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A mechanic is shown working on a red Toyota at a Toyota body shop.

What Can You Fix on Your Own, and When Do You Need a Pro?

Few things are quite as satisfying as working on your own vehicle, either making repairs or simply keeping up with maintenance to ensure it runs as well as possible. There are plenty of relatively simple tasks and repairs that just about anyone can do at home with minimal investment in tools or supplies, but there are also bigger jobs that require much more specialized equipment. Some jobs can seem easy enough, but if a mistake is made, then the consequences can be borderline disastrous.

So how can you tell when something is an easy job you can tackle in an afternoon compared to a big problem that you should let a Toyota body shop or other service center handle? Great question—when it comes to any kind of body repairs, the scope and severity of the issue is usually the most significant factor. The worse the problem is, the more likely you are to let professionals handle it rather than try to fix it yourself. Of course, your own level of experience and the kinds of tools you have will also impact what you can tackle. Let’s take a look at some examples of different kinds of body repairs, and you’ll see what I mean.

Minor Body Damage: Dents and Scratches

As I said, the ultimate factor to consider when deciding on what you should tackle on your own vs. taking it to a professional body shop is severity. The smaller the problem or issue, the easier it will probably be for you to handle. For example, it’s pretty common for people to fix minor dings or dents to their vehicle’s body in their own driveway. You might be able to repair such a dent with a hair dryer. Some people will suggest just using a plunger. Still, you’re better off buying an actual repair kit with a suction cup designed for more precise work and repairs.

Minor scratches can also be repaired yourself, but you should expect to tackle a bigger project than simply pulling out a minor dent using a suction cup. There are scratch repair kits you can get, which make things a lot easier, and you’ll probably want an electric sander and other tools like a paint sprayer that connects to an air compressor. You can see that this is already getting to be a big job if you don’t have these kinds of tools. You might also need different grits of sandpaper, body filler compound, finishing glaze, and the right color paint for your vehicle. Once you have all of this, then expect to spend a day or weekend actually doing the work. It’s not impossible, but it is more of a task than replacing an air filter or pulling a dent.

A white 2024 Toyota Tacoma is shown driving off-road after visiting a Toyota body shop to fix a dent.

Larger Body Work: Big Scratches and Major Damage

When you’re dealing with more considerable damage to your vehicle, then you’re looking at a bigger project—potentially one substantial enough to require a professional touch. The bigger and deeper the scratch on your vehicle, the more work will be required to remove paint in and around it, apply multiple layers of body filler, sand it smooth, paint it, and cover it in finishing glaze. At a certain point, you’ll have to decide what your time and energy are worth and whether you’d be better simply letting a body shop handle it for you.

More substantial damage to the body of your vehicle can also mean different requirements for fixing the problem. A large dent or scratch might damage a body panel to such a degree that simply pulling the dent out or filling in the scratch isn’t realistic anymore, and you need to replace that part of the body. At this point, you’re looking at a much bigger project than you might be ready for, and letting professionals handle it could undoubtedly be the right call.

Rust Damage and Repairs

Much like scratches and dents, rust is something that you can easily tackle yourself if it’s only a minor issue, but the bigger it becomes, the more work is required. If you catch rust early on, when it’s only on the surface level, there are steps you can take to repair it with a day’s effort. You can sand off rust or use a removal tool to handle it—this is a good choice since it’s easy to damage your vehicle with aggressive rust removal if you’ve never done it before. Some rust converter can then be applied to the area, and you can seal it or paint over it to protect that area from rusting again soon.

If you don’t catch rust early, however, it will start to eat away at the material, which can diminish the structural integrity of your vehicle. You’re no longer looking at a problem easily solved with sandpaper or a wire brush. At this point, it’s a good idea to take your vehicle to a body shop and let them handle it, especially if new parts or frame repairs are necessary to not only remove the rust but also make sure your vehicle is safe to drive.

Windshield Repairs: Chips vs. Cracks

Few things are as anger-inducing as the sound of a pebble pinging off your windshield after being kicked up by a car in front of you. If luck is on your side, the little rock will deflect harmlessly, and you can go about your business; if not, you’re looking at some damage. A minor chip in your windshield can be quickly fixed using a repair kit that fills the chip with resin, keeping it from growing into a bigger problem. If you end up having a larger crack in your windshield, then it’s time to replace the entire thing. You can technically do this at home, but again, you’d need special tools for it. I’d personally just let a professional replace my windshield and spend my time on something else.

A close-up of the wheel on a blue 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander is shown.

Other Part Replacements: Wheels, Rims, Fenders, and More

As a complex piece of machinery, there’s a whole laundry list of other parts of your vehicle and its body that can sustain varying degrees of damage. Overall, whether you fix/replace it yourself or let a professional deal with it, it all comes down to the task at hand and what you’re comfortable with. Replacing your rims is simple and inexpensive, requiring basic tools that you probably have already (and are worth having if you don’t). On the other hand, completely replacing a wheel or brake assembly, for example, is a bigger job that might not be worth it if you don’t have a good setup to let you tackle it.

Similarly, suppose you need to repaint a scratch on your fender. That’s easy enough, but completely replacing your fender is a bigger job that you might let a pro handle for you. Replacing your headlights falls into a strange category that depends on your vehicle and what’s involved with the process. Some manufacturers make replacing your lights reasonably simple, while others require much more time and energy. You’ll need to do a little research to see what’s involved with your car and make the decision that’s right for you.

When Is DIY Worth the Risk?

At the end of the day, beyond the question of severity, I always ask myself what the risk is if I make a mistake or something goes wrong. If I’m pressing out a dent in the side panel of my car and I mess it up, the only risk is that it’ll look bad, or I’ll need to spend more to have someone repair it, which is a risk I’m willing to take. When it comes to tackling severe rust on the frame of my vehicle or replacing the suspension on one of my wheels, that’s a much bigger task with greater potential for serious problems if I mess something up. I’m not afraid to make mistakes, but I make sure my mistakes won’t result in a crash or other unsafe conditions on the road. Just remember, it’s always a good idea to start small with this kind of project and tackle bigger things as you get experience. And, sometimes, it really is best just to let a pro handle it.