Going the DIY Route: Fixing the Car

Last week, the dreaded check engine light lit up in my car on my way back to work. I had just taken my break, which I go back home for, and had noticed my car wasn’t driving properly. It wasn’t accelerating very fast, and it was jolting slightly upon braking. Thankfully, I only had to panic for five minutes while I drove to work, but I had a sinking feeling in my stomach as I saw dollar signs flashing next to that light.

What to do?

Of course, my first thought is to call my dad. I have written before about how he is a somewhat a jack of all trades, especially when it comes to computers or cars. If one of our cars was ever making an odd noise, not running correctly, or needed some routine maintenance, my mom and I would alert him to it and he would check it out.

I’m really missing that right now. Being several thousand miles away kind of limits what he can do, but he tried to help me out as much as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t really have any other friends or relatives as car savvy as he is, but I do have the internet. diy route

Once I got back to work, I got to researching possible issues. Everyone recommended going to AutoZone for a free code reading. Just in case you aren’t aware, they do offer it for free, which is nice when you don’t feel like spending money on an OBDII reader. I heard that Advanced Auto Parts also offers this service, but the two stores were actually across from each other and AutoZone was easier to get to.

This all started Tuesday. I waited for R to get home, and we left. What happens? The light shuts off fairly soon after we get going. I felt a temporary sense of relief. We continued on, just in case the light came back on, but also because it was recommended to get some fuel injection cleaner. I hadn’t filled up in about three weeks, but who knows. It was only about $6.

Not so fast…

My car was riding fine, but that sinking feeling kept persisting, for good reason. As I’m leaving work for good on Friday, the light comes back on. R and I made a Valentine’s date at AutoZone yet again. This time, the light didn’t go off, but my car was driving somewhat better. I think my car likes R better.

In any case, they were nice enough to come out in the freezing cold, get the codes, and print out the diagnosis for us. They didn’t try and sell us on anything, which was quite a relief. It also helped that the guy had no clue what the codes meant. Luckily for me, other people on Civic forums had done quite a bit of research!

The main issue was P1298, the electronic load detector (ELD). Yeah, I had never heard of it either. Apparently, it’s located in the underhood fuse box. Oh joy, I totally want to mess with my car’s electrical components! The other code was for a faulty TP sensor. After doing some more research, my dad concluded that the ELD being broken was likely causing the TP sensor to go as well.

Going the DIY route

There was actually a great video on how to replace the ELD, which made me feel comfortable attempting the DIY route. It literally seemed to take the guy maybe three minutes to complete the fix. What was the sense in going to a mechanic over that? The two options were getting the part directly from Honda (as it is a dealer part), or ordering it off of eBay.

I decided to choose convenience and pay more for the part, versus ordering it off of eBay and paying less. Why? When it came down to it, I wanted to fix this issue ASAP. The estimated delivery of the part on eBay was Thursday to next Monday, and that was too long to wait. I was getting scared to drive my car, and since R needs to be at work a good 2 hours before me, and usually leaves an hour or two after me, having one car was not going to work.

So we called Honda up Sunday morning, and they had the ELD in stock. It would be $44, which wasn’t a horrible price. For a car that has given me virtually no issues in the five years I’ve had it, I could spend $44 to hopefully get this check engine light to turn off.

We got the part, arrived home, and excitedly went to work. We quickly realized it was not going to be as easy of a fix as we initially thought. It’s hard to explain, but the ELD connects into a plug, and the plug’s wire didn’t have any slack whatsoever, so we couldn’t lift it up enough to fit the ELD onto it.

Mind you, it was around 23 degrees outside, I was freezing, and about an hour had passed. We agreed to take a break, go inside, and check some other sources out. We seemed to be in the minority who didn’t have enough slack. R was determined to get this to work; at this point, my car would need to be towed. He went back outside and I continued reading.

