Car Insurance

8 Essential Car Maintenance Tasks You Can Do Yourself

By Peter Mondrose Peter Mondrose is the Head of Insurance Content at Bankovia. He received his degree in Economics in 1998 and a second degree in Journalism in 2004 from the University of Chicago. Most recently he served as Head of Content at QuoteYeti.com, and editor at BusinessPundit.com 11 minute read

I’ve been teaching myself to do more of the things I used to have to hire others to do so that I may save money.

Besides saving money on house renovations, I’ve found that doing some of my own car maintenance and repairs may provide significant financial rewards.

Have faith in the fact that I am not an expert in automobiles. I don’t even have a knack for fixing things. However, I have discovered that there are several fixes that can be done by anyone with little skill and price.

By taking care of the necessary repairs myself over the past few years, I have been able to keep my automobile rather than sell it and therefore save a substantial sum of money.

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1. The Air Filter

  • Tools You Need. None
  • Time to Complete. 10 minutes
  • Estimated Cost. $10

Air filters should be changed every 12 months or 12,000 miles, whichever comes first. You may take your car to the shop and pay the labor fee, or you can change the air filter in your own garage in under 10 minutes.

  1. Start by looking under the hood for the filter. It’s in a black rectangular box with metal clamps on the side. If it isn’t immediately apparent when you open the hood, go to the vehicle’s owner’s handbook.
  2. Take apart the housing and look at the air filter’s installation. Keep in mind the orientation of the filter.
  3. Take out the used filter and replace it with a fresh one sitting in the exact same position.
  4. Close the metal clips when you’re through using them.

That settles the matter. To save money in the long run, consider giving your new air filter a good blast of compressed air to remove any dust or dirt that may have settled on it.

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2. Wipers for the windshield

  • Tools You Need. None
  • Time to Complete. 15 minutes
  • Estimated Cost. $10 to $20

The complimentary installation that comes with the wiper blade sale at my neighborhood auto parts store always makes me chuckle.

However, I discovered that I would have to purchase the most costly blades in order to have free installation, so I began performing the task on my own. After a year or so of use, your wiper blades will need to be replaced. 

You probably wait a little longer than the recommended interval before requesting a replacement, but you shouldn’t put yourself in danger of streaking because of the hassle of delaying a trip to the car shop.

Installation of windshield wiper blades might be complicated because of the wide variety of vehicles on the road nowadays. 

The procedure is analogous to that of replacing an air filter:

  1. Like you would while cleaning your windshield by hand, lift the blades and throw them away.
  2. Observe the joinery of the metal arms to the antique blades.
  3. A tab is often located on the bottom of the wiper on most models. Sliding the old blade out requires a push on the tab.
  4. Replace the wiper blades without damaging the wiper arms or the windshield. Put everything in its place, and double-check the tightness of the replacements.

Don’t worry if you get sidetracked or forget how to properly install the new wiper blades on the arm. The new blades’ package needs to have standard operating procedures and a visual guide.

3. The Spark Plugs

  • Tools You Need. Ratchet or socket wrench, 12″ socket extension, spark plug socket
  • Time to Complete. 20 to 30 minutes
  • Estimated Cost. $10 to $15

Spark plugs typically need to be replaced every 30,000 miles, but check your owner’s handbook to be sure.

Although it can sound like a lot of labor, swapping the spark plugs is actually quite easy. You should put aside some time and be patient. 

Don’t be in a hurry, because there is a certain order in which the replacements must be installed.

  1. You shouldn’t have any trouble finding the spark plugs because they’re connected to the coils by thick rubbery wires.
  2. Depending on the number of cylinders in your vehicle, there will be four, six, or eight plugs.
  3. Take off just the wire leading to the first spark plug. Take care to unplug just the necessary cables. You must keep the original order of installation of your spark plugs.
  4. To get reach the first spark plug, you’ll need to extend the socket on your ratchet.
  5. Put in the replacement spark plug by first screwing it in by hand and then tightening it with a wrench. Please don’t overtighten.
  6. Connect the wire to the spark plug again.

Do this for each spark plug individually. You won’t have to gap the plugs yourself if you get the appropriate ones, because they will already be spaced properly.

4. Filters for oil and oil

  • Tools You Need. Ratchet, oil filter wrench, oil pan, funnel
  • Time to Complete. 30 to 45 minutes
  • Estimated Cost. $20

Professionals recommend oil changes every 3,000 miles, but I find that five thousand miles are plenty between now and when automobiles were first becoming more fuel efficient.

No matter what standard you end up adopting, making the transition on your own will save you both time and money. 

