I’m not a handyman, but I once spent six hours fixing a busted TV. It changed my life

Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series, May I Recommend … in which CNN staffers share their passion or appreciation for an object, place, hobby, artform or culture. Past essays have sung the praises of bird feeders, classic movies and pickup basketball.

If I were to design a family crest, it would feature a rusted lawnmower in an overgrown field of weeds above the motto, “If it’s broke, don’t bother” — in Latin, of course.

My father was an Army surgeon who operated on wounded soldiers, and yet anything mechanical, automotive or electronic mystified him. He’d drive for miles with the oil light warning him his engine was about to seize up. Equipment like riding mowers, tillers and trimmers filled our garage — each in need of repair due to mistreatment or neglect.

And if something like a refrigerator light blew out, well, you’d just have to find the milk in the dark until the repairman arrived.

Following his example, I too spent most of my adult life replacing things that stopped working or calling in a professional for the “big” jobs, like a running toilet or a broken light switch.

All that changed the day the TV exploded.

Well, not the entire TV, just a very important part of a very large and expensive unit that was too big to fit in a cab for a ride from our home in Brooklyn to Best Buy for repair. My first instinct, of course, was to see how much a replacement would cost. The answer: about $1,000. But while searching for that particular model online, I came across several posts discussing a common problem: A part of that TV model called the color wheel was prone to failing spectacularly in a burst of light and shattered glass.

Among those posts was a link to some YouTube videos purporting to show how to replace the offending part step-by-step. When I clicked the link, sure enough, there was my TV sitting on a workbench, along with a few tools like screwdrivers and a pair of pliers.

Watching the first of two videos, I followed along as a pair of hands removed dozens of screws, panels and circuit boards — pausing to take a digital photo before and after each step to create a trail of breadcrumbs — until the shattered color wheel emerged deep in the guts of the TV. The second video showed the new wheel’s installation, and then every part strewn on the workbench was put back in its place until the final screw was turned. Total running time for the job: 45 minutes.

At that point, I decided I had little to lose but time and dignity, so I ordered the replacement part for a few hundred dollars and it arrived the next day. Setting the TV on the kitchen island next to my laptop, I started the YouTube video and picked up a screwdriver.

Six hours later, I was done.

Taking a deep breath and plugging the TV back in, I pressed the power button and offered a prayer to the electronics gods. After a brief moment, I heard the color wheel begin to hum and Channel 4 filled the screen. It felt like a triumph.

YouTube can be a DIYer’s best friend

That was roughly 15 years ago, and since that first foray into the do-it-yourself world, I’ve taken on several similar projects. Instead of picking up the phone I scour the internet for videos, lost instruction and repair manuals, even threads from questions thrown out into the universe like, “Does anyone know how to descale a Breville espresso maker?” (Yes, there are dozens of tutorial videos on that subject alone.)

Another benefit of DIY projects is that you avoid the embarrassment of flagging down a store employee and asking “Where do I find the thing for the toilet that makes the water stop running?” (It’s called a flapper).

After purchasing three flappers and returning two, I learned to take the words “universal” on replacement-part packaging with a grain of salt. Take a picture of the broken part and measure it. Otherwise when you get to the right aisle in Home Depot, you’ll inevitably pick the wrong part.

After some trial and error — mostly error — I’ve found that most replacement parts can be found quickly and easily online and likely installed with patience and a few simple tools like a screwdriver, an adjustable wrench or pliers.

seksan Mongkhonkhamsao/Moment RF/Getty Images/FILE
seksan Mongkhonkhamsao/Moment RF/Getty Images/FILE

Say, for example, that you backed your minivan into your neighbor’s driveway gate and smashed your taillight — twice. Ahem. Instead of making an appointment at the dealership, you can type “2016 Toyota Sienna passenger side taillight” into Google and will see a dozen websites selling a new or used replacement part known as a “tail light assembly,” a self-contained unit that houses your brake light and directional.

A new replacement assembly typically costs anywhere from $40 to $100. Again, you can likely find a video made by someone fed up with service department charges who will show you how to remove the broken one and install the new one.

When I say that the last time I replaced my taillight it required only a screwdriver and took less than five minutes, that is not an exaggeration. Some parts, such as a cracked side-view mirror cover, literally snap into place. The engine air filter that costs $75 at the dealership is about $20 online and can be installed in seconds.

Does all this make me sound like a cheapskate? Probably. But it also makes me something of a household hero (no “super” and lowercase “h”) when I install a new dishwasher in the afternoon and the dishes are clean by dinner. It also fills me with a sense of pride and accomplishment akin to completing the Lego Millennium Falcon with my boys (spoiler alert: they crashed it).

Some projects — like electrical repair — are best left to the pros

Are there repairs I would not recommend taking on? Absolutely. Unless you are 100% confident about where the main breaker switch is, don’t mess with electrical switches or outlets. The same goes for installing a smart thermostat. Electricity kills. So does natural gas, so leave gas dryers and stoves to the pros.

Plumbing is a toss-up. Hooking up a new washing machine or fixing a running toilet is simple — even a new dishwasher is not difficult once you’ve seen how it’s done. Just remember to turn off the water valves before you attempt anything. When finished, turn the water valves back on slowly and “stop, look and listen” for drips or leaks. Water can do as much damage to a home as fire.

When it comes to routine auto maintenance like oil changes, do the environment a favor and take your car to a shop that will store the old oil responsibly for future recycling. But do feel free to tell them you’ll change your own engine and cabin air filters because you found this great how-to video online.

Are there projects I have royally messed up? You bet. After I had some new flooring professionally installed, I thought I’d save money and paint the new baseboards myself. After spending two hours on my hands and knees putting down blue tape, I got to work. By hour three my back was aching and my wrist was sore. At the four-hour mark I was lying on my side, cursing, but I had finished.

The next morning I peeled off the tape and saw a thin border of white paint all along the edge of the new hardwood. I spent two hours with a razor blade carefully scraping it off.

One final thought on the road to becoming a do-it-yourselfer. Early on in my how-to journey, I stumbled upon a plumbing video that offered the single best piece of I have ever received regarding home repair and improvement projects: “If the tool you need to make the repair costs more than hiring the person who already owns the tool, hire the person.”

Now then, who’s up for some spackling?

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