Are the days of turning wrenches in your garage over? As modern vehicles advance and rely more and more on technology, even simple repairs are becoming too challenging for the average DIY mechanic. Automakers are forced to push the envelope on fuel economy and innovative features to meet stricter environmental guidelines and keep up with the competition. While these improvements have certainly made driving more exciting and comfortable, the maintenance requirements can be challenging.
Attempting a repair these days can result in a more frustrating situation than losing your coveted 10mm socket wrench. When an electronic component is damaged or installed incorrectly, vehicles can suffer from irreversible damage or require extensive expenses to return to regular operation. Before trying to save money by fixing your car or truck without the help of an expert, check out how modern automobiles are turning once simple repairs into labour-intensive works of art.
The days of picking up an affordable headlight at an auto parts store and making a quick swap in the parking lot are gone for most modern vehicle owners. Even more straightforward installations often involved the awkward process of blindly fumbling around for the correct light socket and twisting and replacing the component without damaging the harness, the bulb, or your hand. Today, some cars require removing front-end components like the bumper and require special tools even to access the light.
When removing auto body parts, it’s common to damage plastic fasteners that automakers use to hold trim pieces in place. In many cases, these are one-time-use parts, and it can be challenging to find exact replicas to use as replacements.
Types of Bulbs
Once you locate the bulb on a modern vehicle, you may find a more advanced light rather than the traditional incandescent unit.
High-Intensity Discharge Bulbs
Incandescent bulbs dominated the automotive market for years as the most prevalent type of light source. These days, high-intensity discharge (HID) lights are becoming more common because of their durability and greater illumination. Unfortunately, the enhanced features that improve a vehicle’s sight path come at increased expense and rely on intricate components to work correctly. Here is a breakdown of what’s involved in an HID system:
- Bulb—Rather than heating a filament, HID bulbs create electrical arcs between two electrodes within the capsule.
- Ballast—Achieving the required electrical current requires a specially designed ballast to increase the voltage produced in a 12-volt system.
- Projector—The advanced bulb is housed in a projector with an intricate lens and reflector. Vehicles that use HID bulbs for both high and low beams are equipped with an electronically activated shutter that switches between modes.
Since the system requires numerous parts to operate correctly, diagnosing an inoperative headlight isn’t as simple as swapping bulbs.
LED Tail Lights
Another way that manufacturers have updated the appearance and performance of vehicles is by installing LED lighting in key places. Unfortunately, when components fail, quickly replacing a bulb isn’t always an option. Many late-model cars and trucks that use LED tail lights require replacing the entire assembly. The cost of labour and parts can be extravagant. Still, if you fail to repair the problem, you can also count on being involved in traffic stops until the issue is resolved.
If you have ever experienced zero response as you try the ignition, you know the frustration of a dead battery. As a primary organ of a vehicle’s ignition system, a weak cell or dated component can ruin your travel plans. Before immediately assuming that the battery is the no-start culprit, however, you should also consider testing the alternator, which can be difficult to do at home without professional equipment.
If you determine that a dead battery is indeed the cause, a DIY replacement isn’t always as straightforward as you may think.
Location, Location, Location
To save space under the hood for critical components, domestic and import automakers have relocated the battery to hard-to-access areas. In the trunk, compartments inside the inner wheel well and within the cabin, beneath the seat, are all typical places to check. The best way to determine where a battery is located and find installation instructions is to look in your owner’s manual.
When attempting to change a part located in a vehicle’s interior, you must exercise extreme caution. If an interior battery isn’t properly vented, passengers may be at risk for exposure to the dangerous gases it can release.
For some newer vehicles, replacing the battery may help the car start, but without resetting the computer, the new battery will meet an early demise. The problem occurs because the alternator isn’t alerted about the replacement and overcompensates its output to support the previously failing battery. This results in the system being strained and damages delicate parts in the charging system. Of course, the specialized scan tools needed to perform the reset are found at dealerships or professional shops and typically require a fee.
Air Conditioning System
When your air conditioning system starts blowing warm air or fails completely, it’s hardly a job for a home mechanic. While the compressor is the heart of the air conditioner’s operation and generally the most common component to break down, numerous other parts require replacement once it fails. Unless the job is performed correctly, the newly installed items may give out prematurely, or a manufacturer or third party can void an existing warranty.
In addition to the compressor, professional replacements also involve installing a new condenser, filter drier, and expansion valve or orifice tube, along with a system flush and freon refill. The reason the process is so involved is that the relevant parts are non-flushable. Suppose an unfiltered component is left in place. In that case, the new compressor will become compromised by impurities and metal shavings that its predecessor left behind.
An expert flush guarantees that the remaining elements are cleaned to original equipment condition. During an expert installation, a technician can confirm that the hoses and aluminum lines are in good shape or recommend a replacement before a failure occurs.
Another advantage of having a qualified repair facility do the work is that it will undertake a thorough inspection and diagnosis. Sometimes, a failed air conditioning system may be caused by a simple electrical error and can be repaired without the expense of replacing the intricate system.
How to Determine Whether You Should Make a DIY Repair
Thanks to modern technology, the internet pools numerous stories of success and failure. Before attempting a repair on your own, check out online videos by searching your vehicle’s year, make and model, along with the issue you are facing. It would help if you looked for by-the-book tutorials and shortcuts that confident DIY mechanics have discovered. Researching complete installations will also reveal any special tools you should invest in and give you an idea of how much time to dedicate to a repair.
You can also consider joining automotive forums where other enthusiasts bounce ideas off one another to diagnose, solve, and prevent issues. Cast a wide net to peers when you’re determined to complete a repair at home. Sometimes their information can turn a complex repair into a simple DIY job once you know a few tricks.
Even if you ultimately decide to seek an expert, understanding what it takes to resolve a car issue will help you make an informed decision regarding where to take your vehicle. When you’re an educated consumer, you limit your risk of being taken advantage of when trusting a professional mechanic’s advice.