Take these safety measures into consideration before you begin:

  1. Do not attempt to replace the oil in a hot engine. Stop for a while and let the engine cool before starting. It’s good news that you can get a more efficient drain by driving around the block to warm the car and loosen the oil, but it’s bad news that you have to wait until the engine cools down before heading to work.
  2. Make sure you know how to properly use a jack before attempting to jack up your automobile.

After going through basic precautions, you can start getting your hands filthy.

  1. It’s time to get under the car and look for the oil pan. Finding it shouldn’t be too difficult.
  2. To empty the old oil, unscrew the drain cap and pour it into a container.
  3. The drain stopper should be replaced once the oil has been drained.
  4. Return to the engine, and using the oil filter wrench, take out the old oil filter. Be wary; there’s some stale oil in the oil filter, too.
  5. Motor oil should be used to lubricate the replacement oil filter’s rubber gasket.
  6. About two-thirds of the way with fresh oil, in the new oil filter.
  7. Tighten the new oil filter into place. Only tighten it by hand.
  8. With the help of your funnel, put fresh oil in the engine.
  9. Verify the oil level using a dipstick to make sure you have put enough.
  10. Filter used oil and reuse it; get rid of the old filter most gas stations will take it.

If you’re looking for the dirtiest task on the list, go no farther than changing your oil. Even if there are a number of convenient stores close by, the time and money spent there add up when you consider the possibility of going as little as four times a year.

5. Battery Servicing

  • Tools You Need. Wrenches, corrosion-removal fluid, wire brush, rags
  • Time to Complete. 20 minutes
  • Estimated Cost. $5

A strong connection between the battery and the automobile will ensure that the vehicle continues to function smoothly and effectively.

There have to be more than a few particles of crispy white residue on the posts for your car to refuse to start. 

A visual inspection of your battery will inform you when it’s time to do this:

  1. Your battery terminals may be easily removed. Never disconnect a positive cable before the negative one has been disconnected. Get a flathead screwdriver and pry them loose if they’re stuck.
  2. Scrub the pillars. Coca-Cola does work, but I recommend a more professional product available at your local auto parts store. Do your research; you’ll find that most of these solutions consist of nothing more than baking soda and water, so if you’re really trying to save money, you can make your own cleaner. Use a generous amount of the solution on the posts, then scrub them well with your wire brush.
  3. You should wash off the cleaning solution with some water.
  4. To dry the posts, use cloths.
  5. Change out the battery terminals.

Although it’s typically easy to avoid the hassle, a dead battery may be one of the most aggravating automotive concerns.

It’s a good idea to check the battery every few months to determine whether it needs a basic cleaning, especially if you’ve been using the same battery for a while.

6. Radiator Cleanup

  • Tools You Need. Phillips-head screwdriver or wrench, rags, radiator flush solution, coolant, funnel, used coolant receptacle
  • Time to Complete. 30 minutes
  • Estimated Cost. $25

To ensure proper operation, you should regularly clean your car’s radiator and cooling system. Deposits form on your car’s radiator just from everyday use, which might impede its cooling performance. 

A radiator flush is a simple and cheap maintenance procedure that will keep your system running smoothly.

If you want to know how often you should flush the radiator, whether it’s once a year or twice a year, you should look in the owner’s handbook.

  1. Be sure the automobile is entirely cool before starting.
  2. Finding the radiator’s drain plug may require consulting the handbook. Position the used coolant container, remove the drain cap, and allow the fluid to drain.
  3. Switch back the drain plug and take off the radiator cap.
  4. Using the funnel, pour in the radiator flush cleaning solution before filling the rest of the way with water.
  5. Fix the radiator by changing the cap.
  6. Get the car started and let it run until it reaches operating temperature.
  7. Run the car with the heating turned all the way up for 10 minutes.
  8. Put the car in park and let the engine cool down before starting it up again.
  9. Please empty the radiator.
  10. The radiator needs a new coolant.
  11.  Bring the old coolant to a gas station, car parts store, or technician to have it properly disposed of. Pets may be tempted by the pleasant taste of old coolant, but it is dangerous to them.

In the world of do-it-yourself automobile repairs, how to work with coolant is a big step forward.

If you’re going to be working on your automobile, make sure you allow the engine plenty of time to cool down before you start and before you drain the radiator. Don’t rush through this task, and always err on the side of caution.

7. Brake Disc

  • Tools You Need. Lug wrench, C-clamp, open-end or adjustable wrench, hammer
  • Time to Complete. 30 minutes to an hour
  • Estimated Cost. $40 and up (depending on your car)

Most vehicles require disc brake replacement every 20,000 miles, however, this can vary greatly depending on make and model.