He was out there for another thirty minutes at least, just tinkering with everything. He finally came back inside yelling “YES! YES YES YES!! I DID IT!” He also included phrases such as, “I am the MAN!” He was really thrilled, in case you didn’t get that. I was also thrilled, because it meant that our efforts and decision to DIY paid off. I wasn’t looking forward to possibly having my car towed.

I went back outside with him to finish the installation, and then I nervously started my car. The check engine light was off! R was fist pumping at this point. We were so happy it worked. I took my car for a spin around the block, and it seemed to be back to normal. It wasn’t taking 20 seconds to get from 10mph to 20mph, and it was braking smoothly.

We won

We accomplished a lot yesterday. Normally, I like to save money however I can, and I’m certainly not someone who recommends going to a dealership for anything, but in this case, it worked out. I paid a premium to have access to the part immediately, and I don’t regret it. It helps that it wasn’t an expensive fix, but I’m sure if I turned to a mechanic, it would have been a couple of hundred dollars.

I’m glad R found it in him to persist. He ended up using a really tiny screwdriver he found in a kit that allowed him enough room. As he said, “it just look a little ingenuity.” I’m still making an appointment to take my car in so it can be looked over, as I would rather not have any other issues surprise me. Hopefully nothing else is wrong!

Next time you’re attempting a DIY fix, don’t give up! It was really tempting to throw the towel in, especially when we knew what we had to do – it was just a matter of getting the right tool to accomplish it.

How comfortable are you going the DIY route with your car? Would you have attempted this fix? What’s the last car repair you had?

About Erin M.

Erin is a personal finance freelance blogger who enjoys talking about frugality, debt and saving for the future. While she's passionate about helping other millennials get their finances in order, she also loves reading, walking and spending time with family (and her cats).
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32 Responses to Going the DIY Route: Fixing the Car

  1. Before I was able to get my driver’s license, my dad forced us to learn how to change a tire, check our oil, check the air pressure, refill the windshield fluids, and fill up a flat.

    But besides that, I go straight to my dad (who is a mechanic) before I touch that thing. He’s about 2 hours away so there have been many times where we used Skype for him to diagnose what was going on!
    Michelle @fitisthenewpoor recently posted: TaskRabbit – THE Site for Local Side HustlesMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      That’s awesome that your dad insisted on having you guys learn the basics (and that he’s a mechanic to boot!). My dad did try, but I had no interest, knowing he would be there to take care of it. Skype is great in these situations!

  2. There are very few things on the car I feel comfortable doing. Maybe tires, battery, oil change. To me it’s worth the time and money to hire someone to do it. Usually if I try it costs me more money because of my mistakes.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted: How to Write Great Content For Your BlogMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      It’s really a valid fear. I was pretty much tearing up thinking about how much it would cost to tow my car, how I purchased the part and wouldn’t be able to fix it, etc. It’s not a good feeling at all, and I’m really glad it worked out in the end.

  3. Great work! There are few things as satisfying for the modern man than fixing a vehicle. It is a right of passage.
    Done by Forty recently posted: Limit Your Options, Expand Your WalletMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      Haha, I think that’s pretty true. Sadly, R grew up without a father, and I know these moments of “manliness” really mean a lot to him. He was really excited when he replaced his car’s battery a few months back, too.

  4. Matt Becker says:

    Nice work! I’ve done a few DIY car fixes in the past few months and it’s a good feeling. My experience is that it’s definitely easier than I would guess if I did no research, but generally not quite as easy as it looks on youtube. But my guess is that it gets closer to as easy as it looks once you’ve done a few more of them.
    Matt Becker recently posted: The Only 21 Things Our Newborn Kids Have Ever Really NeededMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      It really should have been a 1-2-3 fix, I guess my car likes to be difficult =). After scanning through the comments of the video, there were only a few people that had the same issue with no slack. I’m not sure if I would ever attempt a fix if I couldn’t find out any information on it, only because I’m pretty clueless when it comes to cars!

