Ask the Readers: Fix it or Forget It? (Chance to win $20!)

By Linsey Knerl on 25 May 2010 54 comments

**Congrats to our winners!**

  • Guest - Constantly fixing things ourselves. I recently bought a book calle "Fix it, Clean it and Make it last" and I swear by it. My very first washing machine was a second hand one. It worked fine for a while but then stopped spinning. My husband was away on business for that week so I took the back off the machine and discovered the belt had gone. Off to the hardware where I bought a new belt which then had to be modified as we couldn't find an exact match. Fitted it and it worked beautifully for years. Also used a coke bottle top to replace a belt wheel in my upright hoover and that's still going. I pretty much fix things right up until they die completely. Helps too when I have a handy husband who is also a mechanic...When it comes to gas and electricity though I'll leave those for the experts.
  •  drmomoftwo If I don't know what I am doing, I will call an expert. Otherwise, it is DIY! #WBAsk @wisebread
     

My husband and I recently spent a grueling few days working on my front-loading HE washer. It had to be completely dismantled, drained of some of the stinkiest water you've ever encountered, and put back together — all to clean a tiny plastic trap that had gotten too full of quarters, small toys, and apparently, dental floss. The ordeal was nothing short of trying. We had to purchase a professional repair manual online for about $15, improvise on a few specialty tools that we did not personally own, and work around a screw that was stripped from the time the factory machined it in while being manufactured. Why did we go through all this instead of calling out a professional? It was, after all, 2 days of our time (something well worth hiring out). It was because we lived too far away to call someone for something we were capable of doing ourselves. A service call to our neck of the woods was over $100. (And that didn't include labor and the fun of having a stranger in my home.)

Do you have a DIY story where you fixed something that could have been handled just as well by a professional? Maybe your item was even still under warranty? How did you know you could handle it? When would you have given up and called in for professional reinforcement? We want to know what criteria you use to know if DIY is the best route to go.

How do you know when to call in an expert?

Is it based solely on cost? Experience? Time? Give us your honest experiences and opinions, and you'll be entered to win one of two $20 Amazon gift cards!

Feel free to link to a blog post, if you're written on this topic! We'll include it in our post upon the conclusion of our giveaway!

Win one of two $20 Amazon gift cards:

We're doing two giveaways — one for random comments, and another one for random tweets.

How to Enter:

  1. Post your answer in the comments below, or
  2. Tweet your answer. Include both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" in your tweet so we'll see it and count it.

If you're inspired to write a whole blog post OR you have a photo on flickr to share, please link to it in the comments or tweet it.

Giveaway Rules:

  • Contest ends Monday, May 31st at 11:59 pm CST. Winners will be announced after May 31st on the original post and via Twitter. Winners will also be contacted via email and Twitter Direct Message.
  • You can enter both drawings — once by leaving a comment and once by tweeting.
  • Only tweets that contain both "@wisebread" and "#WBAsk" will be entered. (Otherwise, we won't see it.)

Good luck!

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Guest's picture
Min

For me, it's based on difficulty/messiness. I'd rather use some of my emergency fund if that means I don't have to disassemble stuff or get dirty/greasy/wet.

Guest's picture
ryan

if I am absolutely sure I can fix whatever it is, I do it.

If not I call someone, isn't worth my aggravation.

Tried and tested. I have wasted too many days of my time on things that didn't work out.

Guest's picture

If it's on my repair plan, I call in an expert. :) That's the washer, the dryer, the furnace, the refrigerator and my main sewer drain.

The sewer drain with accompanying root clogs pays for the repair plan by itself every year.

Guest's picture
Katrina

Ugh! that sounds horrible. I would rather fix it myself if I thought it was worth the time, saved money, and was easily fixable myself. However, I wouldn't risk it if I thought I couldn't fix it right and would rather hire a professional. Not fixing something right could cost more money in the long run.

Guest's picture

Since I live in a rental, I get to call in on-site repair folk some of the time. However, for bigger projects that would be seen as extraneous requests - such as getting a knife stuck out of the knife drawer (it went through vertically into the drawer and got stuck!) - we spent three hours getting it unstuck rather than having to call in the team. It probably would have gone into our security deposit and been a much bigger issue at that point. For us, it's mostly based on cost - anything that costs extra above and beyond what is expected of general repairs we will give the good old DIY try before calling in reinforcements.

