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Saving Money:
A Cautionary Tale For Toyota-Lexus-Scion Do-it-Yourselfers.

save moneyOne of the driving forces behind many people working on their own vehicles is a desire to save money. A relatively small number of people have the additional motive that they simply enjoy it. For me as a kid, it was the money. I had lots of time and almost no money. I couldn't possibly afford to pay someone else for all the work my old beaters needed, so I took my high school's automotive program and hooked up with a mechanically inclined friend. Armed with John Muir's famous book How to Keep your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step by Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot, we jumped in up to our eyeballs on my 1965 VW Baja Bug. Eventually that led to my taking a college automotive program and entering the auto repair industry professionally.

Of course, much has happened to complicate auto technology since the 1965 VW Bug, and this is where the cautionary tale begins.

Some years ago when my wife and I were preparing to buy our first home, I took a class for new homeowners. At one point the issue of home maintenance came up. The instructor showed us a picture of a portion of the roof where the chimney passed through, and he asked us how much did we suppose such-and-such repair on the roof might cost. We made our various guesses, and then he told us that actually, it had cost the man attempting the repair his life. His brother-in-law had gone up on the roof to make the repair, had fallen, and it had killed him. "So," he concluded, "you should always be aware of the possibility that in the broader picture there may be unexpected costs involved and other issues at stake-not the least of them being your personal safety.

We recently had a classic illustration of this involving a customer working on his own vehicle in an attempt to save money. His six-cylinder Tacoma apparently needed a tune-up, so he replaced the spark plugs.

Sounds pretty basic so far…. However, he didn't tighten the spark plugs sufficiently and one of them blew out, stripping the threads along with it. That required drilling the spark plug hole out and resizing it with a threaded insert… but wait, there's more!

This vehicle has ignition coils directly over the spark plugs, so now the ignition coil (which was continuing to spark) was exposed directly to the ongoing combustion flames from that cylinder. It melted the coil and ruined it… but wait, there's still more yet!

Pieces from the melted ignition coil were sucked into the engine and lodged under the valves so that the affected cylinder had no compression. We ended up having to pull the head and replace the 4 valves for that cylinder.

Whew! What an enormous price to pay for the few dollars he saved by installing his own spark plugs. And for all that, his simply replacing the spark plugs was less than we would routinely include in a tune-up anyway. See Tune & Tune Checks.

The problem is that non-professionals are usually at a very early end of the learning curve-the end where they are most apt to make costly errors due to not having the judgement and presence of mind that comes with experience.

Other examples abound:

  • Engine failures due to oil loss as a result of leaks created while changing the oil. (Incidentally, many of the employees at the quick lube places are at the early end of their learning curve too, and we've certainly seen costly mistakes from that quarter as well.)
  • Overheated engines due to failure to clear the air pockets from the cooling system when changing the coolant.
  • Brake failure due to incorrect fluid being installed in brake master cylinder. This can result in total loss of braking, or, it can result in the brakes locking up due to failure of the master cylinder to release them.
  • Brake failure due to incorrectly installed brake parts.
  • Premature failure of parts installed due damage from surrounding worn parts that should have been replaced during the initial repair.
  • Premature failure due to poor selection of parts suppliers. See Toyota parts versus aftermarket parts. This is often a mistake that general repair shops make as well, not having sufficient experience with Toyotas to know when to shy away from aftermarket/non-Toyota part suppliers.)

The above list could be much longer, but this should suffice for illustration purposes. If you choose to work on your own vehicle, I encourage you to get an appropriate shop manual and read through the procedures in advance. Go in with your eyes wide open, keep your head about you, take pictures as you go to help eliminate confusion regarding how parts are related to each other when reassembling, and may the force be with you!!!

ASE Certified Independent Toyota, Lexus & Scion automotive service and repair specialists serving PDX, Portland, Gresham, Beaverton, Clackamas, Oregon City, Fairview, Gladstone, Milwaukie, Oak Grove, Troutdale.

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