  5. Ashley says:

    That is so awesome- I’m glad you guys were able to fix it! I love the internet for the ability to research stuff like that. It does get a little scary when you’re tinkering with things that have the ability to make your car not run at all- but now this will give you the confidence to attempt other fixes in the future!!!
    Ashley recently posted: Getting Started: SavingMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      We had a few “oh crap!” moments, for such a simple fix. R dropped a metal plate, which he was able to find, and then apparently he dropped the actual part we bought while I was inside…overall it was frustrating, but I think the feeling of accomplishment in the end was worth it, especially for R!

  6. Score one for you guys!

    My car is turning into a money-pit, slowly but surely. This month I had to buy engine coolant because my “engine temp too hot” light came on. Apparently my antifreeze was too low. Okay, I know that’s not a money-pit, that’s regular maintenance, but it was $18 for a half gallon of antifreeze. But I only needed a litre, so I have way over half of it sitting there (did you know you have to mix it 50/50 with water?)

    My back windshield wipers motor went, so it can’t push it. I haven’t gotten around to replacing that, but it’s okay for the time being. I also need to get a new cabin air filter. I put $75 towards car maintenance every month, but I can’t seem to get a cushion built up with all these little things here and there. $20 bucks three times per month doesn’t leave a lot left over!
    Alicia @ Financial Diffraction recently posted: Remember, the Internet is Forever.My Profile

    • E.M. says:

      I think I vaguely remember hearing about mixing it with water; it’s probably something I would have looked up! Take comfort in the fact I just paid $135 to get my transmission fluid flushed. I was NOT expecting that, but as you said, it’s kind of par for the course with maintenance. Honestly, I’m not good at dealing with car troubles. My car is probably the biggest liability I have, which is what my efund is for, but I hate using it. R’s had so many car issues now as well, so I hear you on the little things adding up. It can be discouraging.

  7. You guys are awesome! That is so cool that you tried a DIY fix with your car and pulled it off – it’s inspiring me to try that route myself next time if it’s possible! I love that the internet offers so much in the way of resources and knowledge :)

    The last car repair I had definitely couldn’t have been done on my own, as it was for something I can’t even fully explain. The gauge that helps regulate the engine temperature had to be replaced; the valve that opens and shuts to help control the temp was also getting stuck open (thankfully it didn’t get stuck closed because then I would have been on the side of the road with an overheated engine). I might try a DIY repair if the next thing is small.. but anything like this and I’m more comfortable taking it to the shop!
    Kali @ CommonSenseMillennial recently posted: Why The Millennial Generation is Going to Be OkayMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      I don’t think we would have attempted the fix had we not been able to find the detailed video. Or if it was a really in-depth, complicated fix. I think it’s good to go with your gut after doing research. I’d hate to mess around with my car and end up with more problems than I started with! There was a time when my ex’s car suddenly went crazy, and all his dashboard lights lit up. Not fun!

  8. I’m not comfortable touching anything on my car, but luckily I have a lot of knowledgable friends so that’s the route I go when I can. I know the feeling of dread with the check engine light. It’s an awful feeling.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted: The Real LA WomanMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      I know you’ve had your fair share of car troubles :/. It’s very handy to have friends that are good with cars, or at least a very trusted mechanic!

  9. anna says:

    Woot woot, awesome job to the both of you!! I can just imagine R’s pride and fist pumping, and I agree having the check engine light always makes me nervous, so that’s awesome that it’s now off and that your car runs smoothly! I leave it to B to fix most car and housing issues (though we still go to the mechanic if there’s more technical stuff involved), and I agree DIY’ing has saved us quite a few bucks in the past two years. Love Hondas, hope yours runs smoothly for quite some time!
    anna recently posted: I’m Ready to “Give Birth” to This Wedding!My Profile

    • E.M. says:

      I hope it continues running without issue for at least another five years. I’m just grateful I’m not putting a lot of mileage on it right now. Both of our cars are getting older so I’m sure there will be more fixes in the future. I just have to accept that comes with owning a car! At least it’s a learning experience each time. Unfortunately, R started driving after me, so we’re both running on limited knowledge.

