I don't think duct tape is going to cut it this time.
December 21, 2012 9:22 PM   Subscribe

After a theft, how much DIY car repair is too much?

My car was stolen, then (thankfully?) recovered by the police. It looks OK under the hood, but the interior of the car was gutted and the wheels/tires were also taken.

The only way I can afford to proceed is by doing a lot of the repair work myself. Some of these repairs are minor, like putting in a new battery. Others will have to be done by a professional for safety reasons (the wheels). But a lot of the repairs fall somewhere in the middle, for instance installing new seats, a headliner, and sun visors, and fixing the mess the thieves made of the carpet and trunk. In my layperson's opinion, this stuff should be "easy" because it's not mechanical. It's more like sewing and upholstery and bolting things into place. All of which is firmly within my DIY wheelhouse on things that don't happen to be cars.

Am I deluding myself on this? Some family members think my car is basically ruined, the work is way beyond my abilities, and if I wanted to get it done professionally it would cost thousands of dollars. That said, I don't come from a DIY car repair type of family. These are folks who think it's a little bit wild to change your own oil.

The car in question is a Honda Civic hatchback from the late 90's. Prior to the theft, it was in great shape. It ran perfectly. The mileage is low for a 15 year old Honda. These are the reasons I'm keeping the car. I can't afford to buy another car, at least nothing that would be as good as this one. It's possible that, once I get a battery in it, I'll discover mechanical problems. In fact, I'm a little uneasy about exactly how the thieves started my car. But from where I'm standing right now, it seems like many of the problems are cosmetic and possibly affordable to fix if I do the labor myself.

Am I just completely delusional, here? Is it going to cost thousands of dollars to redo the interior of my car? Is there something big I don't understand because I don't know about cars? Is the SRS system compromised*? Am I going to need some kind of expensive tool to bolt the seats in place? Is there something key about previously stolen cars I'm not understanding?

How much is it worth lurking on forums dedicated to the whole Civic customizing subculture? Considering that the car is basically junk at this point I have no aversion to thinking outside the box.

My insurance does not cover this. There's no financing to worry about, and the car is no longer under warranty.

*In terms of a few specifics, the dashboard is intact, as are the seatbelts and I believe the rearview mirror. The steering column looks OK though I have not actually tried the ignition yet.
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (11 answers total)
You can buy carpet kits, trim, weather stripping, new mirrors, and everything else. You can learn to do upholstery, you can do whatever you want.

It'll be a lot of work, but yes, you can do it. Carpet kits, weather stripping, etc, tend to be expensive. (In the hundreds) That doesn't mean they're not worth it, and if you install them yourselves you can still do this at a reasonable price. If you can't afford new parts, try to find used ones.

Seats are held/removed with big fat torque bolts. How easily they come out and go in depends on how much rust you have. If necessary, you can go at them with a penetrating oil and a torch, that helps. You can get a set of torque heads at your auto parts store for five bucks.

Go to a pick-a-part or junk yard, and so some searching online. You might be able to get used seats that are in good shape, among other things.

Yes, you can do it all yourself. Will it be cheaper than picking up another 90s Honda Civic? Maybe not, and you're not considering the value of your labour either.

If you have time and want a project, go for it. If you don't have time or don't feel like working, then go shop around for another car.

So I guess my two answers are:

1) Yes, you can fix this yourself.

2) Given the age of the vehicle, you will probably spend as much money repairing this car as you would spend on a new one. (Not counting your time.)

It depends how much you love your car. I'd do the work because I'm insane. You may not be. I also haven't seen the car, and you won't get a realistic estimate from someone that hasn't seen it.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:38 PM on December 21, 2012

Oh, and remember, trashed cars with reliably running engines can often be purchased for cheap. This car may not be the one you want to put the time and money into if you decide to go down the auto-restoration route. :) There are plenty of cars out there waiting for someone with enough love to get them back on the road.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:40 PM on December 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Am I just completely delusional, here?
No. Maybe a little.

Is it going to cost thousands of dollars to redo the interior of my car?
Depends on how good a job you do. Set a price limit, say a thousand, and see what it gets you.

Have you ever been to a junkyard ? Does the idea excite you in any way? :-)

Is there something big I don't understand because I don't know about cars?
Yes, but it might not be related to the redoing the interior :-)

Is the SRS system compromised*?
Give it a try, price out a repair if it is, and then re-evaluate your decision.

Am I going to need some kind of expensive tool to bolt the seats in place?
Probably not (very expensive).

Is there something key about previously stolen cars I'm not understanding?
They might have redlined the engine, or been harsh with the suspension.
Get an ODB (II) scan from it, and see what it says. Do this soon.
Your engine can remember some abuses that it has received.
P0219 is a bad one, "engine overspeed".