Guest's picture
Emily

Time and money, as well as experience. If it's going to take me too long to figure out how to fix it (plus the possibility that I might make the situation worse), then I'll definitely call in an expert, provided that it's not going to bust the bank. That's why it's important to shop around, but you still have to remember to check for quality of service too.

Guest's picture

Luckily, my husband's pretty handy, so we're able to make most common repairs ourselves. It's kind of a financial necessity, as we're both students on student loans and don't have much by the way of an emergency fund.

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

If I already know how to fix it, or if I can find simple directions and it looks like it will take less than 3 hours and very few items that I don't already have (one tool, a few spare parts that that I know the specs for), then I'll do it. Otherwise, I figure I'm at risk of making it worse and needing a more expensive professional job after I've messed with it.

Guest's picture
Jill

If my husband and I are inexperienced in the area or if it's a huge repair, we would call an expert. If it a small repair, we try to fix it ourselves. It is not even about saving money; I think there is an accomplished feeling when you can fix something yourself.

Guest's picture
Selene M.

I am definitely mechanically challanged, but thank goodness, my husband is not. He recently fixed my washer for $25 when it would have been at least $150 for someone to come out.

kg4rmt at arrl dot net

Guest's picture
Emily

I've put down laminate flooring, steamcleaned carpets & furniture, replaced kitchen faucets, & repaired the toilet.

The first thing I do is google for instructions. If it looks like something I can do, I make the attempt first (knowing full well that calling in a professional *might* be more expensive if I break it). I also evaluate how much a professional is going to charge me to take care of it.

Repairing the toilet is a prime example: I found the instructions to replace the wax seal online, kicked the kids out of the house and followed them to the letter. While the toilet was out, I also replaced the inner works with water-saving stuff. The plumber would've charged me $200 + travel, and all it took was my time.

Guest's picture
Beth

(1) I first looks it over to see if its an easy fix. (I just recently fixed a lamp this way.) (2) Then I go to the manual and check online if others have run into and fixed something similar. (3) Next I as around my more handy friends and family for ideas. (4) Finally I decide if hiring a repairman or replacement is most cost efficient. Generally I can fix most things by without ever reaching step 4.

Guest's picture
Courtney

I hire a professional if:
- It's dangerous (complex electrical problems, removing hazardous materials)
- It's highly complex and you're likely to violate building codes by doing it yourself
- It's something that will be done only once in a long time, and it requires specialized or expensive tools (we had a professional install our driveway gate for this reason)
- My hourly wage times the amount of time it takes me to learn about and complete the job is more than a professional's fee. (This sometimes happens, because the professional can do it more quickly.)
- The risk AND cost of having the project fail are both high. (ie. laying expensive marble tile that's ruined by cracking if you don't seat it PERFECTLY level, and building a balcony poorly can result in tragic consequences when someone stands on it.)

I do it myself if:
- It is something that will need to be done one or more times per year (like fixing simple plumbing problems)
- It requires simple tools, or inexpensive specialized ones
- It can be done safely
- If I don't know how to do it, I can learn relatively easily
- I have a personal interest in how it works. Taking apart your home or an appliance can teach you a lot!

Guest's picture
Kristin

If I can find a video of someone fixing it on youtube and i can get the tool to fix it from the local tool library, I'll give it a try.

Guest's picture
fairydust

If it's anything for which we've bought a maintenance plan, the repairman/woman gets the call right off the bat. In all other situations, my husband has proven time and again that he's an incredibly handy fellow at fixing things. We just had a our washing machine break, and I knew exactly what the problem was - the sensor that knows when the lid's down, to prevent the spin cycle from operating until the lid is closed, was busted. A simple little 50-cent switch, basically. I told him what it was, and bless his heart, he got the switch out, and rigged an override. Since we don't have any kids who might fall in and therefore I'm not as worried about the safety factor, this override works just fine with me - I still put the lid down :)

Guest's picture
Luke

I had a similar occurrence with a top loading wash machine, only twice. It was a small plastic join that spun the machine, that cost $15 to fix. (plus 2-3 hours of swearing and bloody knuckles) The only problem is that the second time I ended up messing the machine up, and we cant do full loads without it getting off balance. I need to get back under the machine to see if I can fix it.

