What can car owners do themselves, and how much could they save?

James McCay

Jan 18, 2022

Maintaining our cars is essential for a whole slew of reasons. It helps them run well, it helps keep them roadworthy, and it helps us to be safer drivers. If you do it regularly, it can also help maintain your car’s sale value as well.

It’s vital to repair our cars at the mechanic every year (or every 10,000 to 20,000kms), but it can be expensive.

But what if we could repair our cars at home? Would car owners be able to save money? Would these repairs be feasible? Would they even be legal?

Here’s what we found.

Picking up the wrench

Before we look under the hood to see what car repairs can be done by everyday people, we thought we would check the pulse on what people think they can and can’t repair on their cars. We surveyed 2,521 people across Australia, America and Canada and found that most Australians (48%) and Canadians (43.1%) would take their car to a professional to get their vehicle repaired, regardless of the issue. Americans were more likely to pick up a wrench and get fixing themselves, with over 44% of respondents happy to repair minor things on their vehicle. A further 19.8% of US respondents were even happy to bring out small cranes to repair larger items such as a starter motor.

We also found that people were less likely to lift the hood and repair something on their car if they had no prior experience in a repair. Australians were the most conservative, with only around one in four people willing to repair or replace an item with no previous experience. On the other hand, 30.8% of Canadians and 36.4% of Americans were willing to give repairing a go for the first time.

Lastly, our survey found that over two-fifths of respondents across all three countries do not actually know if they can make repairs to their cars without voiding the warranty. A further 29.8% of Australians believe that they cannot make any repairs to the car without voiding its warranty, the highest of the three countries. Americans (at 28.4% of respondents) were also the most insistent that individuals can at least make some repairs to their cars without it having an effect on their warranty.

Read on below to find out what you can and can’t repair or replace on your car in Australia without voiding the warranty.

Compare the Market spoke to AutoGuru’s Fleet Manager Kane Tierney, who discussed whether or not these car repairs were things people could do at home. For repairs that car owners can DIY, we’ve included some potential savings.

Wheel alignment

Specialty equipment known as an alignment machine is required to ensure the adjustments that are being made are correct. It’s also very helpful to be able to raise the vehicle on a hoist and work underneath.

Knowing how to make the adjustment is critical. Having an in-depth understanding of a car’s suspension system is also required to spot any suspension issues.

Air conditioning re-gas

Air conditioning gas is very harmful to the environment and steps need to be made to ensure that used gas is captured correctly and recycled.

Speciality equipment is required to do this repair and you also require a Refrigerant Handling Licence (RHL) to work on air conditioning equipment. 

Windscreen chip / crack repair

Potential savings: $60-$170

If it’s just a small chip, you can buy repair kits from an automotive parts store. These kits can prevent the chip from turning into a large crack.

Keep in mind that the size and severity of the crack will affect whether the windscreen will need to be replaced completely by a technician. 

Please note: Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) can include sensors in the windscreen. Repairing or replacing an ADAS windscreen can cost $1,000+.

Windscreen replacement

If you already have a large crack, this will need to be professionally repaired by a qualified windscreen technician.

Cars today have a plethora of technology, and a lot of it is integrated into the car’s windscreen. For example, front cameras, rain sensors, in-built antennas and brake/lane assist technology. Windscreens with these features can cost a lot more to replace.

Radiator repairs

Replacing a radiator at home would instantly void your warranty if the vehicle was still inside its warranty period. Also, it can be potentially dangerous if the person replacing it hasn’t let the system cool and depressurise.

Once a radiator has been replaced, it’s critical that you bleed the system correctly so that it doesn’t overheat; this could potentially lead to serious engine damage.

Specialty tools generally aren’t needed for this job, but the consequences of mistakes are serious.

Starter motor replacement

Potential savings: $190-$240

In most cases, replacing a starter motor is a pretty straightforward job. Most are generally accessible from above or below the vehicle, however, some can be in difficult places that will require the use of a hoist or the removal of multiple components.

If you are going to try this repair at home the most important thing is remembering to disconnect the battery as the power supply wire to the starter motor will be live.

Making sure the vehicle has cooled down is also important to prevent burns. Again, if your vehicle is under warranty, Mr Tierney recommends taking it back to the dealership.

Car battery replacement

Potential savings: $25-$125

While the process to replace a battery is relatively simple, replacing a battery on a modern vehicle will require the use of a memory minder (used to ensure the Engine Control Unit (ECU) does not power down and reset) – this is a specialty piece of equipment.

Modern vehicles often require an update or reset procedure to be performed after the battery has been replaced. This is done by using a specialty piece of equipment (scan tool).

Most vehicles pre-2000 will be safe to replace the battery at home if the person fitting it is confident in their abilities. Factory radio codes could be lost without the use of a memory minder and will need to be re-entered.

