Author Topic: Auto Repair DIY Question: Can I do this myself of do I have to take it in?  (Read 1950 times)

TryingtoFIREinNYC

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Hi folks!
Background - this is my first car, previously I owned many motorcycles which I did all brake/tire/electrical/drivetrain repairs to myself, short of engine work, which I only did once with a skilled friend's assistance.
The car is a '99 BMW 328i (yes I know it's not a Prius, but it is my one luxury, I bought it with cash, it was a steal, and I only drive it weekends in the summer to visit my folks outside the city.....it stays parked for free 5 months a year).
Mechanic says I need new shocks and struts, and wants to charge $1000 for parts and labor.  First off, is this outlandish? As this is my first car, I don't have much to compare this quote to.  He's a good guy and the work is excellent, but I know he's not known for being cheap.
Looking online I see enough DIY videos that it seems like something I could do in a weekend, however, I've never even changed the brakes on the car, so I have no idea how difficult it actually is to get up in there etc etc.
Don't want to ask on a car mod forum, because posters will no doubt claim everything is easy etc etc because they are car people.  Would rather get the opinion from some sensible folks who can weigh frugality against safety etc.  ---

So, is changing out the shocks and struts a weekend shade mechanic job? Or should I just bite the bullet and drop it off? I'd like to become more knowledgable about DIY car repair, but I don't want my first foray to end with me having to have the car towed into the mechanic because I pulled stuff out and couldn't get it back in.....or have the wheels fall off on the highway. 

Appreciate your thoughts!

O.

phred

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This is something I would take in.  If you don't have a hoist, the job can take all day.  Plus, you may need axle jacks to keep the axle from dropping.  Ever use an automotive spring compressor?  Coil springs are under tremendous tension.  Just my opinion.

TryingtoFIREinNYC

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Thanks! I do not have a hoist, jacks,etc. Figured w an air compressor and the included jack I would be okay, but I think I'll take your advice (and that of a friend's Motörhead brother) and not have this one be my first project---
O.

sokoloff

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I would DIY this, but I've been wrenching as an amateur for 30 years and there's not much I wouldn't do. As a novice, I tackled this job on a VW Rabbit and it was a right pain in the ass because I didn't know what I didn't know and I lacked some of the critical tools.

Nowadays, you can buy pre-assembled strut assemblies ($191 for the pair on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/1999-2000-Front-Complete-Struts-Assembly/dp/B00STS7IM8 ) and I would probably go that route. That turns the job into a fairly simple R&R job, then if there are any eccentric bolts or other adjustments in the car's alignment disturbed as part of the job, use a tape measure and a smartphone to get the alignment "close enough" to drive it to an alignment shop for a $100 alignment.

If you have to ask, you don't want to the part-by-part replacement where you disassemble the strut assemblies. It's much less work (and very much less risk of injury from the springs) if you replace the assemblies wholesale and I'd consider that a "2 wrenches [out of 4]" job.

Note that the $191 pair is not for OEM quality components. Sachs-Boge or Bilstein are top quality parts; the parts above are perfectly usable, but you may notice a ride quality or longevity difference. I wouldn't expect to get another 18 years out of those parts; you might also not need to... ;) AutohausAZ or other suppliers will sell OE quality parts as well, but at a much higher price point.
« Last Edit: March 09, 2017, 12:10:48 PM by sokoloff »

JLee

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I would DIY this, but I've been wrenching as an amateur for 30 years and there's not much I wouldn't do. As a novice, I tackled this job on a VW Rabbit and it was a right pain in the ass because I didn't know what I didn't know and I lacked some of the critical tools.

Nowadays, you can buy pre-assembled strut assemblies ($191 for the pair on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/1999-2000-Front-Complete-Struts-Assembly/dp/B00STS7IM8 ) and I would probably go that route. That turns the job into a fairly simple R&R job, then if there are any eccentric bolts or other adjustments in the car's alignment disturbed as part of the job, use a tape measure and a smartphone to get the alignment "close enough" to drive it to an alignment shop for a $100 alignment.

