Shadetree mechanics: am I fully insane?
September 7, 2016 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Am I crazy to think about replacing cleaning my car's EGR valve if I have trouble even changing a tire on my own?

Over a year ago, the check engine light came on. I brought it back to our mechanics, who diagnosed it as a faulty EGR, with an estimated $450 of work. We don't drive that much, so I haven't done anything about it since then. However, our car needs to pass an emissions test by next month to stay legal.

It's a 1995 Sentra, so if I can do the work by myself, then it's worth muddling along with this car for another year or so if the parts are cheap. If I can't, then it's probably time to start looking for another car.

So, my muddled ask is: is EGR repair/replacement something that a novice can do? Without lots of expensive new tools? Within a single day?

Thanks in advance.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total)
Well, what exactly is the work that they are suggesting? Because you can replace the EGR valve ($100+ part) or you can try to clean out the EGR valve, but the problem might also be one of the hoses attached to it or elsewhere in the EGR system. If the work is $450, it probably isn't just the valve that they are proposing to do work on.

That said, if you really have difficulty changing a tire, then this is definitely more complicated and probably not for you.
posted by ssg at 9:11 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I bet you can handle it. The EGR on those cars is relatively close to the top of the engine bay up near the windshield wipers. I'd buy the car manual ($20), a new EGR ($120) and a socket set ($30). Set aside a day and get it done. Do some research via forums and YouTube.

The real issue here is that you're taking on the risk of the problem being something other than the EGR. If it turns out to be something other than the new valve, time to start over.

Cars are big and intimidating, but not much more complicated than the internet or your computer. It's a big system and if you enjoy problem solving balls of yarn, it can be a ton of fun.
posted by thebigdeadwaltz at 10:48 PM on September 7, 2016

It's not at all a complex job, in terms of mechanical repair, and you say you can't change a tyre but... could you change a tyre if you had instructions? Is it that you just don't know HOW? In which case it's no issue.

Get yourself a workshop manual, read it thoroughly before you attempt it and only start the job if you have everything you need and are confident you can do it. It's a simple job, but remember to replace the EGR valve gasket (which will need cleaning off the manifold when you remove the old one). A Haynes manual or similar will give you the information you need and has pictures that are pretty easy to follow.

I'd give it a go if I were you. Ask a mechanically minded friend to help if you're not confident after seeing the instructions.
posted by Brockles at 10:53 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

For more cost savings: check your local library for the manual. They may have them in electronic form, and it's probably fastest to just ask a reference librarian about what auto repair resources they've got for your specific car.
posted by asperity at 11:06 PM on September 7, 2016

You could do worse than pick an EGR valve as the first thing to repair on an engine. But I'm concerned that you are taking on this job on a deadline, without previous engine fiddling.

In addition to the shop manual, you can probably find a youtube video of someone doing an EGR replacement on this car. This might help you get a sense for what's involved.
posted by zippy at 11:35 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

If this car is critical and your only way to get certain places, then no you shouldn't do this, unless you have an easy way to get the car towed to a shop when/if you mess somthing up.

It may sound simple, but it's not that easy. Especially if you are not comfortable, either physically or mentally, changing a tire. The engine compartment is confusing if you haven't spent a fair bit of time learning what's in there. The Haynes manual is the best resource for this, and it is not that beginner friendly. The Haynes for my 1994 Mazda Protege has photos for one variation, but not the one I have, and isn't very clear what all is actually there! (My car was built with CA emissions when only cars in California had them, so a few more differences.) (My car doesn't have an EGR valve, but the other versions do. Took me a really long time to figure this out because it's not like the stuff in there is labelled.)

Screws and bolts get stuck or can strip. Old plastic connectors can break. You might just not be strong enough to physically remove the part.

If you had said you'd changed your own spark plugs, I might not have bothered to say anything. If it was the thermostat, I'd have cheered you on. But it sounds like you haven't done that sort of thing. And really, you might need a surprising number of tools to do this, if you are starting from zero. You'd want more than just a socket set. If my car had an EGR valve, it would be very difficult to remove it without jacking up the car.

Brockles gives great advice 99% of the time, but this is not the time to DIY if you don't have a safety net and haven't researched the hell out of this. Professionals are there for a reason.
posted by monopas at 2:58 AM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ditto checking the library fkr the manual. You might also check youtube to see if anyone has posted a video.
posted by aetg at 3:53 AM on September 8, 2016

+1 monopas's answer.

