I’ve been working on cars for many years, really since I was a kid learning as my dad did things. And I’m honestly not sure how to answer this question. I suppose it’s really relevant to see it from the context of what the end goal is...so maybe there are multiple answers.

Goal: Save Money on Repair Costs

There are items that one can learn that can help save on common repair costs. Sure, you may not want to take on replacing a timing belt, or swapping a transmission, but some things beyond a tire change.

The key here is that you most likely will not become a seasoned DIY’er, so you will have to accept the comfort level of where YOU draw your limitations, and be reasonable with them.

That said, a good starting list for this goal would be:

- Do your own oil changes. You can save a fair bit of money over the life of the car. Once you own the RIGHT tools and amortize that cost, the overall cost of a synthetic oil change can be half of what a dealer would charge.

- Maintain and Change your battery - Assuming you don’t own a car with a fancy battery that requires computer programming during replacement, you can learn basic steps here. How to clean and properly tighten terminals, how to swap the battery, etc. A bad battery connection can cause a lot of issues. Replacing a wire or terminal can be a few bucks of what would otherwise be over $100 at a shop.

- Replace brake pads on disc brakes - Again, starting small. A pad change on a disc brake setup is fair easy to learn. It gets harder if you are replacing a caliper or line (opening the hydraulics and then needing to bleed), or doing drum brake shoe / wheel cylinder replacement. Disc brake pads are simple. Honestly, so are the others as you build up to them, but again, you need to be rational about what you are comfortable or wish to do.

Shops often charge for pad changes starting at $80/per axle, and most likely the pads they use are the cheapest $15 set. You can buy a great set for cheaper than the shop chargers, and DIY.

- Tire Rotation - Simple and easy really, but you should know how to properly torque your lugnuts. So some additional tools needed to do this job right. You’ll save money and do it better than the crummy tire shop down the road.

- Invest in basic tools - Get some decent tools to handle small jobs. A nice set of screw drivers, wrenches, and ratches. A torque wrench to properly torque wheel lugnuts, and other bolts. (Tool talk is a HUGE rabbit hole. Basically you will never have “all the tools”.)

- Get a basic repair manual for your car, and join a forum. You can learn alot, and ask basic questions to be smarter before you take the car to a shop. Can save money!

Goal: I want to learn more about cars and wrenching

In this case, if you are starting with limited knowledge, you’ll start with the list above. But you have a desire to not just save money, but enjoy it and wish to learn more how a car works. So, you’ll invest more in it, and take it further. Buy better or more tools, and plan to learn more basic concepts.

- Be active on the forum you joined - Actively research more about your car, and read/comment on technical items. Learn from what others do.

- Get a better repair manual - invest in the actual Service Manual for your car. It will guide you on a ton. Consider a subscription to alldatadiy as an example or if you have more than one car.

- Invest in some key tools - aside from the quality jacks, jackstands, etc you already would have from the above list, you may invest in more tools. Like an air compressor/air tools, or a lithium impact gun, better socket set, torque wrenches in various sizes, flare wrenches, pullers, etc etc. Like I said, tools are a rabbit hole!

- Brakes - Replacing calipers, doing drum brakes, replacing lines, rotors, etc. You’ll find some springs, bigger bolts, more torque values to factor in, and the need to learn to bleed brakes properly. All easy stuff but things you’ll be more interested in learning if your goal is to enjoy this.

- Spark plugs - These are easy to do, sometimes. An inline-4 with them on top? Usually easy. A tranverse V6? Often horrendous! A Ford 5.4l 3V?? Don’t be scared, but be scared at the same time! Remember that torque wrench? Most crank ‘em down, but you’ll follow procedures and actually torque them correctly. You can learn about spark gap, colder/warmer plugs, etc.

- Coolant changes - Why pay for this, you can DIY. Replacing hoses is easy while at it. Be sure to clean it up! And watch your pets, its extremely toxic for them.

- Change a radiator - Sure thing, you got your service manual and extra tools!

- Wheel bearings? You may need a few extra tools, and your service manual, but many cars use bolt in unit bearings, they are simple to replace. Maybe its an older car with tapered roller bearings, they are fun to learn to do. Maybe you have a knuckle with press-in bearings? Well, you’ll maybe need help pressing those out/in...

- Many other things - there are lots of “intermediate” jobs you can learn to tackle as you go.

Goal: I want to learn advanced things, maybe even restore an old car!

Now you are REALLY into this car work thing! You want to go all in, you want to do as much as you can yourself. You envy David Tracy and want a bunch of Jeeps in your yard, and know you can fix them!

Prepare to invest in some more tools, or join local groups to meet like minded folks. You can borrow alot of tools from parts stores, but you’ll probably get into it and want to own some of them.

- Ball Joints - You’ll learn how to use that balljoint press doing these, but feel good you aren’t paying someone to do this. And then you realize that balljoint press can be used so many other places, pressing out ujoints for instnace.

- Suspension Bushings - You can pretty much rebuild an entire suspension, and that balljoint press will even help you press out bushings.

- Struts/ Sprints - You can kill yourself mishandling a strut assembly/car spring. Learn to do it right and use the right tools.

- Welding - Learn it, but be rational. Dont do your first “booger welds” building a custom frame that’ll split in half b/c you didn’t know how to weld and used a $90 flux core unit from Harbor Freight. Eventually you can get there, and you can also learn to replace body panels on that old car you want to restore.

- Restore a car - Take on a big project! You’ll learn a ton as you go, but it can be daunting and alot of keep track of. It won’t always be cheap either! Like anything there are levels here. Some people “restore” cars by fixing things as they drive it. Some go crazy and blow it all apart, and repair, refinish, or replace every part, nut, bolt, etc.

- Repair any/all systems in car - brakes, steering, suspension, electrical, driveline, engine, etc. You can get into any or all of them. It just takes time to learn, patience, and a good guide. The key is to know what you want someone else do as a professional, and where you want to try it yourself. Realize sometimes part of learning is that you’ll break something worse, maybe cost more money than you thought. Or the dreaded get it towed to a shop to be fixed after you try. It happens. Embrace it, failure is learning. But be rational and safe - you are working on something that CAN and WILL become dangerous from a shoddy/improper repair.

I think my main stress here is learn what you are comfortable doing and learn to do it the RIGHT way. Some of the “tricks” people do and show on YouTube may be great, but just as many of them are dangerous and absolutely improper. That’s why I often stress people use and follow a manufacturer service manual - if you aren’t sure exactly what you are doing, heck even if you are sure, it’s the guide of how to do it right.