Brake pad replacement

Due to the serious nature of this repair, Mr Tierney only recommends that brake work be carried out by a qualified technician. Simply put, your life and the lives of others are in your hands when replacing brakes.

In some cases, on some makes and models, the brake rotors need to be replaced along with the brake pads, which is an even more extensive repair.

Getting a qualified mechanic to replace your brake pads will also ensure your entire braking system gets a safety check. 

Oil change

Potential savings: $20-$260

If the vehicle is inside its warranty period it’s very important that the services are completed by a qualified mechanic so that you do not void your manufacturer’s warranty.

If your vehicle is not under warranty, changing your own oil and filter at home can be pretty simple on most vehicles and can be done without special tools. Mr Tierney recommends a visit to your local parts supplier to get the right parts for the job.

It’s very important that you only put oil recommended by the manufacturer into your vehicle. The wrong type of engine oil could cause serious damage to your engine.  

Air filter replacement

Potential savings: $50-$85

This is a very simple repair that can be carried out by anyone. Most air filter boxes are easily accessible and in a lot of cases can be removed without any tools.

Based on the repairs listed above that can be done from home, car owners could expect to save between $345-$880 for all the DIY repairs.

Now, just because you can repair a part of your car yourself, that doesn’t mean that it’s always a good idea. You may require specialised equipment and knowledge or training, which can make it hard for the regular car owner to do a DIY repair.

Also, it can be dangerous and risky to do these repairs yourself. Lastly, you may void the car’s warranty by doing a DIY car repair.

Tierney recommends that work on a vehicle should be completed by a qualified professional in most cases.

“As a rule of thumb, if your vehicle is under warranty, all repair and maintenance work will need to be completed by a qualified mechanic,” Mr Tierney said.

“In regard to new car manufacturer’s warranties, it’s completely fine to take your car to an independent mechanic for servicing and still retain your new car manufacturer’s warranty.”

Mr Tierney also notes that car owners doing the work themselves will save on labour costs, but it can be tricky to source the parts required.

“Prices can vary significantly based on region, vehicle, parts availability and the choice of parts (e.g. premium parts vs economic parts).”

Legally, car owners can do all their own repairs

Unlike working on your home’s electrics, which a licensed electrician must do, car owners can carry out any and all repairs themselves. There are some conditions that car owners will need to meet, however.

For example, a spokesperson for the Tasmanian Department of State Growth told Compare the Market that any person can repair a vehicle as long as it remains compliant with the relevant vehicle standard.

“If modifications are completed it requires certification via the Approved Vehicle Certification Scheme and if a repaired vehicle is on the Written Off Vehicle Register, it is required to be inspected by an Approved Motor Body Repairer,” they said.

Anyone carrying out their own car repairs must ensure it meets the rules and standards required by their state or territory.

Repairing a car for money? Extra rules apply

Generally, across Australia owners don’t need to be licensed to carry out repairs – so long as the repairs keep the car roadworthy and no money changes hands.

If money is involved, it’s a different issue entirely.

In Western Australia, a spokesperson for the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety told Compare the Market that anyone repairing a car as part of a business or when money changes hands (such as a service for a friend) must be licensed. People doing their own repairs or doing it for family and friends for free aren’t affected.

A spokesperson for the South Australian Department for Infrastructure and Transport meanwhile explained the difference in legal governance for the Festival State.

“Owners can legally carry out repairs on their vehicle in South Australia, provided the vehicle is safe to operate on-road and does not pose a risk to any road users,” they told Compare the Market.

“There are no specific regulations around the quality of work provided by professional mechanics and repairers. However, individual operators and the Australian Consumer Law may provide some consumer guarantees on the standard of service and works provided”

“Whether repairs are undertaken by individuals or professionals, all vehicles must be roadworthy to be registered and driven in South Australia.”

In contrast to South Australia, New South Wales has specific regulations for car mechanics under the Motor Dealers and Repairers Regulation 2014. This legislation has specific classifications for different types of repairs and mechanics, as well as standards for how car repairs should be conducted.1

Additionally, any light vehicle over five years old requires yearly safety inspections.2

Brought to you by Compare the Market, making it easier to compare Car Insurance in Australia.

Indicative prices and commentary provided by Qualified Mechanic Kane Tierney, Fleet Manager at AutoGuru. All indicative service pricing at the mechanic includes the cost of parts and labour. All prices and costs subject to change.

Compare the Market commissioned Pure Profile to survey 506 Australian, 1,006 American and 1,009 Canadian adults in April 2022.

Sources

1. Motor Dealers and Repairers Regulation 2014. NSW legislation, New South Wales Government. 2021.

2. Safety checks and vehicle inspections. New South Wales Government. 2021.