Do-It-Yourself Matrix

How do you know if a certain repair is right for you?

Great question.

In our opinion, there are three factors to consider:

  • How dangerous is the repair to life and limb if something goes wrong during or after the job?
  • The risk that you might cause permanent, unalterable damage to your car.
  • The degree of complexity of the repair, or the need for very special and expensive tools.

To help you decide whether to attempt a specific repair, we've ranked many of the most common repairs in each of these three categories.

Car Talk's Do-It-Yourself Matrix
Each of the repairs listed below is assigned a risk ranking of Low (green), Medium (yellow) or High (red). Green signifies the least-risky DIY repair with red being the riskiest. For more on these rankings, click here.
RepairPersonal SafetyCar DamageComplexity
Replace windshield wipers
Replace spark plug(s)
Change oil
Change air filter
Change a belt
Change a battery
Change a headlight
Rotate tires
Rotate an alternator
Replace a starter motor
Replace a radiator
Replace a water pump
(if timing belt runs pump)
Change a timing belt
Change fuel pump
Replace brake fluid
Replace fuel filter
Replace fuel hoses
Replace radiator coolant
Replace automatic transmission fluid
Replace brake linings (drum brakes)
Replace disc brakes, pads
Replace brake rotors
Replace brake master cylinder
Replace brake line
Replace CV boot
Replace CV joint
Replace wheel bearings
Replace muffler
Replace exhaust pipe
Replace struts or shock absorbers
Replace ignition module
Replace front-end components (tie rods, ball joint, etc.)
Replace steering rack
Replace head gasket
Posted on 3/31/05
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