Open Road

Is working on your own car trashy?

Long ago, when I was in college, I had a female friend of mine ask if once I got a professional job, was married and had kids, I'd stop playing with cars. The question took me by surprise, because I'd never thought such a thing would ever happen (not the professional job, marriage or kids).

After graduating and getting an office job, I heard plenty of my coworkers say things like "I know how to change my oil, but I just don't have the time for it nowadays." They sure had the time to watch a few football games each weekend, funny enough.

Finally, one day a colleague of mine said what I think everyone else meant: working on your own car is something only blue collar, poor people do.

I was floored, but everything started to make sense.

I haven't abandoned working on my own car, even though I'm super busy and definitely white collar. I won't stop working on my car for a number of great reasons. And I think everyone should learn to do at least some things on their own vehicle. Some people I know literally have their mechanic put on new wiper blades and top off the washer fluid, because they think doing it themselves is below them.

Plenty of Discrimination

Long ago I lived in apartments where working on your car on the property, even having your hood popped in the parking lot, was forbidden. When I asked the manager why, she explained that fixing anything, even a tiny thing on your car would attract "the wrong element." I can understand a rule that a car can't be obviously taken apart overnight, but not even being able to pop the hood and check the oil is pretty extreme.

The city where I live now has an ordinance where if you have a disabled vehicle that's not registered, it has to be garaged or out of sight from the road. If not, the city can cite you for it and possibly impound the car. So if you find a sweet disabled hobby vehicle, you better have somewhere inside to store it while you get it running again.

A Question of Time

The biggest argument I've heard for not doing any work on your car is time. Because I work for myself, I'm keenly aware time is money. There's an opportunity cost of doing an oil change versus landing another business deal, getting a client's project finished sooner, etc. I know business owners who don't even tighten a screw in their house themselves, because their time is supposedly too valuable to be wasted with such trivial issues.

Personally, I think the argument's bunk. There are scores of studies that show the damaging effects of sitting at a desk all day, sitting in a car to go home, then sitting on the couch while eating Cheetos in the evening. It's no coincidence that Americans and people elsewhere are getting fatter, while also being super stressed and suffering from chronic back pain/insomnia. I'm of the opinion if everyone who works at a desk took some time every day to do something with their hands, whether it's fixing a car, mowing the lawn or painting the shed, they'd feel at least a little better. I know I get cranky on the days I can't wrench or do something with my hands.

Other Benefits

I can't tell you how many times I've had car repairs priced out, and dying of sticker shock, decided to take them on myself. Even if I had to stumble my way through part of the work, I usually end up saving a significant amount of money, even with the time I spend on the repair. Labor costs can be pretty steep, so doing it yourself might save you big. Not everyone's comfortable with taking on complicated repairs, but doing what you can is just a good idea.

Working on your own car makes you more familiar with the machine you spend so much time inside. It's amazing how many people don't even know where the spark plugs are located in their vehicle. Even if you only do simple jobs, you'll be more knowledgeable about how it works, and it'll be harder for mechanics to take advantage of your ignorance.

Luxury Vehicles

One big question I've asked people who think working on your own car is trashy is if t a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus or Land Rover is being worked on, their perception would change. Some actually think that changes nothing, but others think the brand of the car being worked on changes everything.

Another weird objection to working on your own car is that some people think getting dirty is trashy. Personally, I don't mind getting dirty. I mostly wear mechanics gloves to work on my car, which is an easy and cheap solution that also helps protect against sliced knuckles. The interesting thing is people are paying good money to get dirty, doing races like the Tough Mudder, so I really think this argument holds no water.

For enthusiasts, working on your own car is a foregone conclusion. It's not a matter of class, profession or time. You enjoy popping the hood and tinkering with different things – it's your hobby. To have others try to insult that hobby is perplexing and maddening. Insinuating that liking cars means you're automatically "trashy" is an unfair insult, one I wish people would drop.

A Bright Spot

There is a ray of hope for the proud tradition of working on your own car, and the source is one I wouldn't have considered myself: makers. The maker movement is all about people being ingenious again, getting their hands dirty and creating things like we used to. Instead of just going to Walmart and buying something crappy, more people are viewing fabricating their own stuff as a big plus.

The maker movement is huge. I read about a year ago that over half of the adult population in the United States now thinks of themselves as some sort of maker. Hopefully it won't be too long before non-enthusiasts realize working on their vehicle, doing maintenance, repairs or customizations, is fun and worth their time.

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