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Why DIY - - - Is it time for DIY'rs to put down the tools?




DIY repairs are nothing new; they are a part of the American culture. For some, it's about saving money, for others it's the pride of actually accomplishing a job without any professional help. Cost is the big factor of course, ask any DIY'r about a project and the first thing they'll tell you is how much money they saved by doing it themselves.


These days car repair is slowly going away as one of those DIY repairs. The cost of the specialty tools is the leading factor, however, it's not just the cost it's the constant change, updates, and proper procedures that differ from one vehicle to the next. Years ago, if you had a couple of screw drivers and a box of wrenches you could pretty much take any carburetor apart from any manufacturer. All you needed was a diagram, a rebuild kit and a place to lay it all out. Not so today, each manufacturer has their own software, their own procedures, and their own individual "unique" way of "diagraming" all that info.


A manufacturer level scanner is the ideal scanner for most repairs. These scanners are almost all internet based these days and are constantly updated to insure the latest information is available. The same is true with a lot of aftermarket scanners, keep in mind; the cheaper off-the-shelf scanners can leave you with only partial information. Not all scanners are the same. I haven't seen one aftermarket scanner be able to handle all the functions that a manufacturer scanner can. Cost vs. quality, or in this case "content" is always an issue. That's where the problem can start, especially for the consumer trying to do things themselves.


Keep in mind what the original purpose was for those aftermarket tools. Most were designed to answer a certain market need and not be an overall tool to perform every function. For example; I have a lot of scanners that will read air bag codes on just about every manufactured vehicle out there, however I only have certain scanners that will perform the passenger seat presence reset (and that's only on certain makes and models). Without the reset the air bag light will stay on until that procedure is performed.


Not to mention the way the scanner shows the information. Some scanners may show a certain sensor as a voltage reading, others might show it as a percentage. The DIY'r has to also consider the different ways the information is listed in the repair manuals even that can be a challenge.


Here's a guy at home, in his garage, with a Toyota (for example) and is about to change a certain part he has found a problem with. He's done his research through the internet or a shop manual, and is confident in his abilities of making the proper repair. But there is one little thing holding him back, he needs to flash or reprogram some part of it in order for the vehicle to recognize the new part, or even perhaps to allow the car to start. But, our illustrious DIY'r doesn't want to spend the money or the time to purchase the manufacturer's software, data base, and yearly subscription needed. Hmmm, what to do now?


The answer, take it to the dealer. WRONG! An independent shop has the appropriate aftermarket scanner or manufacturer scanner. A lot of DIY'rs look at independent shops as parts changers, similar to what they can do in their own home garage, and the dealer is some greater than thou place of ultra-sophistication that cannot be obtained by the mere auto technician at the corner repair shop. WRONG AGAIN! This is where the time, the talent, and the training all come together.


At every manufacturer website I've been to there is a section for training and or helpful hints on how to perform diagnostic test, scanner usage, and reprogramming. There are even more on line training, video training, and night classes available for the modern technician. All of which is a must do, and even more important than ever before. It's all a matter of time and money of course, but it's all doable.


Auto mechanics have always had to adapt to new technologies and lately it's the computer software and reprogramming. It doesn't matter if it's the dealer tech or the independent tech… they both have to do exactly the same procedure to accomplish the same goal. Laptops, manufacturer software, cables, and subscriptions are just another tool for that matter, but definitely an expensive one.


If you noticed I never once called the manufacturer scanner the "dealer scanner". That's because it's not a dealer scanner, it's the manufacturer's scanner for their product. Believe me, not every dealer has a scanner for every car that comes into the service bays either. I've seen it myself at a Ford dealership while I was picking up some OEM parts. There's a Dodge parked in the service bay with a tech performing some repair under the hood. What a minute, did I say a Dodge at a Ford place… sure did, happens all the time. Mind you, some of the dealership's loyal customers are just like the loyal independent customer… they'll bring all their cars to one specific place because of the trust they have built up with them. But, what about the software issues for a car at a competitor's dealership you ask? Won't the dealership have the same problem with software flashing and reprogramming on vehicles that aren't theirs? Yes, just like an independent shop will have. Ironic ain't it…


Let's see, advanced training and classes, constant upkeep with software, meet the challenges of the new specifications and procedures, and repeat this for every manufacturers vehicle out there. Hmmm, that doesn't sound much like a DIY'r, it sounds more like what I do every day as a professional technician. It's what separates the DIY'r from the pro. So if you want to do the job at home, sure… the information and skills are out there for you, but even with all those skills, tools, and scanners… you're still not a professional at it. A profession by any other name is something you do to earn a living. Repairing one car in your driveway doesn't make you any more of a mechanic than a paint brush makes you Picasso.


I always have this "Norman Rockwell" picture in my head of a father passing his tool box down to his son. Great memorable moment, but these days dad should include a laptop in the picture with a year's subscription to the manufacturer for the family grocery getter. The tools are great pop, but they only take you so far these days.


With the cost of operating a vehicle going up at the pump, saving money on car repair is always an option. DIY'rs if you must, have at it. I know why you DIY… but I would keep the repair shop's number handy.




