Just because you have zero auto maintenance experience doesn’t mean you can’t learn the basics of car repair – and maybe save yourself a bit of money in the process.
“Motorists (are paying) less attention to vehicle maintenance than it deserves," Michael Calkins of AAA recently told NBC News. "Every driver should read the owner's manual and familiarize themselves with these simple do-it-yourself checks that help ensure safe driving. The more one travels off the beaten path, the greater the value in being able to change a tire or perform minor repairs.”
One obstacle is that many American drivers are understandably nervous when it comes to car repairs. One study found only 42 percent feel confident they could change a flat tire, while only 26 percent are sure they could change their oil. The situation gets worse with younger generations, with millennials displaying less hands-on knowledge about routine car upkeep than Gen Xers and baby boomers.
But learning to handle a few relatively simple car maintenance tasks could be well worth your trouble. Here are some basic car repair techniques to master - and a YouTube video or two for the visual learners.
Replacing air filters: Air filters run around $10 at your local auto parts retailer and should be replaced every 12 months or 12,000 miles. The process will take about 10 minutes. Simply lift your hood to find your filter (a black rectangular box with metal clips on the side), open the casing, note how the filter fits inside, then remove it before sliding in the new one. Close the box and re-clip the clips. That’s it.
Replacing windshield wipers: New blades will cost $10 to $20 and take 15 minutes to install. They’ll need replacing every six to 12 months. Most used blades come off easily when you push a tab on their undersides, then you can gently position your new blades in the same direction.
Replacing spark plugs: Buy new plugs for $10 to $15 and set aside 20 to 30 minutes for installation. Replace these about every 30,000 miles. You’ll need a ratchet or socket wrench, a 12-inch socket extension and a spark plug socket. Find your old plugs attached to thick, rubbery wires within your engine. Disconnect one at a time – this is key - using your spark plug socket and extension. Remove it, then screw in the new one with your wrench before re-attaching the wire.
Changing your oil: Do this every 3,000 to 5,000 miles, and plan to spend 30 to 45 minutes. Wear old clothes and bring along a ratchet, an oil filter wrench, a funnel, a container for your old oil, a new filter and your new can(s) of oil (around $20). Wait until your engine is cold, then safely jack up your car. Slide beneath on your back, find and unscrew your oil pan, drain your used oil into a container and replace your plug. Slide out, open your hood, switch out your filter - using your oil filter wrench - then fill your engine with clean oil via your funnel. Eureka! All that's left is to recycle your old oil (your local gas station can help with this).
Maintaining battery connections: Use your hands, a wrench or a screwdriver to remove your negative cable followed by your positive cable. Then scrub your posts with a wire brush and some corrosion-removal fluid or just baking soda and water. Rinse the plugs with a little water and dry them with rags before replacing the terminals.
While each of these tasks are well-within your DIY grasp, it’s important to always do a little research before taking on anything that might qualify as an actual repair. “One of the biggest steps to any DIY project is knowing when not to do it yourself,” advises David Bakke on Moneycrashers.com. “Be sure you know your experience level, and don’t try a DIY project that’s too big to handle. Don’t risk injury or take apart pieces you can’t put back together.”