If you have to ask, you don't want to the part-by-part replacement where you disassemble the strut assemblies. It's much less work (and very much less risk of injury from the springs) if you replace the assemblies wholesale and I'd consider that a "2 wrenches [out of 4]" job.

Note that the $191 pair is not for OEM quality components. Sachs-Boge or Bilstein are top quality parts; the parts above are perfectly usable, but you may notice a ride quality or longevity difference. I wouldn't expect to get another 18 years out of those parts; you might also not need to... ;) AutohausAZ or other suppliers will sell OE quality parts as well, but at a much higher price point.

I would DIY as well (I've also been wrenching for ~15 years).  Suspension is one of the easiest things to do on most vehicles, IMO.

JLee

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marielle

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How much is it for parts and labor individually? Does the $1000 include the alignment? I can't comment too much on whether you should DIY or not since I've never done it, but others may help you if they know how much labor you are being charged. Another thought is that you can bring your own parts in and save money there potentially.

Just Joe

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Thanks! I do not have a hoist, jacks,etc. Figured w an air compressor and the included jack I would be okay, but I think I'll take your advice (and that of a friend's Motörhead brother) and not have this one be my first project---
O.

I've used the included scissors jack on cars for various tasks. Never use that jack. Spend the money for a proper trolley jack (or bottle jack if you don't have much budget). Even then use a jack stand or other materials to prevent the car from falling on your head if the jack falls over.

Once upon a time many years ago there was a group of us guys that made every mistake in the safety book. Never lost any fingers or limbs but we broke all the rules. Those jacks are unstable, bend, sway and fall over. They are good for only a few uses (flat tires) in my opinion.

I've done shocks and struts in my garage but honestly - for a newbie - you're probably better off paying the pro unless you have a space to work, budget to buy tools and then store tools and have plenty of time.  Just watch the pro and learn a few things. You'll be better informed about what gets done.

I am making the assumption that you don't own a proper jack and a basic set of tools.

Get a few different estimates on the job to compare prices. Make sure they aren't putting budget basic parts on your car too.
« Last Edit: March 12, 2017, 12:09:36 PM by Tasty Pinecones »

rothwem

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Shocks and struts are not a hard DIY, but I'll echo the guy above--DO NOT use that scissor jack to hold the car up while you work on the car.  That "widowmaker" jack is just enough to get a wheel off the ground so you can change it on the side of the road.  I tried to rotate my tires using one of those and the jack just collapsed, the car landed on the brake rotors and the jack got stuck under the car.  I'm REALLY glad I wasn't working under it when that happened.  I had to call a friend to bring a jack over, and when we pulled out the scissor jack from under the car, I realized that the nut that threads onto the threaded rod to hold the car up was MADE OF PLASTIC and it just stripped.  Fuuuck that. 

Use jackstands and a high quality jack to lift the car.  Rent spring compressors for free from autozone. Get new strut mounts for the front and new upper/lower shock mounts in the rear when you change the struts/shocks.  BMW mounts everything to rubber, which makes them ride well, but the rubber wears out over time and you get unstoppable clunking every time you go over a bump if you don't change them.  Since changing them is as much trouble as changing the shocks and struts, and the lifetime is similar to the shocks/struts, you might as well change them while you're in there. 

JLee

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Shocks and struts are not a hard DIY, but I'll echo the guy above--DO NOT use that scissor jack to hold the car up while you work on the car.  That "widowmaker" jack is just enough to get a wheel off the ground so you can change it on the side of the road.  I tried to rotate my tires using one of those and the jack just collapsed, the car landed on the brake rotors and the jack got stuck under the car.  I'm REALLY glad I wasn't working under it when that happened.  I had to call a friend to bring a jack over, and when we pulled out the scissor jack from under the car, I realized that the nut that threads onto the threaded rod to hold the car up was MADE OF PLASTIC and it just stripped.  Fuuuck that. 

