Business Idea: On-Demand Garage Rental + DIY Car Repair Lessons

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The NY Times has a new article They Supply the Garage, You Bring the Elbow Grease where you rent space hourly or daily for DIY car repairs. The article referenced GarageTime as a place to search for a residential or commercial garage space in your area. Most commercial spaces include lifts, while others are essentially listing their large driveway with an electrical connection and perhaps an air compressor. Be prepared to sign a liability waiver.

My related business idea is to use the space to teach people basic car repair skills like how to change your oil, replace brake pads, replace headlights, repair dents, or perform common after-market modifications like LED headlight swaps. YouTube has tons of how-to content, but I think there is still a market for someone to be walked through the process the first time. For example, someone could list their space and also upcharge for some lessons. The next time, the customer could just do it themselves.

I’m a bit surprised at the timing of this article, as isn’t the stereotypical Millennial is supposed to just stare at their phones and not do anything dirty with their hands? I also keep hearing that cars are becoming more and more like computers on wheels. I suppose it’s a nice little reminder that DIY is still alive, and some people still like to save a few bucks and do things for themselves.

You don’t even need a garage for many basic maintenance tasks that can save you money. For example, here’s a Youtube video I found the other day that shows you how easy it is to change both the engine air filter and cabin air filter on my 2015 Toyota Sienna. Your dealership shop will charge you at least $100 an hour for this knowledge. You’ll also probably be charged more than the $12 for the cabin air filter and $11 for the engine air filter that Amazon is asking. (These seem to have good reviews, but OEM parts are also available online.)

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  1. Stuart Weissman says

    Your timing is impeccable. Yesterday, I just replaced the air filters and the cabin air filters on our two Mazdas, which I perform once per year. These 3-minute each actions DO save $100s per year. You can add the battery replacement to the your key FOB as another place where dealers/service people really rip you off. Especially considering that you need no tools besides a common screwdriver to perform these services.

    When I was younger, I used to do 90% of the maintenance on my cars myself. But the savings in an oil-change or a brake job (where you need specialized tools) just isn’t there anymore as I can frequently find coupons which make purchasing those services a much smarter use of my time.

    If you have a Firestone around, make sure you get their credit card. I can often get oil changes w/ the tire rotation for $16 for example. Once could hardly purchase the filter and oil for much less than that before you even get your hands dirty. I just got my brakes done on both vehicles as they offered a 25% any service. I was able to take that discount and combine it with a local sale they were running for an impossible price.

    You can frequently get wiper blades for free with rebates as well as radiator fluid/antifreeze. Heck, you can even buy a cheapo car computer code reader from Harbor Freight (real low quality Chinese-made goods, so be gentle) for $30 for when the check engine light goes on. This can save you thousands of dollars as often it is extremely easy to pinpoint the problem and repair it yourself.

    Finally. Be wary of any lifetime offers such as on alignment or brakes. These are always upsold by the major chains and they are both huge rip offs. The brakes don’t include the rotors (which are the most expensive part of a break job) which will always need replacing and even moreso with the rock hard brake shoes they use when you do a lifetime contract. Alignment goes off the moment you hit a pothole, curb or similar. An alignment is required every time you purchase new tires. As long as you rotate your tires every 10K miles, then the misalignment will have little to no impact on tire wear.

    Finally, I do all of my oil changes about 30% later than the manual recommends. Especially when the car is newer (after the first change). For reasons unknown, the oil change schedule is much less frequent in Europe for the same cars. Me thinks, they want you to profit the dealer’s service center.

  2. Thanks, Jonathan!
    Agree – saves money to change simple items: head lights, wipers and air filters.

    Amazing what you find via you tube for the more complex maintenance. Expanding on the business idea – seems like a group could meet and learn together. Run your business like a class.

  3. Stuart, I like most of your advice.. but you’re saying you don’t need alignments ever? I bought my alignment plan from Tires Plus, where it’s about $80 for a one-time alignment or $180 for a lifetime plan. So if you need more than two alignments, you come out ahead. When getting new tires, I can take it to TP for an alignment. I figure getting the alignment checked and adjusted there (say, annually), can improve tire wear, etc.

    The air filter is super easy to replace.. but the cabin filter can be a big pain on some vehicles. On my wife’s 2012 Altima, it’s a bear. I had to contort myself upside down on the passenger seat floorboard. to squeeze it in behind the stereo.

  4. I would totally pay to have someone walk me through a repair on my car, but I guess then I wouldn’t need to keep coming back to them in the future 🙂

    Anecdote: the first time I changed the oil in my car, there were a lot of little details I couldn’t find good information on (online and in Haynes/Chilton manuals): should I get a floor jack or ramps? Where should I put the jack? Why shouldn’t I use the scissor jack that came with the car? How do I undo these stupid plastic fasteners? Which size filter wrench should I buy (if any)? What are crush washers, and do I need them? And so on.

    I’m sure a pro could have answered all my questions in like 5 minutes, and I would have gladly paid them $100 for the privilege.

    Actually, what I really want is some sort of car repair advocate who can tell me if a shop is ripping me off or pushing unnecessary service. It took me several years to find a mechanic I trusted (and who didn’t screw up really obvious stuff, like not replacing the oil cap or breaking my turn signal!), and now I’ve moved and have to start the process all over again…

  5. I probably represent over 100 thousands of people out there when I say I would definitely get a crash course or lesson on basic car maintenances such as oil/ tire / filter change etc. if there were places to go and learn these things.

  6. Adam Lossing says

    As an automotive professional of several years, and as a comparatively young person who considers “disruptive” business models by nature, my $.02:

    The biggest concern I bring up is liability. I would happily show someone the tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way, but where does my responsibility end? If a “student/customer” irreparably damages a critical engine component, legally that puts me in a spot. That doesn’t go to mention (especially in places like CA) the immense number of regulations governing who/what/when repairs can be done legally. I couldn’t legally show someone how to add A/C to the system for example, because of how the law is written governing repair of that system (it must be leak checked/diagnosed/repaired before adding a known pollutant to the atmosphere).

    This doesn’t go into the multitude of potential issues raised with safety. At the basic level, imagine liability if I “show” you how to install brake pads, but then they’re put on backwards or incorrectly and cause an accident? Something as simple as not closing a good securely can result in fatal accidents. You pay a professional to assume this liability and risk, for the technicians years of training, the shopkeepers insurance, formal regulations and licensing fees, and informal acts such as good-faith warranty repairs if a technician makes an earnest mistake. A botched oil change on a diesel engine can put an owner out 40k for a motor and no recourse.

    Currently, many smaller independent auto repair shops host weekend workshops or “lunch and learns” in a non-formal NO PAYMENT setting, where there is no expressed or implied liability. Many customers place a huge value on this, and it is becoming necessary to be competitive in the age of “YouTube Mechanics” (not a dig, just a common industry reference). Petition your local neighborhood shop for this kind of service, many owners are always looking for ways that they can engage with their potential clients.

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