Cost out the repairs, and see what you can live with.
It might not be a good vehicle to go a-courting in anymore, though.
posted by the Real Dan at 9:47 PM on December 21, 2012

I'm all about DIYing stuff, but the damage to your car sounds so extensive thatit sounds like a challenge to repair it, even in a DIY fashion, for less than what another car would cost.

Have you considered selling the parts of it to help you subsidize another car? Now, I don't know much about selling car parts, but I see engines from cars like this being sold on Craigslist right now in my area for ~$500. Add to that whatever you could get for a few other components under the hood and maybe some pieces like the front/rear bumpers and then a little bit of additional money and voila, it sounds like enough to buy some kind of other car with, one that doesn't come with weeks worth of huge headaches to fix....
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:14 PM on December 21, 2012

Installing front seats is a weekend project on my car, and back seats might take 15 minutes. But my car has a bench seat in back, which is really two pieces (the seat and the seat back) that just kinda snap in place. Easy peasy. Yours may be harder.

But before you go down this route, see whether you can get the headliner and seats from your nearest Pick-n-pull. Go in and check inventory and see if a nearby yard has the model car with the seats you want.
posted by zippy at 10:21 PM on December 21, 2012

I redid the interior on 91 CRX for about 500 hundred, new (off ebay) seats from an wrecked late 90 civic that i found nearby, carpet from a guy on ebay selling carpet kits and just took off and really, really cleaned the rest of the hard plastic. Seats are easy, really easy. Carpet is a easy if you aren't too picky on looks, harder to get it like the factory (you will need a steamer and patience). I would get a set of wheels off a junkyard or ebay also. Do buy new tires however. I don't trust used ones, literally your life is riding on htem (and other peoples lives as well). The dash and steering coloumn are really, really hard to fix and get right. They are very complicated. If their is any problem with the airbag the airbag lite will come on and not go off. Craigslist is sometimes pretty good for people parting out wrecked cars or ones they are customizing. Good news is civics are everywhere and the tuner crowd really, really likes customizing them. If they engine and chassis is good just keep it and fix it slowly as you can. That way costs are easy to manage. These are some of the best cars honda ever has made for longegivity and maintability, it is worth keeping if you can. If it the damage is limited to interior like you think it's worth keeping and fixing. Also you can change engines in these really, really easy (as engines changes go, still not a job for a novice).
posted by bartonlong at 10:55 PM on December 21, 2012

I'm not seeing any Honda Civics from the 1990s listed online for more than $5,000. Search local lots that don't do online listings and you're likely to find quite a few in the $2,500 range. Get a grand for this one--the engine alone should be worth at least that--and take the grand or three you'd spend on parts, and hey presto, you just bought yourself a car.
posted by valkyryn at 6:50 AM on December 22, 2012

Headliners are carpet don't really get replaced a lot; the guys at a repair shop will do a better job because they have tools and co-workers around to help them, but they won't care as much as you will, so the difference won't be huge. You'll learn a lot about how to glue stuff, and your mechanical skills may improve, along with your swearing.

It sucks to have your car trashed. I've learned that you can negotiate with your insurer. If they tell you your car is worth X, and you can't find any low mileage similar cars for X, show then your research and negotiate.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 AM on December 22, 2012

Considering that the car is basically junk at this point I have no aversion to thinking outside the box.

You don't need to buy things that are meant to fit the car. You can get used carpet for free, and if you look a bit you might even find your favorite color. Your car can be perfectly drivable without a headliner, but if you want one there are much cheaper ways than buying "a headliner".

I'm not sure what you mean about the wheels needing a pro for safety reasons. If some of the lugs have been cut off or bent, get a quote on what that will cost before you spend much on the car -- but first, check the oil and see if it even starts.
posted by yohko at 2:35 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I dunno, sounds like most of this you could do yourself -- as yohko notes even the wheels unless there was some obvious damage. Taking it to a garage you would basically be saving yourself the convenience of schlepping the new wheels and jacking up the car to put them on, but any monkey with a torque wrench should be capable of actually doing that.

A lot of the interior stuff is, you'll find, optional. It makes your car less pleasant to have them not done but they can stay that way a long time. So if you want to take it slow and easy on your time and budget, go ahead.

It really is your decision and I don't see any substantial reason why you CANNOT fix up your car yourself. And for a 15 year old car I'm not sure how much worse your mechanicals could have really gotten in what was likely a fairly competent move-and-chop situation. It's not like they were thinking "'97 Honda, time for a kick-ass joyride" after all.
posted by dhartung at 12:16 AM on December 23, 2012

Private message me. I have 4 door 95 that is a donor car for my race car. It seems like may of the parts I don't need are the ones you do need. I am not sure what will be compatible because 95 was the last year for that generation but some of the stuff might work. Honda's are sometimes called lego cars because the parts are so interchangeable.
posted by empty vessel at 1:12 PM on December 23, 2012

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