Use jackstands and a high quality jack to lift the car.  Rent spring compressors for free from autozone. Get new strut mounts for the front and new upper/lower shock mounts in the rear when you change the struts/shocks.  BMW mounts everything to rubber, which makes them ride well, but the rubber wears out over time and you get unstoppable clunking every time you go over a bump if you don't change them.  Since changing them is as much trouble as changing the shocks and struts, and the lifetime is similar to the shocks/struts, you might as well change them while you're in there.

I had to rescue a friend once who a scissor jack failure when she was changing a flat tire in a parking lot. Can confirm, those jacks suck.

GreenEggs

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YouTube is your friend when it comes to working on cars.   A video is worth a million words.  Watch a few different ones, covering the same procedure, to see who's videos are best & to make sure they didn't skip something that you need to see.

I've been doing minor mechanical stuff since I was a teenager, about 40 years, and I just can't believe how great Youtube is for showing how to fix things.

Btw, it's great for appliances too.

PDXTabs

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I have done shocks/struts on maybe three cars now? I would definitely do the job myself, but already have all the tools. You will need a proper floor jack and at least two jack stands.

BlueMR2

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$1000 for that on a BMW 3 series is downright cheap.  I'd expect to spend more than that just in parts doing it myself.

Not a hard job, but you need to be safety conscious and invest in the proper tools and block out enough time.  I've done (with a couple other people) harder cars in around 2 hours, but 3-4 is more typical.  The worst one took 2 of us 12 hours though.

Posthumane

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Being a car guy, this is definitely a job I would tackle myself... BUT! There may be a requirement for some "specialty" tools that you may not have and therefore would have to buy or rent. The jack and jackstands are imperative, as has already been mentioned. Pre-assembled strut assemblies make it into an a simple unbolt - bolt on job, but you may have some issues with corrosion on bolts in an 18 year old car. You may need an impact wrench with the appropriately sized impact sockets, or at least a very good and large breaker bar (not terribly expensive). Definitely soak all the bolts in penetrating oil before trying to pry them loose. If everything goes well it'll probably only be a one day job, but if you strip/break bolts you could be stuck with a half taken apart car until you get the problem sorted.

$1000 is not a bad price for parts and labour if you don't want to do it yourself. While I wouldn't go as far as BlueMR2 in saying that's how much parts cost, it definitely sounds like he's only charging you for 3-4 hours of labour.

jamaha

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That price is reasonable for that work on that car.  I'm a service manager at a national auto repair chain, and this sounds about right for mid-range aftermarket parts on a European car.  Struts are stupid expensive.

One thought, why do you "need" these repairs?  Are they leaking?  Failed a bounce-test?  Just a suggestion by mileage?  Suspension repairs can make a huge difference in an older car and be totally worth it, but is this a "do it now or Crash/Burn/Die" repair or a, "this is a good idea, try to do it sometime in the next year" repair?

If you've worked on your own bikes then you've got a lot of the basic skills, and probably a decent set of tools.  I'd say give it a shot.  As others said above, you can do the shocks yourself.  They are pretty straightforward, and you should save about $200 over paying a shop.  The struts are trickier, but worst case, you have it towed to your mechanic  and ruefully shake your head and have him fix it for you.

I find working on my own and friends' cars outside of work very rewarding.  It's a handy skill to have, and it feels great to help your friends save a bunch of money.

Car Jack

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Having done dozens of these changes, I'll say that while it's not like rebuilding an engine, it isn't necessarily "easy".  There are things you won't know first time around.  But I helped my son his first time and he swapped out suspension components a number of times after that.

Do you have an active car club around who does garage days.  This used to be really common among even internet based clubs.  Since it doesn't sound like you have the tools (a floor jack is a must), I don't want to go recommending you buy all the tools for one suspension change.

Auto Zone will "rent" you spring compressors.  If you have an air compressor and impact gun, you can get the top nut off the struts.  Otherwise, they usually have a hex key fitting to hold the strut shaft, then use a wrench on the nut.

