5 DIY Maintenance Tips Anyone Can Do
Car maintenance at a garage or dealership can be costly. However, the cost of not maintaining your car is even greater. Without proper maintenance over time, small problems will compound to become costly fixes and repairs that may even force you to invest in a new vehicle.
The good news is that a lot of car maintenance can be done with minimal vehicle knowledge and simple tools. You can easily save hundreds by avoiding service labor costs.
Here are 5 DIY car maintenance tips to keep your car in good health and your piggy bank intact.
1. Windshield Wipers
Windshield wipers should be replaced about every 6 months, but many drivers let them go far too long to avoid a time consuming trip to the garage. The good news is that you’ll only need about 15 minutes to do this on your own with no tools at all. You can find the wipers you’ll need in your owner’s manual; they should only be about $10-$20 at your local auto parts store.
Keep in mind that you are likely to use your windshield wipers more during certain parts of the year, like fall and winter, so plan your replacement schedule accordingly.
2. Air Filter
Replacing an air filter is about as simple and easy as it gets. There is no reason to surrender your car to the shop for a half-day or more for a 10-minute job. It’s as simple as reading a page in your owner’s manual, taking the top off a box, switching out filters, and putting the top back on.
You should replace your air filter once a year or every 12,000 miles – filters cost about $10, depending on your vehicle, and this task can be completed with no tools at all.
3. Battery Maintenance
There is something about electricity and its potential for serious harm that keeps car owners at a safe distance from their batteries. Never fear! As long as you disconnect the battery properly (negative node first!) you’ll be fine.
Maintaining a strong battery connection is important in order to keep your car running smoothly throughout daily wear and tear. A simple visual inspection will tell you if it’s time to clean your battery. The crunchy white residue that builds over time will keep your car from starting properly and reduce the life of your battery and other starting components.
For this task you’ll need a few items: a rag, some wire brushes, wrenches to loosen connectors, and some corrosion removal fluid. Some say you can substitute Coca-Cola here. You could, but we wouldn’t recommend it.
The cleaning process shouldn’t take longer than 20 minutes and, assuming you have a wrench and wire brush lying around, investment in tools will be minimal.
4. Oil and Oil Filter
Performing your own oil changes is perhaps one of the dirtier and more involved DIY tasks. However, doing so will give you peace of mind and help you to get better acquainted with the machine you operate.
Convention would have you change your oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles, but the fact is that today we have higher quality oil and more efficient engines. Most cars even have oil quality meters, but you can always double check by eyeing the quality on the dipstick. You might even be able to get up to 5,000 miles out of a single oil change.
You’ll need to purchase some oil, which will cost you about $20 (check your owner’s manual for specs), as well as a ratchet, oil filter wrench, oil pan, and funnel. The whole process takes about 30-45 minutes.
Before you start: Make sure your car is cool. Hot oil will burn and most likely melt through your plastic oil pan, creating a mess that is nearly impossible to clean completely.
5. Spark Plugs
Replacing your own spark plugs can save you a lot of money. It takes some patience, but it’s a pretty simple task.
You’ll need a spark plug for every cylinder your car has (4, 6, or 8) and they should be replaced about every 30,000 miles. The proper gap size for the plug can be found in your owner’s manual. Just bring this number to your local parts store and they should have you in and out in no time.
Note: Do not to unhook all the spark plugs at once – they have to be done one at a time.
Tools involved include a ratchet, 12” socket arm, and spark plug socket (this is deeper than the typical socket). The fix should take 20-30 minutes and the estimated cost of the plugs is about $10-$15.
Why shell out for these quick and inexpensive fixes when you could be saving that money for the more advanced maintenance involved in brakes, rotors, and tires?
In addition to saving money on service labor costs and parts markups, performing basic maintenance will give you a better relationship with your car. It’s easy to forget that you are operating a piece of heavy machinery on a daily basis. By understanding more about how your car operates, you will be more apt to know when something is failing or if more significant maintenance is required.