Its best to call a pro if you look at it and can't figure out how it works, or doesn't look like its something you can fix, or it involves something deadly! worse case othewise is you break it even more, which your still stuck calling a pro to fix

Guest's picture

When I was young, I used to to attack every project on my own. Home maintenance, car repairs, small electronic devices, and yes I have even replaced a few belts on washers and a couple heater coils on dryers. However, now that I am getting older, I am finding solace in having someone else do these jobs.. not all of them.. just the ones that are a little bit more of a stretch for me.

Guest's picture
Jenna

if i know how, i do it. If not i google it, and if it seems like it'll take more than 2hrs, a professional should be called.

Guest's picture
KelR1

My husband and I aren't particularly handy around the house. Since this is our first home we're learning as we go along. That said, if something breaks down we do try to fix it ourselves first if at all possible before calling a repairperson simply to save money. If we truly can't do it ourselves we usually try repairing rather than replacing unless it's totally not worth it (the appliance is already so old and used and the cost of fixing it would be about the same or more than a new one). So, yes, we pretty much base our repair decisions on cost.

Guest's picture
Michael

I have no problem spending way too much time, having to buy specialty tools, breaking a replacement part and having to buy another one, etc.

Consider this recent expedition: my CV axle on my Honda Civic needed replacing. Taking it to the corner auto shop would be ~$200, and probably way more at the dealer. I got the axle for $50 on sale. Now I had most the tools on hand already, but if not the special tools would have set me back almost $100. These things can be tricky, and if you pull the joint out of place you've trashed your new axle. Fortunately for me this did not happen, as I learned by watching it on youtube. But if I had screwed that one up, I'd already be at $200 (50 + 50 + 100). And that $200 doesn't even include your time. So most people would say, "you woulda been better off at the auto repair shop!!!".

I respectfully disagree.

First, I enjoy doing things like this (although I have a hectic schedule myself), but also I learned how to do it myself. If one ever needs replacing again, I've got the skills in hand. Think of it as an investment in yourself. Secondly, it feels good doing something, and when you get done you can say "I did that".

Guest's picture

There are four factors that I believe play an significant role in determining whether you should attempt a job yourself, cost, value, time and safety. Cost is the savings that you gain by doing it yourself. Value is the repeatability of something. For example, if this is something that you need to do every 3 months, for the lifetime of the product then the upfront investment of $15 and a weekend may be well worth it. Time is self explanatory. You don't want to be do something that makes your effective $/hour < $1 for example. Safety matters because you really don't want to put yourself in danger. It ultimately becomes not worth it. Another commenter mentioned dealing with electrical. I think this is a great reason to bring in the experts and let them handle the situation.

Great post!

Guest's picture

My rule of thumb is- don't pay anyone else to do something that I can do myself. I'm a stay at home mom so I'll give all my time to fix something- if I can do it. I'm currently in the middle of teaching myself to photoshop so that I can make my own logo for my website instead of paying a professional to do it. In other words, free is the name of the game with me. If I can't do it, I see if I have any friends or family that will be able to do it for me for free in exchange for a service I can provide them. Only if even with all that, I can't get it fixed, do I bother paying a repairman to come.

Guest's picture
jay

we go by experience and cost. Fortunately my husband is very handy and grew up working for his grandfather (general contractor), and friend (HVAC guy) and owned his own landscaping business for while and has a hobby of working on cars. It really has saved us a ton of $$ over the years. We rarely have to hire out, and are often asked for help by friends!

Guest's picture
Jill

I'd google it, and if I don't think I or someone I know can do it, I'd call a professional

Guest's picture
Kandace

We always try DIY first if it makes sense to try it. My husband repaired our tv after it stopped working by downloading a manual from the internet and ordering a $30 part. Saved us a lot of $!

