittings he had.

    • megak8 July 3, 2013, 12:24 pm

      Oh yeah, let’s not forget all the electronics, controllers, chips, etc. that you cannot properly assess or ersolve yourself, beyond the mechanical parts. That’s why qualified technicians earn high 5 to low 6 figure salaries – because they are now quasi electrical / mechanical engineers.

  • jestjack July 3, 2013, 4:05 am

    Congrats on your success….talk about “working with no net”…MAN…Swapping out a hub bearing on an apartment complex parking lot…miles from home…..pretty gutsy from where I’m sitting. Gonna be doing some body repair to our “dear ’94 Tracker” this weekend. Both of our DD’s learned to drive in this little gem and for the most part has been great for the 13 years we’ve owned it…but the rust is becoming a concern. Had to be great feeling of accomplishment when you got that job done!

  • C Mac July 3, 2013, 7:38 am

    Did I read that correctly? Is the MMM family headed for Ottawa?

    I’m a long-time reader (first time commenter) of your blog. In fact, my family and I heard your interview on CBC about this time last year and have been avid readers since then and the MMM blog gets quoted a lot around the dinner table when the subject of personal finance comes up! (Even if there is a bit of good natured eye rolling from the teen set when Mom pulls out another quote about financial freedom).

    Our fam would love to host a MMM meet up. We have lots of space, back onto a great park in a bike-friendly central neighborhood. Happy to discuss off line if you’re interested and if it wouldn’t interfere with your family vacation.

    Happy travels either way, and many thanks for your excellent blog (and a few well deserved face punches delivered via choice comments and awesome paper napkin math!!)

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 4, 2013, 6:22 am

      Sounds good, C Mac! We are definitely planning to meet some Ottawa Mustachians for the first time ever this summer. It seems that CBC event created a good number of us, so it will be a lot of fun. Hosting at a house would be even better.

      • C Mac July 4, 2013, 9:54 am


        Looking forward to working out the details and to meeting the MMM family!

  • Ken July 3, 2013, 7:44 am

    Great article! I have also started repairing my own stuff to save money, but I went in the direction of appliance repair. I’ve fixed my dishwasher, washing machine, and refrigerator twice. All told I’ve saved in the neighborhood of $2000-4000 and probably saved at least one appliance from the landfill.

    A while back I wrote a post with some tips similar to what MMM has above, but specific to appliance repair:

  • Bethanne July 3, 2013, 7:59 am

    Thanks, MMM! I have been inspired to try to fix my lawnmower. I like the idea of learning something new and building confidence in the process. I also like the idea that the kids will see me working through a problem, rather than throwing money at it. I don’t think I’m ready for my car, yet, but if I get my feet wet with a mower, who knows what I can fix next!

  • Ralph Corderoy July 3, 2013, 8:17 am

    Couldn’t Amazon have shipped to Grandma Money Mustache’s gaff, delivering the next day?

    • Mr. Money Mustache July 4, 2013, 6:18 am

      Nope – most stuff on Amazon cannot be shipped to Canada, and Amazon.ca has far fewer products. It’s the classic Canadian dilemma – you get locked out of much of the modern marketplace because of this arbitrary political border :-)

  • JoshFrets July 3, 2013, 10:03 am

    Mark W has an interesting point about knowing when to use OEM vs aftermarket.

    I did front brakes on my Honda using aftermarket parts and the rotors warped so badly I replaced them with OEM in under a year. (Still cheaper than paying someone else to do it).

    And my wife’s Toyota had non-original equipment tires when she bought it. When they wore out, we got the same tires it wore from the factory and it became an entirely new car–better handling, quieter, safer in the rain & snow.

    All of which is to say: is there someone out there reading that’s smart enough to draw us up a list of which parts to replace with cheaper aftermarket ones and which ones to stick with the OEM?

    Bonus tidbit: auto technicians are paid on book rate. So if the book says it takes 1.5 hours to replace a rear wheel bearing assembly, you get charged for 1.5 hours of labor, even though in reality a good tech could probably knock that out in 20 minutes. They make great money because they can “work” more hours than they’re physically there.

  • Giddings Plaza FI July 3, 2013, 10:06 am

    Great job learning to fix that on your own! I’m a big fan of DIY projects, as it’s a cornerstone to becoming financially independent. But, when it comes to cars, I leave it to the experts. I can do that because I do car sharing, which means it’s someone else’s responsibility. I advocate for car sharing (rather than car ownership) the way you advocate for biking.

