5 Do It Yourself Car Maintenance Tips To Save Big Money
When it comes to do it yourself car maintenance, I used to be like a deer in the headlights, but when money got a little tight, I had to just suck it up and open the hood.
I’ll admit, it wasn’t fun at first, but when I realized how much money I was saving by NOT paying a mechanic to do silly things like change my windshield wiper blades and my air filter (and later, my oil), I started to enjoy it.
I’ll start with the easiest one first and work my way up to the more challenging jobs.
1. Check and adjust your tires’ air pressure
Greasy fingers factor: 1/5
Not only is this a completely simple thing to do, but it will help you save on fuel costs, extend the life of your tires, and your car will handle better. Most people wait until something happens before they bother to check their tire pressure. Make this a regular habit when you fill your tank or when you wash your car.
First, you need to find out what the air pressure SHOULD be. This information is available in several places – inside the driver door near the frame of the vehicle, inside the glove box door, on the side of the tires, or in the vehicle’s owners manual.
Next, you’ll take your air pressure gauge (they cost a few dollars at most) and place it over the end of the air nozzle on the tire. The gauge will pop out and show you the exact air pressure. Add or release air as needed.
2. Change your air filter
Greasy fingers factor: 2/5
The air filter, like the tire pressure, is easy to ignore. But with a dirty air filter, your car will NOT operate at its peak performance level. This filter helps your car’s fuel injector determine the optimal air:fuel ratio, which plays a huge role in fuel efficiency.
Most car manuals suggest changing your air filter every 60,000 miles, but depending on the climate and environment you live in, you should reconsider that arbitrary number. For instance, if you live in a dry and dusty region, you may need to replace it more frequently.
First, you need to buy the proper air filter. This is easy. The boxes will tell you if it is right for your car. You could also open the hood and remove your air filter first, but a lot of stores would prefer you NOT do that kind of thing in their parking lot. Also, you DON’T want to drive without an air filter, so don’t do it at home and drive with it. Maybe just ask for assistance at the store.
Once you have the new filter, locate the filter in your engine (if you haven’t already done so). It should be encased in black plastic and held shut with metal clips. Release the clips, remove the old filter, wipe out any debris that may be inside the filter case, and insert the new filter. Close and clip the cover, close the hood, and voila, you’re done.
3. Change the windshield wipers
Greasy fingers factor: 1/5
Like air pressure and air filters, the wiper blades are often ignored until they are either dry-rotted from the summer sun, or spreading streaks of dead bugs around your windshield. Replace this at least once a year, though I would recommend doing it in the fall and spring.
First, you’ll need to get the correct wiper blade. It’s easy enough to remove the blade from your vehicle and bring it into the store with you. To remove the blade, lift the wiper arm away from the windshield, click the tab under the wiper and slide it off.
Replacing a blade is pretty easy most of the time, but if you put the wiper blade on wrong, it could go flying off during the first downpour. To make sure this doesn’t happen, just be sure to slide the blade all the way into place and double check that it clicks in and can’t be slid off without clicking the release tab.
Some stores will offer to replace your wiper blades for free, but it often requires buying a higher-priced wiper blade.
4. Replace your spark plugs
Greasy fingers factor: 3/5
Here is another important bit of do it yourself car maintenance you can do to keep your car running smoother, longer, and more efficiently. The spark plugs are the literal spark that keeps your pistons pumping and your fuel burning properly. A few signs that you need to change your spark plugs are a rough idle, trouble starting, high fuel consumption, and lack of acceleration.
First, you’ll need to check your car manual (or the website for your make and model) and check what kind of spark plugs you need and how many. Also, make sure you have a spark plug socket extension among your socket wrench set. If not, buy one of those as well.
Pop your hood and locate your spark plugs. They will be found where all the rubbery wires meet. (These wires should also be replaced from time to time.)
Remove the spark plug wires one at a time by grabbing them as close to the engine as you can. Start at the back and work your way forward. After you remove the wire, place the spark plug socket as far down the plug as it will fit and remove the plug. Install the new plug, at first by hand-tightening, then use your wrench. Make it tight, but don’t try to torque it in place!
Repeat with each spark plug.
“So there you have five do it yourself car maintenance tips that will save you a ton of money each year. Oh, and you’ll look pretty cool as you tinker around with your car, which does wonders for your street cred.“
5. Change the oil and oil filter
Greasy fingers factor: 4.5/5
This is one of the more challenging jobs for a beginner, but it is also the one that will save you the most money. Before you get started you will need several quarts of oil to replace the old oil, a recycling pan to catch the old oil that you will drain from your car, and a new oil filter. Also, keep plenty of rags on hand.
If you can get your car off the ground on a pair of jack stands, great. If you don’t have jack stands, jack your car up carefully and use cinder blocks or bricks to stabilize the car under the tires. You won’t be under the car very long anyway, but play it safe at any rate.
Next, you’ll need to position the oil recycling pan under the oil filter and carefully remove the oil filter. Oil will pour out at this point, so be ready to get a few drops on you.
What I usually do is allow the oil to drip out for about 10-15 minutes to allow for some of the sludgier bits to work their way down.
Next, be sure to remove the rubber gasket that sat between the filter and the car. Wipe the gasket area clean. Next rub some clean oil on the new gasket before installing the new oil filter.
Finally, lower the car from its perch and replace the new oil until it’s full. Use the dipstick to make sure you neither under fill or overfill it.
Once you’re done and cleaned up, you’ll be able to take yourself out for a celebratory lunch with some of the money you saved. And don’t forget to recycle the oil.
So there you have five do it yourself car maintenance tips that will save you a ton of money each year. Oh, and you’ll look pretty cool as you tinker around with your car, which does wonders for your street cred.
Enjoy the savings and your new-found hobby. And don’t forget to buy a big jar of Goop to get your hands clean.
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