Guest's picture

My BF and I fixed the oven on our stove. The warranty had gone off, just to get the repair guy in the house was $100 plus parts and labor. We didn't really use the oven anyway so it wasn't a priority for us. All it took was 20 minutes of searching on the web, a phone call to the nearest Sears, the purchase of a $17.95 part, turning off the gas and unplugging the stove, praying to God that we wouldn't blow up the house, and about 3 hours of labor (would have been faster but I didn't want to turn the thing upside down and my fat hand had to be greased to fit into a tiny slit). Anyway, cost was minimal but the satisfaction of having beat the repairman out of at least $250 was PRICELESS! Oh, and we were able to make Thanksgiving dinner which occurred a week later.

But seriously, if I don't have a took for it and I can't find a repair manual online, and it's critical ( like heat in the middle of winter) I will call someone. If all three of those criteria are not met then it's game on. Doing this we've installed a garage door, repaired the dryer, fixed the computer and installed flooring. You should see the look on the mens' faces when I'm in Home Depot and it's not for a crafting project.

Guest's picture

Hey wisebread,

For me it was a total ripoff and annoyance beyond belief. My "new" car was intermittently not accepting gasoline (due to what I later found out to be was a simple fix) and I decided to bring it to my "trusted" mechanic. I brought it there and he said he found the general area of where the clog was but it would cost about $600 to replace all of the tubing. So I continued driving with the problem till I moved to my new apartment, and then the problem became permanent. The new mechanic went to the dealers site, got a very long list of things to check over and reduced the problem to a simple valve replacement, $600 later (If that doesn't work he recommended replacing the computer system), it still wasn't working (plus they broke my window at the shop by accident). I did some research online and found a few ways to diagnose the problem by unhooking a hose, eventually replaced 3 parts (around $200 of parts) and it works perfectly.

I hate mechanics.

JOB's money.

Guest's picture
Dory

I'm pretty handy, so luckily I can handle many little things around the house. But if it's something big, or something I'm unfamiliar with and I don't feel confident tackling it, experience has taught me it's not worth the time or effort. Sometimes you've just got to call in the experts.

Guest's picture
Sue

It's based on all three (cost, experience and time). One of our favourite resources is the good 'ol Reader's Digest Fix-It-Yourself manual. It's worth having a copy around! You can often find them at thrift stores or book sales.

My dad can fix virtually anything. He loves discovering how things work. He still has the toaster he and my mom got as a wedding present, and has kept it working for nearly 50 years (though he can't get parts for it anymore). The chrome still looks brand new, too!

Guest's picture

Always look into the DIY option. Always

Guest's picture
imfrom51

The starter motor on my old 92 accord just went out. As this is an older car, I figured I would give it a shot. This is the process I used.

1) Researched the process. I first had to figure why the car wouldn't start. I had to make sure that I was fixing the "right thing". This, in fact, was the most time consuming part of the project . I used google, youtube, forums, and blogs. I also called my Dad. He has no professional qualifications but has rebuilt engines for years. What was interesting about all the research is that I knew this was something I could do. Our mechanic stated it would be too hard and I wouldn't be able to do this. But all other sources said "Yes" I could do it. So I went with the majority.

2) Cost Factor. The Mechanic would have charged me $300. I could do it myself for $110 and about two hours of my time.

3)Made a list of everything I needed, and all the steps that would be required to replace the part.

4) Checked and double checked everything.

5) Did it!

Conclusion: All in all, a pretty pleasant experience. The research really paid off. Getting a number of opinions was great as this gave me an all round idea of the process. I knew what was going to be the hardest part, how long it would take (for someone like me), how much it should cost. I weighed all of these things to determine if it was worth doing. Plus, I learned a new skill and a boost of confidence.

Guest's picture
Eric

I'm pretty low on fix-it ability, so I tend to call in a professional more often than not. Thankfully, I'm a renter, so most repairs can be handled for free - I did hire a handyman to install my air conditioner window unit though.

Guest's picture
Glenda

My husband can fix anything. Saves us a ton of money!

Guest's picture
Guest

Youtube has really turned out to be an amazing source for DIY-info. I have no doubt I could find instructions to fix or repair pretty much anything online. the problem, though, is finding the time...and facing the truth which is I am absolutely NOT a handyperson. So chances are, I'd probably call the repairperson.

Guest's picture
Mariel

We repair everything in our house... It is cheaper than anything else--- buying new can be dificult, and sometimes we do not even have the option of chosing brands or whatsoever...

