Question of the week: Do it yourself or pay the professionals?


The experience of owning a vintage car can be much more involved than keeping the fuel tank full and ensuring the battery is charged. Depending on your vehicle of choice, maintaining aging technology can be demanding on both your pocketbook and your sanity.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/01/19/qotw-diy-or-pay


I worked in High School and through college in a family owned collision shop and doing my own light repair and service since before getting a license. So I tend to DIY everything on the “fun” cars. Never wanted to do it for a living but when it’s on my own schedule… I enjoy it.
A good friend and I also bought an old gas station (tanks removed) not far from our house. Has a two-post lift and we keep our tools and equipment there. Nothing fancy but offers a decent heated storage. And best of all, has a big frig and cigar smoking is allowed in the entire establishment.


I have long performed almost all of my automobile maintenance. This include engine construction, transmission rebuilds, and show car restorations which have shown very well in many shows. I admit that a 2400 sq. ft. commercial garage helps. That said, years ago I had a power window fail on a 93 deVille. How bad could replacing the power mechanism be? I pulled the door panel off and tried to remove the motor. To my surprise the access hole in the inner door was so small that I could not get my hand through it to even touch the motor. Short of getting the torch out, I carried the car to the dealer who had a mechanic who could actually reach the motor…sometimes you just never know until you realize you might be over your head.


I used to perform maintenance, oil and filter changes, etc., may years ago. I quit when I bought a 1985 Toyota Supra and could not crawl under it. Now, at 77, I figure there is a reason there are trained, capable mechanics/technicians out there. The Honda dealer does all the service on my 2012 Pilot, which is minimal – basically just an oil and filter change each year plus scheduled service. A local independent garage does service/repairs on my 1957 Pontiac Chieftain. They are competent, reasonably priced, less than 10 minutes away, and the technician that does the work on it loves working on my car. It is time in my life to leave most work needs to professionals.


I’ve been a DIY’fer since 16-18 years old. Back in the day, I let the local Ford dealer do a tune up on my 65 Mustang 2+2. When I got the bill, it was $125. I was horrified that I had to borrow money from my boss, at a the time. That was pivotal time for me. After that, I absorb every automotive mechanical how-to book I could put my hands on. To my credit, I have since gone on to restore vintage light weight motorcycles, a '65 mustang cvt and own and maintain a '67 E-Type Jag.



Years ago before I bought my first Healey, I had a chat with my father-in-law’s head mechanic. He gave me some sage advice - a person who buys a sports car falls into one of two groups. If well fixed with financial backing, the person has someone else do the work keeping the car going. If the person doesn’t have the financial backing, he/she does the work themselves. Not being in the former category, I bought the car and a genuine workshop manual and learned to do the work myself. In todays world, I still maintain the car myself, but have a backup shop that can be called upon, should I get into something that is beyond my capabilities. I enjoy doing the work, and if there is something that I’ve done wrong, I know what went wrong and can fix it. I really would not take the car to any shop that is not specializing in the repair and servicing of British cars, because of a lack of trust in the knowledge of the mechanics.


Generally I do my own work now. I was never a mechanic, but all my life I’ve fiddled with mechanical things, gotten into trouble taking my parents’ cars apart (and putting them together, too). I built a visible V8 kit when I was 10 or 11. Of course, raising kids, owning a business, living without a garage or with a garage with no heat in New England got in the way, but I’ve always done what I could with limited time, tools and space. Now I’m retired and living in coastal California, with a garage, a decent set of tools and time. I’ve gotten pretty deep into my own Miata, replacing the timing belt and the coil-over shocks, and all the routine maintenance. Mostly I repair and resurrect old Honda Elite scooters that have been neglected to non-running exhaustion, and either keep them or sell them and get another project. I do pay a mechanic when a job requires a lift or specialized equipment, like alignments.


I’ve been a “shade tree mechanic” for most of my life and did over 90% of my auto repairs and maintenance. But. after turning 70 I found I had increasing problems bending down, getting back up and generally just contorting myself into positions to do auto repairs. Am now 77 and leave about 95% of work on my cherry '86 El Camino to the professionals. I enjoyed doing it all for years but have since doffed my cap to the pros, who I find do the work significantly faster and probably better than I can.


If I don’t have to put my 1969 Olds 98 up on jack stands to work on it then I do some work. For instance, last October I changed out the valve cover gaskets myself. It required removing the alternator and a/c compressor mounting brackets as they cover the front third of the valve covers. The entire project cost me about $12.00. So I saved a lot of labor costs. The concrete in the carport where I park that 4500 pound car isn’t level and I am not willing to risk my safety to save a couple of bucks on labor.


Perform 99% of the work myself. Currently building a pro-turing 81 Camaro Z-28. I don’t have deep pockets so the build works in phases. Latest completed phase was a complete 4 link coil over rear suspension with a Strange Ford 9" and Wilwood big brakes all around. Working on cars is therapy for the stress from running large construction projects, I a union carpenter superintendent by trade. Only wish I had a lift, at 61 years old with 2 hip replacements and needing 2 knees it’s a little challenging at times. When asked “who did your work” feels good to be able to say I did. Still remember my first auto repair at 10 years old, replaced a master cylinder on my dad’s 55 Ford Fairlane. It’s been a labor of love since then. Started with Mopars, 69 Cuda, 72 Challanger, 79 Z-28, 86 & 88 T-Bird Turbo Coupe’s and now back to Camaro’s & El Camino’s. Sure wish I had my first to cars, who knew what they would be worth they are now. They were a dime a dozen back in the day.