More frequent replacement will be required if you often engage in stop-and-go driving. You may replace your own brake pads but always put security first. 

Use caution, gather the necessary materials beforehand, and hire a professional if you are uneasy about getting started.

  1. Put the car up on jack stands and jack it up.
  2. You need to start by removing the lugs from your tires.
  3. Drop the wheel.
  4. To access the brake pads, you’ll need to take the caliper off the brake. At twelve o’clock, over the wheel lug nuts, is where you want to put the brake caliper. Each side of the caliper’s rear features a bolt for mounting. Take out the screws and put them somewhere safe. Pull up on the caliper while holding it near the top. Tap it if you must, but be careful not to damage the brake line with a black hose. Don’t just leave the caliper dangle from the brake line; instead, set it down somewhere safe. The old brake pads should be easily removed when the caliper is removed.
  5. New pads should be installed in place of the old ones, and the same clips used to secure the old pads should be used to do so. You may need to do a small amount of work with a hammer if you have an older vehicle. Don’t rush anything!
  6. Drive the brake piston down. Pull out a C-clamp and position the screw end against the piston, then attach the other end to the caliper’s rear plate.
  7. Pull the lever until the piston moves far enough to allow the caliper assembly to be positioned over the new pads.
  8. Simply replace the wheel after reinstalling the brake caliper the inverse procedure of removing it.

To my mind, you’ve just upgraded to DIY 2.0 with this undertaking. You should probably work on your self-assurance a bit more if you are still learning the basics of oil changes before doing this.

8. Replacement of the Fuel Filter

  • Tools You Need. New fuel filter, new fuel line washers, open-end wrenches, rags, eye protection
  • Time to Complete. 30 minutes
  • Estimated Cost. $20

To avoid potentially expensive engine damage, it’s recommended that you replace your gasoline filter once a year which will only set you back about $20.

Keep in mind that this is an advanced DIY project, much as replacing brake pads. 

Just be sure you’re not getting in over your head with this one. I only ever did it once, but I remember it going off without a hitch because I was so focused on getting it right.

The handling of fuel and fuel filters is a potentially hazardous activity if you aren’t properly trained and equipped. 

Hire an expert technician if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself every year:

  1. The first and most vital step is to release pressure from the gasoline system. The consequences, if you don’t, maybe, well, explosive. The fuse for the fuel pump must be accessed from the breaker panel. Check the relay that controls the fuel pump if you don’t have a fuse for it. Get the car going, then, with the engine running, remove the relay or fuse. When the car stops running, you’ll know you made the proper choice.
  2. You need to take the gasoline lines off the fuel filter. In most cases, you’ll need two different-sized open-end wrenches to properly tighten the connections on your gasoline filter.
  3. Cover the fitting with a towel after the wrenches are in place in case there is residual pressure in the lines.
  4. While holding the filter-specific wrench, move the other wrench counterclockwise to loosen the nut holding the filter to the housing.
  5. Get rid of the gasoline line bolt by sliding it off.
  6. When you’re done with one side of the gasoline filter, do the same thing on the other.
  7. Clean up the fuel system by removing the old filter. Many filters include a clamp that may be unfastened using a flathead screwdriver. There may still be gas in the old gasoline filter, so exercise caution.
  8. Washers on the bolts that attach the gasoline lines to the fuel filter should be changed regularly. You must ensure that the replacements are properly matched.
  9. Reverse the steps you took to remove the old fuel filter in order to install the new one.
  10. Don’t try to start the automobile until you’ve replaced the relay or fuse that powers the gasoline pump.

To put it another way, this is a DIY 2.0 endeavor. If you’ve never dealt with the fuel system before and have no idea where to begin, it’s probably best to just take your car in for its scheduled maintenance instead.

Bottom Line

Changing the oil and spark plugs on a car can cost up to $80 while doing it yourself can cost as little as $40. Infinite examples may be given. 

If you’re willing to undertake some of the work on your car yourself, you can cut these eight costs significantly, potentially saving you thousands of dollars over the vehicle’s lifetime.

One of the most important aspects of any do-it-yourself endeavor is realizing when it’s not worth your time.

Find a friend who shares your interest in auto maintenance and cost cutting, or use the chance to educate your young people about vehicles. 

Know your limits before beginning a do-it-yourself job, and don’t take on more than you can handle. Never disassemble something you don’t know how to put back together, otherwise, you might hurt yourself.

Otherwise, you may gain knowledge, share it with others, and save costs all at the same time by teaching a new skill.

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