Abandon Hope, DIY Mechanics: Modern Cars Aren’t Made For You

Image of a lady changing a car wheel
DIY car maintenance is much harder than it used to be unless you have manufacturing training and special tools.

DIY car maintenance used to be a pretty routine sight. Changing a headlamp or replacing a set of brake pads wasn’t rocket science and didn’t require manufacturer training or special tools.

Not any longer. Research carried out by automotive specialist, Warranty Direct, reveals that the DIY jobs of yesteryear are now not only almost impossible to carry out at home, but collectively cost motorists millions in garage bills.

The warranty provider’s annual study of garage labour rates shows that an hour of a professional technician’s time costs £96 on average, but soars to more than £200 for some car brands.

With specialist tools and diagnostic equipment now required to carry out some basic tasks, changing a front headlamp on the humble Renault Clio now takes a professional mechanic an astonishing 96 minutes.

Duncan McClure Fisher, managing director of Warranty Direct, said:

“The days of changing oil, filters and replacing light bulbs on the driveway are fast becoming a thing of the past – in some cases, they already are. New, more complicated technologies on cars are placing even more pressure on already strained household budgets.”

Here are some sample repair times for the UK’s top ten selling cars, in itself a revealing list — where are the French and Asian cars?

Example repair times for UK’s top 10 sellers

Make and Model 2013* Position in best-selling cars of
Change Engine
Oil and Filter
Change Front
Brake Pads
Ford Fiesta 1 30 mins 36 mins 42 mins
Vauxhall Corsa 2 36 mins 24 mins 42 mins
Ford Focus 3 30 mins 36 mins 42 mins
Vauxhall Astra 4 48 mins 24 mins 42 mins
VW Golf 5 54 mins 30 mins 42 mins
BMW 3 Series 7 1 hour 15 mins 36 mins
VW Polo 8 18 mins 30 mins 42 mins
Mercedes-Benz C-Class 9 54 mins 54 mins** 42 mins
BMW 1 Series 10 1 hour 15 mins 36 mins

Data courtesy of Warranty Direct

Saving money on car servicing by being hands-on is getting harder every year, and one reason for this is the constant march of technology. For example, just a few years ago, car lights (headlights, brake lights, indicators, etc) were pretty low tech. They were just basic bulbs that slotted into standard bulb holders. The only awkward thing about changing a bulb was sometimes getting your hand to it, especially for bulbs in the headlight cluster.

Now, cars are fitted with a high-tech array of LEDs, Xenon High Intensity Discharge systems (Xenon HID) and standard bulbs. The LEDs are often  fitted to lighting clusters that have to be replaced as a unit when anything goes wrong, while Xenon HID headlights carry strict ‘hands-off’ warnings due to the high voltages they use and the consequent risk of electrocuting yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing.

According to Warranty Direct, even the humble brake caliper can sometimes now require a manufacturer-specific diagnosis tool when brake pads are replaced. As for more complex jobs, like cambelt replacement, Warranty Direct’s advice (and mine) is to forget it — whereas in 1980, a game motorist could swap the timing belt on their Ford Escort in less than an hour, the same job today on a Focus requires almost three hours in a garage.

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