My hobby car is a 1963 Rambler Classic station wagon. Hopped up Jeep 4.0L (derivative of the 64 Rambler six), AW4 auto trans, Jag IRS, 90s T-bird rack and pinion steering. Built it in the driveway, and have done everything except the final paint. I sprayed the interior and door jambs myself with single stage acrylic and sprayed the initial primer – but left the top coat to a pro. I do 90% of my own work, but I know the car intimately. It was originally built in 2003 – I find now that I sometimes forget just how I did things! Luckily I kept notes and receipts on what I used, so I even have part numbers if replacements are needed. I only have others do things like front end alignments and build a new driveshaft – things I can’t do at my shop.


I have a 1969 Impala SS 427. My brother and I do pretty much all the work on this car. I do have other freinds that like to lend a hand but it is a rare occasion. The first time I went to college it was to get a degree in auto body repair specifically so I could make classic cars beautiful again. My brother is a senior master technician. Like many other folks I keep a journal of what has been done and receipts for what I have spent. About the only thing I have paid someone else to do is put new tires on my wheels and spin balance them for me as I do not own this equipment.


I rebuilt my first small block chevy motor in 1969 when I was 15 . When I bought my 65 Chevelle the next year I swapped the tired 283 and powerglide with the 327 and three speed. I never had any formal automobile training just trial and error and living out in the sticks you had to learn how to keep your car running .As the years passed and I had more money I learned it was better to let the pros to do somethings like painting and body work . Then in 77 when i decided to put a blower in my 70 Nova II had a machine shop build and dyno the engine. Other than that I still do most of the work on my Nova ,71 Monte Carlo SS , and 69 Vette( that I have owned for 40 plus years) . I do find it harder to get down under the car to put a clutch in or switch a starter and may be a lot slower but I still enjoy it .


As a teenager with no money old hoopties were the soup dejour. Necessity dictated the need to learn wrenching skills. Today I am still wrenching on old cars and would never think of taking any of my cars to another shop. On occasion I may have to strip a part off of the car and take it to someone to have it worked on but that is about as far as I would go. I get squeamish thinking about taking a vehicle in for an alignment. There is something unnatural about voluntarily handing over your keys to a complete stranger and made to sit in an isolated room while strange men perform un-godly acts on a loved one. Not my cup of tea.


Where I live the auto repair business is an absolute joke. The chain shops are the worst, crappy mechanics, relentless up-selling, piss poor work, unending consumer complaints. Independent shops are a crap shoot at best and they can’t keep quality mechanics (the few there are around). Dealerships are… well we all know about them. The biggest complaint the states Consumer Affairs Division receives is about auto repair. So it’s best to learn as much as you can, do as much as you can, get a code reader, and hope for the best if you need a mechanic. Recommendations from friends are worthless because nobody stays in the same shop. They move around from shop to shop all the time. It truly is a joke here. The sad fact is I see cars on lifts in shops and know most people are there at the mercy of these jokers. So, yeah I do most of my work, but still even now and then I have to go to a shop and I kid you not, there is almost always an issue. It’s sad!!


After reading your post, I know your not kidding. And not surprised there is “almost always an issue”…for you.


While at University, I was able to take an Adult Mechanics class offered by the local high school’s automotive instructors. I was always interested in cars, my high school favorites being the AMX and the love of my life, Jaguar XK-E. There was nothing left out of this course, so when I bought my first of six 60s-70s British cars, I felt comfortable with the manual and good tools. Basic maintenance and trouble shooting improved the running of all the cars, and with a drive on lift I put a brake booster in the E and replaced the exhaust systems on my 98 Civic, and the 74 TR-6, replaced the power steering arm on the 81 Corvette, and routinely changed oil and filter on all cars. I replaced interiors on the British cars as well as the Corvette. I put in brake master cylinders, wheel cylinders, adjusted valves, put in a water pump and replaced A-arm shocks. I did the things I had the ability and confidence to do. I stopped short of engine and transmission work, not really having the expertise to open up something like that. I learned enough to know what parts are what and when I was being ‘had’. Only one time a shop tried to tell me I needed ‘muffler bearings’. I had the great fortune of doing some part time work at a British Car restoration shop and being mentored by a guy who always had high expectations of what I could and should do. When he died at the early age of 55, I continued with my work and honor him with the question… ‘is the work good enough to put my name on it?’ That said, this winter when I was faced with the Jaguar needing both an engine and trans rebuild, I decided that this was not the time for anything less than a professional. Again, lucky to have a local shop that I know and trust for a big project like this.


My biggest problem is finding qualified mechanics. There is certain work I am not able to do. I find a shop, supposedly highly knowledgeable and qualified, let them do the work, but have to go back and have the work redone by a normal (Goodyear) mechanic. Been to three different places, each of their work had to be redone. Even brought back to them to repair, and still didn’t get it right. In one case forgot to put the rear seal in, then put a used one in that leaked. Plus, I hate to have to go back, drop my car off, get ride home and then have to return because they didn’t do the job right the first time.


I’m a DIY’fer for most all of my vintage wheels. The newer stuff, not so much except for the maintenance items.


@kwashbrook - I would say I’m the same. I will happily pay someone to do the brakes on my regular use car, but when it comes to the classic I will spend the hours sitting on the floor to know it was my hands that did the work.