  • megak8 July 3, 2013, 12:21 pm

    Self-diagnosis is a dangerous thing, as is proven by MMM’s initial effort to unnecessarily purchase and install the tires. If you lack the proper expertise to diagnose and treat/cure any symptom, conduct your due diligence to find a trusted advisor. Better yet, surround yourself with trusted advisors adn you’ll always have a ready stable of experts who can correctly solve your problems. Yes, this approach will cost you something. What’s the cost of DIY projects that go awry and have to be re-executed or undone first then overhauled? Having the right experts and knowing when to tap into them is priceless.

    I can hardly wait for MMM’s timing belt to break.

  • Josef July 3, 2013, 12:47 pm

    Hello Senior Stache, The 36mm nut you required was most likely available free to borrow from a Canadian Tire or PartSource. I have been using their free tool loan for years to do my own repairs.

    P.S. Princess Auto has an excellent, no questions asked return policy. I hope you retuned that nut for a refund once the repair was done. That is my mustachian way, if the needed loan a tool is not available.

    Cheers eh!

  • BL July 3, 2013, 12:56 pm

    DIY auto repair and maintenance is absolutely the way to go. Not only is it significantly cheaper, often times I will argue the outcome is of greater quality once you have the right tools and know how.

    You can sometimes avoid having to buy special tools (like the 36mm socket or >180ftlbs torque wrench) by renting from the common auto repair chain stores. Pepboys, autozone and others will rent you uncommon tools for free as long as you bring them back no worse for the wear.

  • Kathy Ormiston July 3, 2013, 1:37 pm

    An easier, but more expensive option is to find a good non-dealership repair shop and pay them to install a part you order off the Internet.

  • Jenny N. July 3, 2013, 2:31 pm

    All hail youtube car repair videos and the folks who create them. My husband and I haven’t paid for a brake job in years. He’s the brute strength and I’m the dexterity, so together we can usually get it done. And there’s ALWAYS a moment while fixing a necessary piece of your car when you think you’ll never get it to work again. Especially when it’s the first time doing a particular repair. That’s my other job when working on the car – providing the encouragement (or threats!) that keep my husband going until the end!

    This also goes for repairing computers. I always assumed that laptops were “certified technician only” type machines. Until my fan died on mine and I looked it up. Not only was there an excellent youtube video on how to repair my exact laptop, but the part was ~$20 on eBay. Two hours of my time probably saved me a couple hundred dollars and now, since you have to take EVERYTHING out of a laptop to replace the fan, I can also replace any other part of my laptop that I want. We were also able to fix our flat screen tv in much the same manner.

  • Laura July 3, 2013, 3:19 pm

    And if a repair is too complex for the service manual or doesn’t show up on youtube, try trading services with a local mechanic. They often do work on the side, under the table.

    I agree with Matt’s comment – my sister makes $15/hr as a dealership mechanic. BUT she gets a huge (sometimes 50%) discount on parts at Advance Auto and spends many weekends either 1) buying cheap parts and showing friends how to fix their own cars or 2) doing the work for them for less than half what they would have paid at the garage.

  • Dark Sector July 3, 2013, 3:48 pm

    You’re lucky you got the bearing+hub assembly altogether. I just changed the other front bearing on my car. Modern wheel (>~ mid 90s) bearings come pre greased and sealed, so on our car, the inner race is split into two parts, one of which is pulled off by the bearings and the other which remains rusted onto the hub and has to be removed by grinding down the high carbon steel and whacking it a few times with a hardened cold chisel.

    Bearings are quite easy to change out even on the front of a car. You’d be surprised how much mechanics are shared among all modern vehicles (like wheel bearings). Once you repair it on one car, it’s usually easy to make the same repair on a different car. However, I recommend never buying a car unless you can get access one way or another to the full factory service manual.

  • $lowmotion July 3, 2013, 4:24 pm

    Hey MMM, if you ever need major car help we can work out a vacation/work plan like your trip to Hawaii! You need a transmission or engine swap, let me know!

    Seriously though, working on cars just gets easier the more you do it. Cars are the most complicated, highly technical pieces of equipment that most people use and still know almost nothing about. With some patience, tools, an internet connection, and some mustachian attitude you’ll be on your way to rebuilding an engine in no time! Coming from someone who was scared to do his first oil change and then became a pit crew member for a pro race team, I speak from experience!

    I haven’t had a shop touch ANYTHING (not even tire changes) on my or my wife’s cars in over 8 years. Major pain in the a$$, pain in the wallet, and you never know if the repair was done correctly.

