So you can DIY. Should you?
Of all the annoying things that people put on a pedestal, one stands above the rest: Doing a project yourself, at all costs.
A few years back, my father’s Model A coupe entered my garage in need of a second lease on life. One of the key upgrades was changing the battery cables. The Model A starter circuit requires massive amperage loads: When firing the 200-cubic-inch four-cylinder required more than 1–2 seconds of turning with the starter motor, the cables got warm to the touch. Considering how slow the starter cranked, that happened quite often.
In such a low voltage system there is only one way to maximize the amperage, and that is to reduce resistance. New, 2/0 gauge cable would solve the problem, so I decided to go order some.
I quickly realized I was looking for a part that didn’t exist—at least, not as a ready-to-install component on the shelf of a nearby store. However, I could buy the parts that comprised the cable and assemble it myself.
The job sounded easy enough—and it was. I bought some bulk cable, a few ends, and the cheapest crimping tool I could find. After five or six whacks with a 3-pound sledge, I had myself a brand-new set of cables. The ‘T had never started better, and the upgraded system continues to be dead reliable.
When a Model T in need of a new ring gear landed in my shop this fall, I immediately noticed the corroded 2-gauge cables. Thanks to the job on my dad’s ‘T, I knew exactly what this one needed.
This time, as I shopped online for cables and ends, I ended up at a website that would custom-build cables. After I priced the parts needed to do it myself, my cursor slipped, clicking the box for “build it for me.” The price of the order rose from $55.97 to $80.11. As I walked across the room to retrieve my wallet, I chewed on that price difference.
I’ve sunk endless time and dollars into projects of questionable validity. Farm bikes from the 1980s were never meant to road-race—but that hasn’t stopped me. Measuring, cutting, preparing, crimping, heat shrinking, and then finally installing those cables on the ‘T would take about an hour—an hour I could spend fixing the cylinder-head temperature gauge on my Corvair, or prepping one of the motorcycles for a weekend of riding. You know, things I wanted to do. And the cables were produced in Kentucky, right here in the U.S.!
The decision took about 20 seconds. I spent the extra $24.14.
I’m not rich, but there is a point at which opportunity cost weighs heavy. Why save pennies at the cost of the one thing you literally cannot purchase? You or I are not any less of a mechanic for making the choice to prioritize our time, and spend it on the tasks we enjoy. The decision doesn’t make us less knowledgeable; in fact, it makes us smarter.
The rewarding feeling of DIY projects is well understood in the Smith garage, but my priority lies in completing projects that enable me to grow. (Or minimizing the risk of damage, in the case of oil changes. I do those myself.) Building a set of battery cables was unlikely to teach me something new the second time around. Sure, I’d enjoy saying, “I built those,” but losing the bragging points was not that big of deal.
Seriously consider outsourcing projects to your advantage. Forgo DIY and instead enlist an expert, shop, or parts order—and feel no guilt. Most of us have have the luxury of choosing what we will become experts on. You may or may not have found where your expertise lies. I know I haven’t. But whether your time is worth anything? Well, you can figure that bit out on your own.