Fix Your Vette Yourself and Save Money!

Fixing your own vehicle is not about bragging rights. The way I look at it, it's about saving money. Oftentimes LOTS of it.

A while back I had to deal with an overheating issue my '76 Corvette was having.

And even though I spent money and invested lots of time getting to the root of the problem, I know it's fixed properly.

I also took the opportunity to replace parts that would've failed eventually anyway, so it was smart preventive maintenance.

I admit that my problem-solving approach was mainly to replace parts until the problem was gone. However, many professional mechanics do the same when it comes to classic cars.

These cars do not have computers that spit out codes telling you what or where the problems are, so there's a ton of guesswork involved.

Therefore, diagnosing old car problems can be time-consuming and pricey.

In my case, the elimination process comprised several components as well as maintenance tasks.

  • Radiator fan/clutch
  • Radiator
  • Radiator flush
  • Antifreeze/coolant
  • Belts and hoses
  • Water pump
  • Thermostat
  • Temperature sender
  • Water temperature gauge

Since the belts and the upper and lower radiator hoses were okay, I did not have to replace them. And while I'm not sure if the radiator fan clutch, thermostat, or temperature sending unit were necessarily failing or bad, I had to replace them as part of the elimination process.

I intentionally left the dash water temperature gauge alone since it's been my experience that these types of instruments fail in a certain fashion, with the usual giveaway when the needle stops moving, which was not the case with my car. Besides, my water temp gauge was very clear the engine was getting dangerously close to the red line.

I like to keep track of what I spend on my car, and here's what I paid for parts and associated items:
  • Temperature sender $19.19
  • Thermostat $11.12
  • Fan clutch $34.55
  • Water pump $43.21
  • Water pump gaskets $4.84
  • Water pump studs $9.50
  • Thread sealant $7.27
  • Misc. fasteners $6.08
  • Radiator flush and cleaner $4.80
  • Coolant $22.48
  • Distilled water (2 gallons) $1.56

All of those items add up to $164.60 which is not bad in my opinion.

If we were to assume that the average shop charges $75 per labor hour, my guesstimate is that to remove all the aforementioned components and install new ones would take, conservatively, approximately five hours. So 5 hours times $75 per hour totals $375.00. 

This brings the grand total to about $540.00 give or take a few bucks. And, again, I am guessing at what a shop would charge per hour. It's been my experience that most shops charge $80 or more.

So by doing my own work, I save quite a bit, plus I always learn something along the way and I am one hundred percent sure the work was done to the highest standard.

I can assure you, no shop would take the time to prep the parts with as much care and diligence as I do. I even gave my new water pump a couple of coats of Shellac to keep it from rusting.

Of course, if you don't have the time, tools, or inclination to do all this and you have the money to spend, then by all means have the work done by professionals. I have in the past and there's nothing wrong with that.

But the way I look at it nowadays, those $375 saved buy groceries, fuel, or other Corvette parts, so I much rather save the money when the bulk of my investment is just a few hours of my time. And I can take as long as I need to do it right since my Corvette is not my daily driver.

One thing I do want to make clear is that this article is not about judging or criticizing shops or mechanics, nor Corvette owners who help keep shops and mechanics open for business. I respect everyone's right to do as they please and what is best for them.

To me—and this is from my personal perspective—part of the C3 Corvette ownership experience and hobby is to turn my own wrenches for fun while saving a few bucks so I can keep my Corvette on the road.

Thank you for following my '76 Vette Blog!