Don’t let the fear of fixing your own car keep you on the road to the poorhouse. There is no reason to pay for something you can do without a mechanic’s help.
While modern automobiles are increasingly sophisticated, not every repair or maintenance job requires a skilled technician. There are plenty of easy tasks that motorists with no mechanical skills can do to avoid hefty auto shop bills.
Here are several do-it-yourself projects you can complete from the convenience of your driveway.
1. Changing a cabin air filter
These devices support air quality in cars, screening out dust and pollen to keep ventilation systems running smoothly. You should be able to find the location of the car’s filter with the vehicle owner’s manual. The filter may be under the dashboard, behind the glove box or under the hood.
Lauren Fix, author of “Lauren Fix's Guide to Loving Your Car,” tells Money Talks News that changing this filter is “super easy.”
“They’re supposed to be replaced a minimum of once a year, but I recommend every six months,” she says. “If the filter is dirty, you are breathing dirty air.”
Wear safety glasses to protect your eyes when replacing filters. Remove the screws, clips or wingnuts that hold the filter housing in place. Next, remove the cover. Clean the compartment before installing a new filter. Use a cloth and a vacuum cleaner to remove dirt and dust. The last step is replacing screws or clips.
2. Replacing a taillight bulb
To replace a taillight bulb, gain access to it through the taillight housing. The owner’s manual will tell you how to do this. Depending on the car, you may be able to reach the rear bulbs through panels inside the trunk or through the hatch, says Fix.
Once you have the taillight housing open, remove the bulbs. Take them to an auto parts store to purchase matching replacements, or have someone at the store look up the proper bulb, using the vehicle’s year, make and model. Put everything back in place after you install the new bulb.
3. Replacing windshield wiper blades
Sunlight, rain and dirt damage rubber blades over time. Install a new set when your blades no longer remove raindrops from the windshield without smears and streaks.
It’s much cheaper to replace a set of windshield wiper blades yourself than to hire a mechanic to do the work. Find the correct replacement blades for your car’s make and model at an auto parts store. The blades come with instructions for installation, but it’s a good idea to also consult the owner’s manual.
Many wiper arms have tabs that can be pushed to remove old blades. Be careful not to damage the wiper arms by bending them too far back from the windshield when replacing the blades.
Fix says you always should buy premium, high-quality replacement blades, since most driving decisions are based on visibility.
4. Checking the tire pressure
Use a tire gauge to check tire pressure yourself. The recommended tire pressure usually can be found on the inside of the driver’s side door frame or in the owner’s manual.
Tire pressure is measured in pounds per square inch, or psi. Michael E. Gray, co-author of “Auto Upkeep,” tells Money Talks News you should check air pressure at least once each month.
Air expands when you drive, so test the tires when they’re cool. Edmunds.com, which provides advice to motorists, recommends waiting a half-hour for warm tires to cool down so you can get a true reading.
When you check the air, make sure the valve cap has no cracks. Place the exposed end of the gauge onto the valve stem. When taking a reading, make sure there is no hissing, which indicates that air is escaping. Replace the valve cap when you’re done.
5. Maintaining a battery
According to the AAA, the simplest part of maintaining a battery is keeping its case clean. Dirt and oil on the case can cause a power drain. Clean the case by wiping it with paper towels moistened with a mild detergent. Cracks or bulges may indicate the battery needs to be replaced.
Visually inspect battery posts and terminals for corrosion and damaged connections. Corrosion can be cleaned with a 50/50 solution of baking soda and water applied with a small, stiff brush and rinsed with clean water.
Be careful whenever you work with car batteries, which contain sulfuric acid and can cause chemical burns. AAA recommends wearing eye protection, gloves and protective clothing.
6. Replacing an engine air filter
An air filter protects the car’s engine from dust. AAA recommends changing the engine air filter every 20,000 miles or so, and more often in severe driving conditions. To check the air filter, remove it from its housing and hold it up to a bright light. If light does not pass easily through more than half of the filter, it probably needs to be replaced.
If you have an extended-life engine air filter made of dense fabric, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for replacement.
Most air filter casings are held together by large metal clips that can be opened with a flat-head screwdriver. In some cases, long screws need to be removed to get to the filter. Vacuum out the filter box before installing a new filter.
7. Replacing fuses
If an electronic device in your car isn’t working, check to see if there is a bad fuse. The owner’s manual will help you locate the fuse box and explain how to open it. Many fuse box covers can be removed by hand or with the aid of a flat-head screwdriver. Fuse boxes in older cars may not have covers.
Once you’ve located the fuse box, determine which fuse isn’t working. The owner’s manual should provide a chart that shows which fuses correspond to which electrical devices and functions.
Fuse boxes typically come with a small plastic tool to remove and install fuses, according to NAPA (National Automotive Parts Association). You also may be able to use a pair of needle-nosed pliers to remove a fuse, but be very careful not to damage it.
If you find a fuse that contains a metal link that’s broken, it has blown and needs to be replaced. If you don’t have a set of spares, buy a replacement at an auto parts store. Be sure to find the exact same amperage rating to ensure the car operates properly.
8. Changing the oil
Changing the car’s oil yourself isn’t difficult, but it requires some equipment. AAA suggests you gather the following things:
- An oil pan
- A standard wrench
- An oil filter wrench
- A funnel
- A replacement plug
- Latex gloves
- Replacement oil
- A new oil filter
You may need to raise the car to change the oil. Never work under a vehicle that’s supported only by a jack. It’s safer to use ramps or jack stands.
Consult the owner’s manual to locate the oil filter and drain plug. The old filter will contain oil, so be careful not to spill it when it’s removed. Next, drain the oil into an oil pan. When finished, tighten the plug and change out the filter, using the appropriate wrench.
When the new filter is in place, add the correct amount of fresh oil. Consult the manual for the right amount. Use a dipstick to check the level.