Guest's picture
gt0163c

I usually will try to fix something myself first...as long as it's more mechanical than electrical. With much experience, I've learned that I'm lousy at diagnosing and fixing electrical problems.
But, I have done a lot of mechanical problem troubleshooting and repair.
I replaced a switch on my clothes washer (housing had cracked causing the switch not to be correctly activatable). I replaced my garbage disposal after it developed a leak. On that repair, I learned that if you can't find an "exploded" diagram on the web, the item is probably not meant to be taken apart, no matter how many exposed seams and screws it has (fortunately I didn't make it worse by taking it apart. And I learned more about how garbage disposals work). I replaced a wheel and wheel assembly on my garage door - and learned that if there's a big orange sticker that tells me something should only be replaced by a professional, I should at least have a second pair of hands around when I give it a try.

Mostly, I'll try to fix just about anything I think is mechanical. I start by looking things up on the web, looking for manuals and exploded diagrams. Then, I start taking things apart. If I get to the point where I'm not certain I can get it back together again working order, I stop, put everything back and, only then, call a professional. Otherwise, I charge ahead. And the best place I've found to get new parts is, surprisingly to me, Ebay.

Guest's picture
Nicholas

For me it is based on my own knowledge and the cost vs. immediate need. If I know I can fix it and I am not in need of the item any time soon then I will repair it myself, otherwise I find the best value for a repairman.

Guest's picture
Ernest S.

I usually try to find information online or in the DIY repair books so I can gauge the difficulty of the repair. If it is something that I am familiar with or seems easy, then I wont hesitate to try. However, if I am unfamiliar, I would rather pay a professional to get the job done (and completed correctly).

That being said, I have absolutely no experience with disassembling or repairing appliances. I would not hesitate to call in a professional to help.

Guest's picture
Rylie

I manage a small hotel. When it's a small hotel, and you are conserving costs, you work front desk, housekeeping, maintenance, marketer, and anything else that needs to be done at the time.

There are a lot of maintenance problems that you run into when something breaks down that you have to learn how to do yourself, to save the business hundreds of thousands of dollars. Each situation is new and offers a lot to be learned if we just take down the mental wall we've built up that screams "I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THIS."

Of course there situations that arise that aren't as easy as others..
I haven't learned to sauder things yet, but if situation comes up I check with friends in the industry or anyone I know that might be willing to help out for free or even cheap. Then I watch every move they make to learn as much about the process as I can, even if it comes down to outsourcing the problem. Always ask questions!

Guest's picture
Marla Y

Most of the time an expert has to be called because neither me or my husband are good at fixing things. Thank you for the giveaway.

koinonia572001@yahoo.com

Guest's picture
Alexa

I usually try it myself first, and the worst result is that it usually takes me months to really complete a project. The best outcome is that I learn a little bit more about how my house goes together, which is fine with me since my career path is in architecture. It's also a female empowerment thing. My boyfriend is practically useless with tools, and I'm this tiny 100 lb weakling, so going into the hardware store and handling this stuff is always amusing. A couple of years ago, I decided on a whim that I was tired of my wall to wall carpet. I spent that evening pulling it all up. I spent the next few months sanding the concrete underneath, making 4'x4' saw cuts in it, and then staining and sealing it. It was heavy work, but the floor is now gorgeous and easy to clean. There was only one stage where I decided it would be better to call in paid help, and that was scraping up the linoleum in the kitchen. Ugh. I paid a couple of guys about $250 for one day to just handle it for me. It was a brutal task that I did not have the determination for. Overall, I probably spent about $750 on the project over about six months.

Guest's picture

Our first line of thought is to try to find out if "we" (that's a marital we, meaning my dh) can find out enough about the situation to learn if DIY is an option. If not, knowing what's wrong helps make the job easier for whoever is going to be working on the problem.

Even with no actual training, my husband can figure out how to jerry-rig or completely repair at least 90% of our household or appliance problems. This has saved us thousands of dollars over the years.

Guest's picture
Gina

If I don't know what I am doing, I will call an expert. Otherwise, it is DIY!

Guest's picture
Olivia

I'm willing to try most anything mechanical. Learning how to fix things is very satisfying. If it ends up being too complicated, then we call someone in.