  10. NZ Muse says:

    We’ve definitely done both DIY and shelled out big bucks for our car on many occasions. It’s a fine line! We currently have no handbrake because T snapped the cable while tightening it.

    We’ve never had a car new enough to have a check engine light.
    NZ Muse recently posted: Top three Couchsurfing momentsMy Profile

  11. Good job! I’m so horrible about cars and I don’t know hwo to fix anything. Luckily a few family members can do DIY things so I usually get help from them. :)
    Fig @ Figuring Money Out recently posted: Worst Money Making Ideas for 2014My Profile

  12. Nice work! I remember the first time that I fixed my car back when I was 16. After that point, I was hooked. My best moment was when I spent 2 weeks completely rewiring my old Jeep Wrangler. I bought the Jeep completely dead and worked through the cold to rewire the whole thing. The day that I turned the key and it turn on was awesome. Best feeling!
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted: The Best Things In Life Are Free….Or Are They?My Profile

    • E.M. says:

      I’m sure it’s amazing to be able to bring a car back to life. I don’t think I’ll ever quite reach that level, but it is nice to be able to do the small fixes! Learning more about cars is on my general to-do list, I just wish I still had my dad within close proximity to learn from. It’s an invaluable skill.

  13. I’m not comfortable at all working on my car. My car also is really old so I almost see it as a lost cause. All the sensors are messed up and if I drive for more than 30 minutes in cold weather the check engine light comes on. That’s great that you were able to fix yours, though!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted: Utilizing Your Undergraduate Years at College – Did You?My Profile

    • E.M. says:

      Ugh that sucks! R’s check engine light has been on for about a month now, but his car is driving fine, so he’s ignoring it for the moment. Ironically, my mom has the same model car, just a bit younger, and her check engine light goes on randomly, too. Sometimes sensors are too sensitive!

  14. LOL, I can just imagine your guy being so excited about this – aren’t they fun this way?? :-) My hubby had a similar experience recently: the heater in our garage went out (a new one costs over $1,000), and repair would’ve been about $250. We were freaking out a bit, but he figured out what was wrong (by checking online, of course) drove into the city, got the $60 part, and put it in himself in about 10 minutes. Oh yeah, he was definitely fist pumping too, and we saved almost $200. :-) Huge congrats to you guys – this is a big win!
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted: Don’t Let the Success of Others Keep You From Achieving Your GoalsMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      Oh yes, I was trying really hard not to crack up at R as he was screaming victory! That is awesome that you guys were able to fix your heater though. So many people would have probably shrugged their shoulders and thrown the whole unit away. There’s noting to lose by checking online first.

  15. Great to hear you guys were able to DIY. One thing I wish I had was better car fixing knowledge and skill. I’m not too handy with the car and generally take it to the mechanic. Saving money is one thing, but it really is a sense of accomplishment when you are able to fix something on your own. It’s a great feeling.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted: Are You (Financially) Better Off Than Your Parents?My Profile

    • E.M. says:

      It is a nice feeling, but it was scary in the middle when we weren’t sure if we could get it to work. Sometimes you’re better off being safe!

  16. Awesome job! I used to have a Chilton’s manual for my truck, and would do my own repairs (it was a 91′ toyota pickup). It was awesome for saving money and making me feel like a total bad ass. But when it comes to our Volvo, which is the only car we’ve ever had any issues with, I let the professionals handle it. I don’t know much about it, and honestly don’t have the time or luxury of trying to fix something- like you, I need it to be done sooner rather than later. But I have changed a few bulbs on it, so I’m not totally helpless.
    Ryan @ Impersonal Finance recently posted: you vs. the economyMy Profile

    • E.M. says:

      If it was a huge fix I would have taken it to the mechanic without a second thought. I’m not one to go digging around or anything! Having manuals is useful. It was a bit of a pain to keep trying to look up things on my phone when we were outside.

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