6 DIY Car Maintenance Tips That Even You Can Handle
You’re tired of leaving the repair shop with your pocket turned out? We get it. Car maintenance costs have skyrocketed, nearly doubling in the past 15 years. That hurts. You need some DIY car maintenance tips.
Once your vehicle is five years old, you’ll likely spend as much on maintenance and repairs annually as you would on car payments for a new one, unless you’ve got a low maintenance car. That’s no good.
Keep your money in your own pocket with DIY car maintenance. Grab the right tools for working on your car and you could save hundreds annually.
Oil and Filter Changes
Get your oil and filter at an automotive store when there’s a sale on the good stuff or browse online. Buy a sturdy oil drain bucket, a pair of car ramps, a bag of absorbent material and a spare drain plug (you’ll use it eventually).
Oil and filter changes are quite simple to perform on your own. Run the engine for at least a few minutes to get the oil warm and flowing. With guidance from a good buddy, drive your car up onto the ramps. Loosen and remove the drain plug, letting it completely drain into your bucket. While it’s draining, change the oil filter. Put the drain plug back in and tighten it snug. Fill the oil up to the “full” line on the dipstick – no higher. Make sure you’ve got the right oil for your car, too.
You’re aware your tires wear unevenly front to back, and the dealer can charge $30 or more to simply switch them around. Tackle it yourself to save some jangle in your jeans.
Jack up your car and place it on jack stands. You can do it one side at a time, left or right. Remove all the lug nuts from both wheels and simply move the front wheel to the back and the rear wheel to the front. Install the lug nuts and tighten them to the torque spec indicated in your owner’s manual.
Air Filter Replacement
It’s the easiest of DIY car maintenance, and the most forgotten as well. A dirty air filter will affect your fuel mileage badly and can cause your engine to run poorly. A new air filter is usually only $10 to $40, depending on the car you drive.
Open the car and locate your air filter housing. If you can’t find it, close the hood and throw your keys in the lake. You can’t drive anymore. Remove the clips or screws holding the lid in place. Inside, you’ll find the air filter. Toss the old one and fit the new one in the same orientation. Then, close it up. You’re done.
Transmission Fluid Change
We’re getting a little tricky now with our DIY car maintenance. The transmission fluid change is one of the most expensive maintenance items to have done at the dealership or repair shop. You can save a couple hundred bucks by doing it yourself, but be careful. It is crucial that you use the correct fluid or you could cook the transmission. It’s also good to know how often you should change your transmission fluid.
Lift your car on jacks, then slide underneath. Some vehicles will have a drain plug on the transmission, while others require the trans oil pan be removed and reinstalled.
- If yours has a drain plug, simply pull the lower plug on the trans case and let the fluid fully drain. Tighten it back up, then fill the transmission. Use only the fluid grade specified in the owner’s manual, and precisely the quantity as well.
- If your transmission does not have a drain plug, remove the trans pan. It’s simply bolted on, but you may have to lightly pry to unstick the gasket material. The fluid spills all over the place usually, so be prepared for cleanup afterwards. Change the filter at the same time, while you’re in there already. Clean the pan and sealing surface of all the old gasket stuff, then reseal the trans pan with a new gasket or RTV sealant, whichever yours has. Fill the transmission at the dipstick tube, keeping the level within the “safe zone.”
Brake Fluid Change
Brake fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs water molecules. It can only contain so much before it needs to be changed, often requiring replacement every three years. Use the correct fluid spec only, whether it’s DOT3 or DOT4 or whatever.
At each of your calipers, there’s a bleeder screw. Attach a hose to the bleeder screw and run it into a bottle. It’s a good investment to buy a bleeder hose with a check valve, you’ll see why in a minute. Open the bleeder screw and press the brake pedal to the floor. Tighten the bleeder screw, then release the brake pedal. Be careful not to release the pedal before the screw is tight or air will get into the system, and you’ll be bleeding forever. Open, stomp, tighten, release. Repeat.
Keep topping up the brake fluid reservoir with clean fluid whenever it gets low. The brake-bleeding job is done at each wheel when clean fluid is visible in the bleeder hose. Repeat at all four wheels. And yes, it gets monotonous.
Tip: It’s a two-man job unless you have the bleeder hose with a check valve. With the check valve, you don’t need to tighten the bleeder screw between brake pedal presses. You’ll save time and eliminate the potential of air getting into the brake fluid lines.
Power Steering Fluid Change
Also a simple DIY car maintenance procedure, power steering fluid is forgotten on a regular basis. Dirty fluid develops an abrasive quality and can destroy the seals in your steering rack and pump. Change it every three years or so.
Buy a large turkey baster-like suction tool. With the engine off, suck the fluid out of the reservoir and fill it with clean fluid. Again, use only the fluid that is specified in the owner’s manual. Run the engine, turning the wheels from left to right a few times. Shut the engine off and repeat the suction. You’ll notice the fluid looks much cleaner after just two or three cycles. As long as the fluid looks clean and it doesn’t smell burnt, you’re good to go. Top up the power steering fluid reservoir and hit the road.