As much of a DIY nut as I am, I will suggest this......don't do anything.  What?  Well, the springs are fine, otherwise the mechanic would have said "Zomg, the springs, they be broken, we all gonna die!!!".  Worn struts will result in poorer than normal handling.  But go drive a brand new Camry and it likely won't handle as well as your car on shot struts handles.  It's not unsafe.  Ride in any old Crown Vic taxi with 400k miles (and probably original shocks) and you'll understand how not-bad your car is.


sequoia

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Hi folks!
Background - this is my first car, previously I owned many motorcycles which I did all brake/tire/electrical/drivetrain repairs to myself, short of engine work, which I only did once with a skilled friend's assistance.
The car is a '99 BMW 328i (yes I know it's not a Prius, but it is my one luxury, I bought it with cash, it was a steal, and I only drive it weekends in the summer to visit my folks outside the city.....it stays parked for free 5 months a year).
Mechanic says I need new shocks and struts, and wants to charge $1000 for parts and labor.  First off, is this outlandish? As this is my first car, I don't have much to compare this quote to.  He's a good guy and the work is excellent, but I know he's not known for being cheap.
Looking online I see enough DIY videos that it seems like something I could do in a weekend, however, I've never even changed the brakes on the car, so I have no idea how difficult it actually is to get up in there etc etc.
Don't want to ask on a car mod forum, because posters will no doubt claim everything is easy etc etc because they are car people.  Would rather get the opinion from some sensible folks who can weigh frugality against safety etc.  ---

So, is changing out the shocks and struts a weekend shade mechanic job? Or should I just bite the bullet and drop it off? I'd like to become more knowledgable about DIY car repair, but I don't want my first foray to end with me having to have the car towed into the mechanic because I pulled stuff out and couldn't get it back in.....or have the wheels fall off on the highway. 

Appreciate your thoughts!

O.

In the same boat (different car than yours). I bought a Lexus convertible in cash (not Prius - feel free to face punch me). I am splurging and always want a convertible, and got a decent deal on it. It need shocks. Lexus OEM shocks are like $200 per corner. Local garage wants $1300 for labor ONLY. To make matter worse, using spring compressor scared me to death - so even if I DIY, I would take these into a local garage and let them install the shocks. I looked up different options. Figure out I can buy an adjustable coilover for $650 (coilover already come preassembled, so all I need is adjust the height and bolt it on). I am in the middle of this job now - got the front done in ~4 hr with plenty of breaks, including a beer break, and goofing off - I have a 6 yr old that stopped me every 10 min haha. The rears should be easier - will do this next weekend. This is the first time I have to change this type of suspension, but I have done suspension work on other car, just not this type. Do a lot of research on youtube, and join a forum for your car. Most forum has someone who has done this, and post step by step, if you are lucky, even with pictures. There are always guys willing to help a newbie online. Good luck!
« Last Edit: April 18, 2017, 07:43:36 AM by sequoia »

slowsynapse

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You have a model E46 BMW to help you when you are searching for repairs.  I would actually look at some specific E46 forums like bimmerfest.com or E46fanatics.com.  A lot of people post really good DIY procedures and you can decide for yourself if it is in your skill range or not.  This would be opposed to letting someone tell you it is easy.  I learned to do a lot of repairs with no background but there are still many repairs that I think are beyond my skills, tools or both.  Also, there are a lot of videos specific to the E46 as it is a very popular, long lived car model. 

I didn't see it mentioned, but were you actually having ride problems with your car or were you getting something else repaired and were told that you needed new shocks and struts?  A lot of mechanics will say something needs to be replaced simply because of mileage but on an 18 year old car, I drive stuff until it breaks unless I think it will ruin my car.  This does not apply to belts, oil and other fluid changes IMHO.

TryingtoFIREinNYC

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Follow up on this:
On all your good advice, and realizing my lack of necessary tools, I decided not to wade into this and satisfied the urge to tinker w the car by fixing the non-functioning fog lights and replacing the disintegrated back speakers.  I also asked a gearhead friend his opinion, which was that my mechanic was looking to do some pre-pre-preventative maintenance, and that I had a few thousand more miles before I needed the work done. 

And I found a different BMW mechanic who'll do the labor for $350 if I bring the parts, so if anyone in the NYC area with a guilty pleasure BMW needs a cheap mechanic in Brooklyn....let me know!!

O.