Our washer was leaking buckets. I looked through the service manual and our how to fix it book. Our washer would not open up as said. After describing the problem to the 800 number person she scheduled a repairman to come. Upon arrival he said he knew what the problem was even before opening up the machine. If he had had the part in the van he could have done it then and there, but we'd have to order the part and he'd have to make another call to put it in. I asked If I could watch him take the broken piece out. He not only let me watch but explained the process. He had the part delivered to the house. I put it in and cancelled the follow up visit, thus saving $80. The part cost $4. SO when the dryer drum stopped rotating, I spoke to a handy fellow at church who showed me how to take the dryer apart and told me where to order the replacement belt. My husband and I attached it, reassembled the dryer, and it's working fine.

Guest's picture
cwaltz

I think with do it yourself it's a little bit about weighing your time and abilities against the cost of hiring a professional. If you have the time and ability to do it yourself then go for it. I'm fortunate to be married to a McGyver type guy-he has fixed our frozen pipes, the heat pump(it needed a $50 part), and redone wiring, as well as installed toilets, flooring, and drywall. In many of these cases I think I would have been lost if it had been just me.

Christine
dazed1821@aol.com

Guest's picture
Erin

My basic rule of thumb is...what would it cost to replace if I totally screw up the repair job? I am not a great DIYer (though I wish I was) unless it is a mainly cosmetic issue. Replacing a toilet? Do-able. Because the main cost is the toilet and attachments and I would have to pay for that anyway. Installing a ceiling fan? No, because I could mess up my whole electical system and that would be many dollars I would have to spend to fix again.

Guest's picture
Tiffany

While I was at the dollar store I bought one of those sink snakes to remove clogs. A few months later the shower had clogged up and I pulled out the snake and removed the clog myself within a few minutes. No need to call the plumber!

Guest's picture
shar

my husband is the fixit guy...it's got to be a short term job (not something that will take 3-4 days ) and within his expertise, so not plumbing or electrical...most other things he will take a shot at (minor faucet repair )

Guest's picture
Guest

Constantly fixing things ourselves. I recently bought a book calle "Fix it, Clean it and Make it last" and I swear by it. My very first washing machine was a second hand one. It worked fine for a while but then stopped spinning. My husband was away on business for that week so I took the back off the machine and discovered the belt had gone. Off to the hardware where I bought a new belt which then had to be modified as we couldn't find an exact match. Fitted it and it worked beautifully for years. Also used a coke bottle top to replace a belt wheel in my upright hoover and that's still going. I pretty much fix things right up until they die completely. Helps too when I have a handy husband who is also a mechanic...

When it comes to gas and electricity though I'll leave those for the experts.

Guest's picture
Therese

If we have the tools and expertise, we will fix it ourselves. If it is too dangerous or complicated or requires expensive tools we don't have, we call an expert.

Guest's picture

Thankfully, my husband is great at fixing things around the house. And if he doesnt know how to do something, he will research it online. He built our deck even tho he had no experience & it came out great (& passed inspection!) My daughter wanted a wishing well for the yard so I found some simple free plans online and he built her one!
Some things he won't mess around with too much - like complicated plumbing or electrical issues.

Guest's picture
CS7

I consider the difficulty of repair, time involved, cost and age of item (if it's an item that needs fixed). If skill-wise it's at least 50-50 I'll invest a few hours, then repair, replace or go without. If it's something I use regularly, I'd feel better paying for a repair or replacing it.

Guest's picture
Stephanie

We kind of, sort of cheat because we rent, so when an appliance breaks, we call our landlord. And my husband is a PC tech, so we often barter his services for other things we need. Really, if we can't find someone who knows how to do what we need (which is unlikely) who is willing to trade it for a nice dinner in our home (our friends value time together over money) or a modest fee, then we think about calling a professional. Actually, we just tend to not buy things that require maintenance we can't do ourselves. That way, we don't have the frustrating 2 days of attempting to solve problems that someone else could fix in half an hour. It's better for our marriage AND our budget. :)

Guest's picture
Kay

My husband generally tries to fix things. We live in a rural area and do not have a lot of choices of repair persons to call. Often times when we have called someone out to fix a problem my husband has discovered he could have done a better job himself.