It's definitely doable in a day, but there are a lot of other factors, even assuming that you are mentally/physically prepared to do the job. You'd need the manual (or service manual--PDFs are probably available online for your car because it's older); the proper tools (sockets, torque wrench, etc.); the correct part itself; a WELL-LIT place to do the job; a backup plan in case something goes wrong. YouTube videos and car DIY forums are certainly helpful.

If you decide to go for it, make sure that the videos/manuals you consult, and the part you order, are for the exact make/model/year/engine you have. The videos, forums, and/or service manuals should have info for the proper size tools. If by chance you can't buy the tools (odd sized or whatever), some stores have a loaner program.
posted by methroach at 6:50 AM on September 8, 2016

Check your local library's website. Often they will have a subscription to Chilton's online, which is a good way to see what the job entails. I looked at the EGR replacement steps for your Nissan and, if you had ever worked on cars before, I would say this looks like a very easy DIY fix. HOWEVER, since you don't have the tools or experience, I would counsel caution. Do you know anyone who has some car repair experience? You might be able to find an experienced non-mechanic to do this for you without costing $450.
posted by Chrischris at 8:34 AM on September 8, 2016

HOWEVER, since you don't have the tools or experience

It just occurred to me that the cost of buying tools and parts could significantly alter this equation. Was that quote for $450 just the labour? Or Parts, labour, everything? How much is the EGR valve and the gasket? My quick research suggests the cheapest you can get a valve is for about $135 (shipped), so add on $10 for a gasket and you're looking at maybe 2-3 hours labour charge plus tax, if they're charging $100 or so an hour.

So it looks like you'll be saving $300 by doing it yourself, but once you have added tool costs (probably $100 if you buy stuff that is useful for more than one job) it's now a $200 saving. Take out the cost of the manual ($30) and we're down to $170. Do you really think you can't shop around and find a different garage that won't beat that original quote by $170? A lot of places won't charge that much, and being as it is a simple job you could take it to a backstreet garage of lower quality because it is pretty hard to screw up. Just refuse any additional suggested work. If you can find a shop that charges $75 an hour, or are quoting an hour and a half labour rather than three, you're close to making the cost benefit a wash.

They will all be marking up parts, so shop around. Ask them how much it would cost you if you supplied the parts yourself (you better be right and double check part numbers). A lot of garages will actually rather get the parts themselves even if they don't mark them up (it saves "you got us the wrong part" drama) so may come down if you suggest that.

If you are going to learn how to service your car yourself, then by all means buy the tools and start learning. If you think you're going to save yourself a ton of money on this job *only* as a direct equation, then you may be out of luck. Doing work yourself saves a ton of money, but it costs time, has an initial start up cost, and isn't necessarily a quick fix.
posted by Brockles at 9:36 AM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're still in Portland, and if it is anything like Olympia, then the hourly rate isn't likely to get under $100 per hour from a trustworthy place. Assuming parts are included, $450 is actually a reasonable price.

If you want the car to last for another year, $450 isn't bad. You can't buy a usable car for that. I've paid more for repairs on my 94 Protege, because I'd rather have an old car I know and trust than something used for what I could afford to pay.

OTOH, if you've been driving around for a year with a bad EGR valve, maybe have your mechanic take a look at your catalytic converter before replacing the valve. A year of infrequent driving with the engine light on and bad valve could have messed that up, and those are often really expensive. (On the list of things you don't want to hear your mechanic say: "Wow, it didn't seem too bad but when we took it off it was basically a can full of rust and chunks.")

I had no idea Portland required yearly emissions testing for every vehicle going back to 1975. Crazy.
posted by monopas at 10:39 AM on September 8, 2016

Response by poster: After careful consideration, it does not sound insane to do my own repairs, but it does sound expensive in time and/or money if I don't get it all nailed down the first time. Too much whack-a-mole to play in the emission system.

To the repair shop it goes!

Thanks everybody for your advice.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 1:50 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To the repair shop it went. No problems, and below their estimate.

Given some of the potential diagnostic games of whack-a-mole mentioned above, it sounds like the coward's way out was still probably the cheaper option.

Thanks, opinioneers!
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:52 PM on October 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

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