  • Kim July 3, 2013, 4:48 pm

    It’s not a car, but last week my 4 year old broke the washing machine at home. First I thought it was just the plastic latch. After ordering that and screwing it on, nope… it was the whole door lock mechanism.

    Ordered that part on Amazon.com and boom… back in business.
    Oh, google and those people who make the how to vids… how I love you.

    • Patrick July 5, 2013, 5:11 am

      Kim, that’s totally badass. Fixing shit is incredibly empowering. I wish more people did it.

  • Austin July 3, 2013, 6:02 pm

    Congrats M³! I’m nearing 220,000 miles on my Civic and it’s been a wonderful experience learning how to tear it apart and put it back together.

  • Wrecked July 3, 2013, 6:37 pm

    It’s funny, I really admire MMM for his carpentry skills and wish I had skills like that. Then I read this and the moment the humming noise was mentioned (along with the picture of the hub), I knew where this was going.

    Cars are my hobby. I’m a self taught home mechanic and have progressed to the point that there is nothing I wont do, including rebuilding engines and gearboxes. I’ve even turned it into a side business like MMM does with carpentry.

    Anyway, it’s really not too hard. If you are serious about it I would recommend you get a shop manual for your car, but the internet is certainly a necessary tool.

    I personally think anyone who drives a car should develop some basic ability to understand how the oily bits work and diagnose problems. If you don’t work on your car it will at least help you sift out the BS that some mechanics shovel.

    You can save even more money by buying used parts, but I wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.

    Some tips that come to mind for beginners:

    – Righty tighty, lefty loosey.
    -Respect your tools and don’t buy the cheapest shit you can find.
    -Make sure you use the right sized socket. If it fits loosely on the nut it’s not the right size.
    -Always use jack stands, never work under a car using a jack alone to support it.

  • bayrider July 3, 2013, 7:45 pm

    Back in the 70s we had to replace wheel bearings frequently on all our old beaters. Cars today are generally maintenance free for the first 10 yrs or 100k or so.

    I always try to fix all my shit myself first. Even electronics are often just loose contacts, wires or solder joints. I recently fixed my leaking washing machine after a quick google investigation with a new pump from Amazon for a total of $9.35 including shipping.

    On the other hand my RV had a Check Engine light that I had to pay $99 flat fee for the emissions station to read with the OBDC . It turned out to be a cracked vacuum line, a $1 part. But I did diagnose and replace the battery separator relay a while back which was preventing the house batteries from charging off the alternator, very inconvenient. Oh well, win some lose some.

    The worse thing in the world to work on is a riding lawn mower/tractor and they break constantly, they are hateful but necessary when you have acres that need cutting.

    In addition to youtube can find the owners manual for just about anything online.

  • John July 3, 2013, 9:21 pm

    Nice job MMM. People need to realize the power of the internet when it comes to things like this. There is so much free information, we rarely need to pay for repairs if we don’t want to.

  • Jen July 4, 2013, 12:44 am

    So fun. When I lived in the States, I used to fix my car regularly. Also Google and YouTube educated. Changed filters, battery etc. Once needed to change rotors and brake pads. Bought the needed parts, changed rotors and pads in one wheel, but could not remove the tire of another wheel – the bolts were too tight! Called my boyfriend, and he could not not do it either (though pretty athletic and strong). After all, had to pay a mechanic, who removed the tire with his power tools.
    I think if one has a house and a garage (I did not), it is a great idea to get the basic auto mechanic tools. There is really nothing to it doing over 90% maintenance and repairs on your own.

  • Jen July 4, 2013, 12:50 am

    Oh yeah, and an extra note for novices – DO use a jack stand. My car nearly crushed my skull when I jacked it up on a flimsy jack only, which later fell while I was examining the wheel. Would have served me right for such stupidity – do take every precaution while lifting a vehicle that weights several tonnes.

    • Patrick July 5, 2013, 5:09 am

      Yup… jackstands or at the very least a stump that’s bigger than your head. I’ve seen the wheelless leap of death more than once.

  • Free_at_50 July 4, 2013, 8:10 am

    Hey all, I am new to the forum (posting that is) :) but I don’t replace anything until I see if there is a fix it video on You Tube. I had an electronics board fail and instead of replacing it for $800 I found a video that showed the exact board failure. 15 minutes later and one solder joint and presto fixed board. By the way best common sense financial lifestyle forum, etc I have ever read MMM! My guide was YMOYL but you take even that up several notches! I look forward to continuing to learn!


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