TM reader Teacher commented on a post recently, sharing his experience in doing a brake job:
“Last week I changed the front brakes on my 2005 Grand Caravan. Bendix brake pads cost me $49. The local Dodge dealer and another garage both wanted $150+ do to the same thing. The only problem was that the calipers were held onto the brackets by bolts that required a 7mm hex head. Guess which size is commonly left out of sets of Allen wrenches? The jerk at the Dodge place first told me he didn’t know what size hex head the calipers took. When I asked if his manager would know, he fessed up to it being a 7mm, but had no idea where I could get one. Of course they would be glad to do the brake job for me. Nope. Good old NAPA. The 3/8″ drive hex bit in 7mm was $4.99, USA made.”
If you’re new to auto repair — but love the idea of saving lots of dough doing it yourself — read on past the jump for a few tips on locating the info you need to get the job done. And if you’re an old-hand at car maintenance, jump in and share your experience via comments!
When I first started working on my car, it took me a long time to figure out just who I could ask for help. I’ll save you a lot of time: consider their motivation before you ask. For example, if you ask a dealer parts manager about what kind of tools you need to do your own repairs, they’re going to blow you off. Their job is to sell parts, and that’s what they’re motivated to do. A tool retailer — or as in Teacher’s case, a parts house that also sells tools — can sell you the tool, so they’re motivated to answer your question.
But if you’re really stuck — like you can’t remove the part to take it down and try out tools on it — you can always, um, twist the situation around a little.
For example, you might try this: call up the a dealer parts department and ask, “Do you have a front caliper for a 2005 Grand Caravan in stock?” When they come back and say “yes,” you could respond, “Hey — mine looks a bit strange. Are you sure it’s the right one? Mine has 8mm hex bolts. Does yours? What size are yours?” He might think you’re a little wacky, but he’ll probably answer the question. Try the same thing with another parts house.
Of course, the best way to deal with these situations is to form a good relationship with a parts house near you. I’ll admit that we’re pretty good friends with the guys at an O’Reilly’s up the street from the TM shop, and after buying thousands of dollars in parts and tools from them, we can now call up and ask questions like, “Have you ever seen one of these things before? What the hell is it?”
Another way you can improve your chances of convincing retailers to shorten your search by sharing their knowledge is to give them the (correct!) impression that you’re a hard-worker as opposed to a cheapskate. These guys bust their asses doing a tough job, and they respect those who do the same. (And, not surprisingly, don’t respect those who don’t.) Along those lines, don’t be afraid to go into the shop with dirty hands. They’ll understand. Also, be respectful when you ask questions — especially those that aren’t going to increase their sales at all.
Finally, remember that in the end it’s your responsibility to figure all this stuff out — not theirs. If no one will give you the time of day about parts, you may have to actually research it yourself. To save cash, start with the web. Google makes a pretty darn decent auto manual, though you have to remember to take whatever you find with a grain of salt. But consider this: in a few weeks, if someone else put “2005 Grand Caravan brake job caliper hex bolt” into Google, they’ll probably find Teacher’s comment here on TM and know it’s a 7mm.
You can also buy a manual for your car, or sign up for AllDataDIY.com’s service. You’ll always have better luck asking questions of those in the know if they know that the answer isn’t readily available in the manual.
Of course, I’d guess that TM readers have a lot more of these kind of experiences that they can share, and hopefully they will!