Simple Car Repairs You Can Do Yourself
Americans spend an average $849 a year on car maintenance and repairs. But taking on simple to intermediate tasks yourself can cut down on repair bills and maybe lengthen the life of your car. We’ll walk you through DIY car repair and maintenance projects that even a “non-car person” can tackle.
- Common maintenance
- Easy DIY car repair and maintenance
- Moderate DIY car repair and maintenance
- Difficult DIY car repair and maintenance
- Beginner tools you may want
- How to find car tools, advice
The best way to avoid repairs is to perform preventive maintenance, according to Eric Cook, a professional mechanic in Kings Mills, Ohio, also known as EricTheCarGuy, a YouTuber with more than 1 million subscribers. Sometimes, maintenance and repair overlap as you need to replace things that wear down over time. Here are three common DIY maintenance tasks you could do that can help minimize your car repair costs.
When you do an oil change, remember to dispose of the old oil properly. In many places, it’s illegal to simply dump it as it can be poisonous to the environment. To dispose or recycle it, you can take it to a car service station, an auto business such as Advanced Auto Parts or a community oil recycling center. The website Earth911 lets you look up where you can recycle all types of things, based on your zip code.
Maintaining tire pressure
To find out what the tire pressure should be, look in your owner’s manual. And if the tire pressure is low, you could fill it up by using an air pump. Many gas stations have one and charge $1 to provide airflow for about a minute and a half.
Easy DIY car repair and maintenance
These car repair and maintenance tasks don’t require any special tools and all replacement parts could be found easily at common stores.
Replacing an external lightbulb
- LED vs. halogen. An LED bulb is more expensive, brighter and has a much more blue tint than a traditional halogen bulb, which is less expensive, not as blindingly bright and has a yellow tint.
Restoring the light covers
Replacing the battery
Auto shops will often test your current battery to see if it could be saved, help you pick out the right battery for your car and do an install for free if you buy a battery there.
Cleaning and replacing air filters
Both cabin air filters and engine air filters work to prevent road grime, dirt and bugs from getting where they’re not supposed to be. Because air filters guard air intake, they are usually easy to get to and most don’t require any special tools to replace, though a screwdriver may help to open the housing around the filter.
To clean it, you could simply shake it out to the best of your ability. But don’t bang it against something or you may ruin the structure of the filter and it might not work. You could also potentially vacuum it with the vacuum hose (don’t run over it with the vacuum).
Even if you do clean it every once in a while, you should eventually replace it when it still looks dirty even after a cleaning. Auto air filters can cost less than $10 online.
If you do the latter, only measure the replaceable wiper blade, the part that touches the windshield. You don’t need to measure the “arm,” which moves the wiper blade.
Moderate DIY car repair and maintenance
These moderate DIY car repair and maintenance tasks may require a bit more gumption. For most of them, you’ll be able to use common household tools. Replacement parts should be readily available at auto shops.
Installing an external light fixture
When doing the replacement, pop the hood and detach the appropriate wires from the light fixture. You may need a pair of pliers to disconnect the wires or you may be able to simply detach the light bulb socket, wires and all, from the old part and screw it into the new part.
To get an OBD scan, you can go to an auto parts store and ask them to scan your car for you, free. If you want to get your own OBD scanner, the price can vary dramatically, based on how advanced you want the tool to be. A DIY type may only need a $20 one, whereas a professional mechanic may have one that cost $1,000.
Patching and rotating tires
Difficult DIY car repair and maintenance
These difficult DIY car repair and maintenance tasks need specific parts and require more mechanical knowledge. But you could still do them without having a mechanic’s training.
Installing a window regulator
To get into the car door to replace the part, you’ll need to take off the door panel. The best way to find how to do this is to search for a video showing it. As far as tools, you’ll probably need a wrench to undo and redo the rivets holding the window regulator.
Replacing fuel filter and hoses
Beginner tools you may want
For most DIY car repairs, you’ll only need simple tools that you would have in a regular household tool kit and/or the tool kit that came with the car. “Just a basic set of hand tools will do for most DIY jobs,” said Cook, who gives how-to advice on his YouTube channel. The one tool he recommends you do get is a better car jack. “Not the one that comes with your vehicle, if one comes with it in the first place.” Many new cars are missing a jack and a spare because manufacturers want to cut costs and increase fuel economy that a heavy spare tire and metal jack would eat up.
Here are some inexpensive tools that might not be in the common household tool kit but could allow you to do a wide range of things on your car or make them much easier to do.
Car jack. If you plan to do car work that will require lifting it off the ground a few times, such as rotating your tires or changing your brake pads, consider getting a hydraulic car jack, which can be very strong and not require a lot of twists or pumps from you to raise the car. Prices can range between $30 and $180 online, depending on how heavy your car is.
Warning: You never want to climb under the car while it’s held up by only a car jack — it can be extremely unsafe. If you or a passerby accidentally knocks the car jack, the car can drop on top of you. If you want to get under your car, look at car ramps.
- Car ramps. If you want to do car work that requires getting under your car and staying there for a while, car ramps are useful. Car ramps are a safe way to get the vehicle off the ground a few inches and give you a lot of room to work. They could help you more easily get to belts and hoses, drain fluids and check the undercarriage. Prices are as low as $65 online.
- Drain pan. If you plan to change filters or drain fluids, having a drain pan, also known as a catch pan, under the car is a smart idea. It is a smart idea, too, not to use a kitchen bowl to catch engine fluids as they can be poisonous. You can find a drain pan for under $9 online and in stores.
Potential places to shop for new and used tools include any place you’d look for car parts and online sites, such as eBay and Amazon.
How to find car tools, advice
“Sometimes you can find a lot of auto repair information by just doing a Google search. The caveat to that is to proceed with caution,” Cook said. For instructions and/or parts for your specific car, here are places to go.
Auto parts store
Most provide some help free of charge, including figuring out what part(s) you need — they want you to buy the part from them. Chain auto parts stores have a huge database of what parts go with which specific car. And if you do buy the part, an employee will usually help you remove the old part and install the new one.
However, there are limitations. The people who work at auto parts stores, while usually knowledgeable, are not likely to be certified mechanics. Also, you usually have to get your car to the store (a dead battery could make this tricky), the store has to be open and ideally, the employees should not be busy with tons of other customers.
The internet can be a wonderful tool. You could do a general internet search or search on a retailer’s website, such as Amazon, Walmart, AutoZone and O’Reilly. Type in the year, make and model of your car, along with the general type of part you need or the problem it is having. For example, “2014 Nissan Sentra headlight.”
Watching someone do a repair is one of the best ways to learn how to do it yourself. There are a ton of instructional car repair videos done by professional mechanics on YouTube, such as EricTheCarGuy, Scotty Kilmer and Chris Fix.
When all else fails, open the owner’s manual book that came with your car. Scan through the table of contents and go to the right section that addresses the car problem you’re having.
General advice and a word of caution
If you have major repair work that needs to be done, or the work could be potentially dangerous, we recommend having a professional mechanic work on the car. Saving some money doing DIY car repair is not worth potentially putting your life or other lives in danger.