How I learned DIY auto repair

Derpy car

Fuckin' cars...

So let's make a long story short. I had an ok car that was high maintenance. It sucked. I decided that I was done dealing with the anxiety of what they're gonna find at the shop next. I was sick of wondering if the noises I hear from my car were normal or not. That lead me on my journey to finally learn what the hell is going on inside my car because until public transit is faster than 1.5hr each way to work, I'm gonna have to rely on one.

First steps

The first thing that you have to do before you can learn about any subject is how to speak the lingo. So I set out to learn the basics about car anatomy and terminology. What is each part called. What's a bearing? Why is it so expensive to repair a head gasket? What is that anyway? Stuff like that.

If you need somewhere to start you can always ask any mechanic buddies and see what they would say. Most will probably say they learned from an uncle or someone, so they can maybe help you out actually doing the repair if they're willing to take the time out of their day to do it (compensation helps). But online there are plenty of videos and I personally like reading so I found books to be very helpful as well. Something as simple as "Car Repair for Dummies" was actually quite foundational in explaining what everything is called and their place in your car's system. If you're a woman there are even books written by other women who speak to the particularities of car repair from a woman's perspective (like say, maybe dealing with assholes who don't take you seriously). Maybe there's community college classes. Find what speaks to you!

Here are some youtube channels I like, however you may have to search for stuff particular to your car because everyone has different vehicles.

You don't have to go too deep though to find a lot useful information. If you really don't have the time to get a degree in cars then just take note of anything you have questions about while watching youtube videos and search any terms as you get stuck. This knowledge will accumulate over time even if the initial time investment may be a bit high at first. At the very least, you'll get an idea whether you need to take it in or if you can do it yourself.

The point is though, you need to figure out what you need to know and how to learn it. Apply that to life!

Getting the tools

The next step is to get any tools you'll need to actually apply that knowledge in the real world. The most essential things are going to be stuff like a solid jack, jack stands, a decent socket set and rust penetrant such as PB blaster. But I don't really want to seem like the authority on the matter here, I'm still learning and acquiring what I need.

Take it from chris fix if you want a full list of tools: What are the Best Tools for Fixing Cars at Home?

There are other logistical issues to figure out though besides just the tools. You need a work space. Some places may make it very difficult to do your own repairs which might leave you to reaching out to friends or finding somewhere you can do them. Keep in mind for some repairs you may have to leave your car overnight, so be prepared to have alternative transportation. However, for a lot of stuff you may not even need to lift the car up. There's stuff you can do even if it is limited, but I acknowledge that in some situations it may be really tricky to even do your own repairs. Luckily I have an engineer for a roommate so there's space and tools abound! Hopefully, you can find something that works for yourself.

Preparing for rust removal

Since I started about 2 years ago, I've gained more confidence and experience in doing my own repairs. Given I had a free week to do so, I put together a list of maintenance items. I just finished replacing the wheel bearing, which I decided to do in the most systematic way for any repair I've done yet. It seemed fairly intimidating given the amount of hammering and rust I saw in the videos, but when I actually did it I couldn't believe I was able to drive to work the next day! Car work usually has a sneaky way of being harder than what you see in the videos though, which is why I went to the lengths I did.

I decided that for the next repair on the list, rust removal, that I wanted to use it as an example for this blog post. In order to be as successful as possible I decided to type some notes to keep handy during the actual procedure. This isn't necessary for every repair, but for some it can be super helpful in giving you the confidence to attack it, especially if it's going to take a while to finish.

The first step in that process was to find a video or set of videos to learn from. ChrisFix has a pretty decent video on rust repair that really lays out the whole process very well from start to finish, so it felt like a natural choice. I found his outline at the beginning very helpful in my own notes. (Ignore the WheelBearing heading, I just copy pasted the page I was using to take notes).

Screenshot of Notes

This later expanded into headings that would have all the more detailed steps that he elaborates on. For the finished notes, click this link here. I wrote down each important detail that I would be asking myself as I'm going along with the list on my own. What grit sand paper will I need for each step? How do I actually sand and apply paint? Prior experience helped me think about some of the ways problems come up while doing a repair and to be ready to address them. Be specific, don't just say "Sand the rust", be sure to explain to yourself how to sand the rust with what.

For my notes I started a document with the link to the video for future reference, the necessary tools and the list of steps to actually do the repair. For other repairs you'll probably want to add parts necessary to replace with prices or even the torque spec for each fastener that needs it. But for our example I only needed to know the steps and what to buy. If you do this for all repairs you'll have your own little wikipedia of car repairs to reference if you ever need to do it again, making the next time much more efficient! You can update it with whatever lessons you learned while doing it too.

Doing the repair

Before publishing this I wanted to do the repair myself to make sure I'm not just an idiot spouting shit off that doesn't actually work. The first major change to my plan was that in the end, with the advisory of a car friend, that the rust on my door was way too much to bother sanding down. It's even bigger than what I found in the video I was working on, so I felt like that made sense. It would be so full of holes that there'd be nothing left to fill and paint! The risk that the rust will just come back made it not worth bothering to do, so in the end I've hunted down a door that I found at a used parts place which I'll be putting on instead that doesn't have any rust.

However, there was still some minor rust spots on my car that I ended up needing to address before they got bigger. They were all on the body under the bottom of all the doors except for the rear driverside one which actually was in really good shape. The notes I typed up were still very useful for this even though I ended up not needing to follow the sections on using body filler. It still laid out the basic process to follow with what I need to do to be successful. I took notes on parts that I had questions on or trouble with to help for the next time I do rust removal. At the end of the day the best way is to learn by doing though to add to your experience.


None of this was probably that shocking or may have even been common sense for people who are already used to doing DIY stuff. This was basically a space for me to reflect on my own process and try to help others by going through a repair that anyone with a car might need to do. Hopefully it's been helpful for you!