It's been a long time since somebody has repaired their own refrigerator or wash machine. Either they give up on them and buy a new one or they call a service man out to repair it. This is where I think... the automotive field is heading. It might take a long time to actually happen but I do believe it is the trend that will eventually happen. Even with all this talk of "right to repair" I don't think the motoring public is ready to deal with the complexities of actual electronic repairs. "Beware of what you wish for" should be the slogan...

The shade tree and the DIY'r are antiques in the world of auto repair... let's not make things worse by having a DIY'r try to reprogram their FIAT. LOL

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well.... ya gotta get serious once in awhile. This story was started becauce of the latest "right to repair" issues going through the legistation. Thought I would give a non-sided view of what the right to repair may lead to. It's not the only view it's more of the thoughts and ideas other people have presented to me.


I'll work on a funny story for next week... LOL


Gonzo, thi is not as entertaining as some of your articles but this is the most educational piece I have read. Thanks!

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I talk to many people that, armed with the code numbers read for free at parts stores , try everthing but go to a professional garage. By the time i often see them they have no money or time left after guessing. Those with good credit get another car and are lured by free tires for life,free maintenance ,free oil changes,etc by the dealers. With the average repair visit running $500.00 and up it's getting tough for our customer base to afford our help.That being said i still give them the best advice i can for the problem at hand even if i have to send then elswhere.


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I know what ya mean. The same thing happens at my shop every single day of the week. Mechanical repair parts are a bit on the expensive side...but not bad, however there isn't much to do with the price of a IPDM or FICM unit. Especially if you take a look at how many electronic components cannnot be reflashed and have to bought brand new. Those prices are fixed at the dealer and those parts are what I run into more often than not. Since I'm mainly an electrical repair shop I tend to see it on a regular basis. Cost of parts in my cases leads to either the customer selling the car or giving up.


I totally agree with ya... it's harder and harder to make the ends meet when the customers we rely on to make all that happen can't afford the repairs that they need.


I talk to many people that, armed with the code numbers read for free at parts stores , try everthing but go to a professional garage. By the time i often see them they have no money or time left after guessing. Those with good credit get another car and are lured by free tires for life,free maintenance ,free oil changes,etc by the dealers. With the average repair visit running $500.00 and up it's getting tough for our customer base to afford our help.That being said i still give them the best advice i can for the problem at hand even if i have to send then elswhere.


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All I could think about as I read your article is the vast amount of time and money we need to spend to keep pace with technology. The dealer's only edge is the direct pipeline to factory information. Our problem as independents is that we work on multiple car lines and must be proficient in every vehicle make we work on. A Ford dealer may cross the brand line and work on other cars, but that's not the norm for them.


Much of what has been happening the past decade or so is more than just introducing hi-tech into the average vehicle, it's also smart marketing to get the average person to think that cars are so sophisticated that it takes a trained dealer tech to understand them, with the right factory tools, information, training and parts. You are right when you say there is a perception that independents are not viewed in the same light as dealers, but we still are preferred over the dealer.


I have to go back to a disturbing story a few years back about a Saab signal switch we purchased from the dealer (no one else had the part), only to find that once installed, the car would not start. The car maker decided that this part is part of the security system and we needed to bring the car to the dealer to have the old part registered with the dealer web site, then removed, the new part registered with the dealer web site and then installed. A deliberate attempt to lock certain people out? I think so. And it’s not just the DIYer.


The factory and the new car dealers know that in order to keep selling cars they need to increase retention in the service department. With so many car lines and so many choices and cars lasting 200k plus, new car dealers don’t have the captive audiences they once had.


The future the DIYer is in question; let's hope that our future isn't along those same lines.

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Well said Joe, (as always) The big point of this article was actually not to single out the DIY'rs or the shops that don't want to invest into the new technology, but rather as a way of informing EVERYONE what it takes to be a top notch idependent shop vs the slacker shops and home repair dudes.


I remember the SAAB story... and, that's just wrong for a manufacturer to pull something like that. I find it harder and harder to answer a question over the phone about a certian aspect of a cars flash programming because ... as seems to be the case more and more... each and every different model of a certian manufacturer can be completely different in the way you flash a certian portion of them. I would have never thought to check and see if a wiper switch needed programmed and I could see myself telling the customer "No problem, I'll get it taken care of." And only to find out later that I'd have a trip to the dealer. (sucks)


It appears to me as if the you're right about how the dealerships and manufacturers are closing the doors on home repair and trying to maintian their hold on the car after the sale.


Hopefully, the home repair is done...gone..not happening anymore and leave the repairs to the shops that have the equipment and the talent. I think the car is going to be even more sophisticated in the future and the cost of the correct equipment will climb, which means "If you're not a shop.. don't try the repair" Investing in the proper tools also means you have to be able to turn a profit with those tools. Buying a scanner for home use that will cover such things is just out of the question.


Keeping the costs at a resonable level is the key to sustaining business. Small shops have such small profit margin to begin with and it's very possible the small shop may go the way of the DIY'r. (Hope not)


Time are a changing... it reminds me of the times growing up and watching the small mom and pop grocery stores not being able to compete with the large chain markets. If something doesn't give... the mom and pop repair shop could be facing the same thing. It may take a collective effort between several small shops to purchase said equipment and share the cost between each other.


I just hope I'm wrong about all of this.



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