DIY car repair – how to save 1000 eur on a roadtrip.

If you are driver of an older car, you have probably asked yourself the following before every long road trip:

To take my car or not?

What if my car gives up on a ski trip? I’ve asked myself this question hundreds times. I’ve always gone and always had that little feeling of wallet-emptying hazard when driving trough expensive country.

The car repair in Austria is expensive. They are charging approximately 120 euro per hour for a normal case. However, if you are on a ski trip, your car has died on the side of the road 5 km from the nearest service and you need to go to work tomorrow, you will get a pricey bill.

This happened to me on Sunday, a week ago…

We have wrapped up a full day of skiing in Fieberbrunn and Hinterglemm, Austria, jumped in my 16 years old Volvo V50 and hit the road back home.

Two minutes later, the red warning light showed up on my control panel [yes, one of those annoying lights which indicate, that ignoration will cause trouble]. I knew that, but I’ve ignored it anyways.

After a while, the red light went off. “Yess, we are saved,” I’ve celebrated for myself.

Two minutes after my little celebration, the red light was back on with a red battery symbol. Now, I had to give it some attention. So I did. I’ve gently asked my suspicionless passenger [my girlfriend] what does mean in English: Elektr. Anlage Wartung Dringend?

It means: “electrical system maintenance urgent”, she said with expanded pupils.

Ouou, now I had to process with explanation:

“There is a fair chance, that we might have a problem.”

Not knowing what to do, I kept driving. The error light went off and on again multiple times until the control board has shown the new one: ABS control off.

Damn, it was getting serious. At this time, I knew that it was not only the voltage sensor problem. I was loosing the precious power juice.

I’ve switched the music off, lights off while getting ready to pull to the side of the road. Then I’ve got another warning: Power steering off. At this point, I was able to feel how is it to navigate 1980 Liaz Truck trough roundabout.

I’ve told to my girlfriend Zuzka to find the nearest car repair shop. To find an opened repair shop on Sunday in Austria when you have 3 minutes till your car dies is pretty far from an easy task. Therefore, I had to pull it to the nearest parking lot. There was a free one, in front of the ski lift bottom station in Sankt Johann in Tirol.

I’ve switched my engine off and here we were. In the middle of the Alps with car unable to drive and our daily jobs waiting for us the next day.

The repair cost calculation immediately took place in my brain.

New alternator with a retail price tag 350 eur, labour with diagnostics 4 hours times 120 eur = 480, extra surcharge because I am in a trouble and need it fixed quickly = maybe 200, towing off my car to the workshop 150. Altogether = 1180 eur [I lived in Austria and I have basic imagination of approximate price of the repair, but I might be wrong with my calculation]. Anyways it was pricey enough to try my second option: “The DIY car repair.”

The new alternator on Amazon was for 120 euro with express delivery to the nearest post office.

So we wrote to our bosses that we had to unexpectedly extend our holiday, booked 2 nights in the hotel and went for a fabulous Italian pizza in Pizzeria La Rustica, Sankt Johann in Tirol.

Finally, we had a time to relax, eat good food and think about good times in the Austrian mountains.

Two brain-treating, stomach-filling days flew by and the package arrived at the post office. I’ve picked it up, jacked-up my car and dived into diy car repair.

Damn, it was a pain in the ass!

There was one hidden screw in the fuel filter, which had to be removed to access the alternator. Two hours lost.

Moreover, all youtube how-to videos featured different tensioning pulley on the serpentine belt and I was struggling to loosen it. This step took 2 hours, and 3 trips of my girlfriend to borrow tools from lift operators.

Well, what can’t be done with brute force, can be done with a bigger force.

That’s what Slovakians say. Personally, I don’t trust it, because people who employ this rule are usually snapping the bolts. In this situation, snapping the bolt would cause tears on my face.

So I’ve disassembled my avalanche shovel to use it as gentle lever extender, to loosen that damn tensioning pulley.

Success. Serpentine belt felt off and I was ready to transplant the heart of my car.

Old alternator off, new one in. Putting things together is a breeze compared to disassembling. Even when it rains.

Once our mothership was one piece again, there was only one last question unresolved:

Is it actually fixed?

Was the time to find out.

We’ve called one helpful Slovakian who had stopped by during my hands-on procedure to offer his help. He brought his car to kick-start our mothership.

Ten minutes later, old Volvo was back alive, with a new heart, feeding the rest of the body with precious power juice.


Don’t be scared to fix your car. You will certainly not be able to fix everything on the road, but many parts are well accessible, cheap and can be fixed with simple ratchet set [always carry that ratchet set in your car].

You will be amazed by how much you can save.

Yes, to fix my issue was a hassle. However, it’s not always like that. Usually, it’s easy. Usually, how-to videos fit exactly your car model.

I’ve saved on DIY car repairs thousands of euros. Moreover, It teaches me to understand what’s happening under the hood. Car mechanics were also only boys who liked cars in the past.

In this case, I’ve saved approximately 1000 euro on repair which took me 7 hours altogether. If I would have to do it next time, it will probably take only 3 hours.

Use youtube. There are wonderful DIY car repair how-to videos about almost every car on the market. Try it first, then decide if is it worth giving your hard-earned money to a car repair shop or you will do it yourself.

Fix your own stuff.

Live your adventure.