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Save Money On Car Maintenance With These 5 Do-It-Yourself Tips

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car repair guy By Tom Barlow, dealnews contributor

You may wonder if you're being taken for a ride every time you fork over a wad of cash for a car maintenance procedure that only took the mechanic two minutes. If you're also someone who can't make toast without a fire extinguisher at hand, however, you may think there's no way around it.

But truthfully there are some maintenance tasks that are simple enough for even a novice, so why not save the dough instead? Here are five simple tasks that require only a little time, a little knowledge, and a few specialized tools.


1. Change Your Windshield Wiper Blades

Don't you hate the screech of worn-out windshield wiper blades or the streaks they leave behind on your car's windshield? Well hate no more, because changing them is a snap.

Usually there's no cost for the labor involved in changing a windshield wiper blade, but that's because you buy the blades at the auto shop. By replacing them at home, you can scout around for a deal first. And lo and behold, Advance Auto Parts currently cuts 20% off sitewide via coupon code "P20". (Or, click for a list of additional dollar-off codes.)

Tools You'll Need: A flat-blade screwdriver, like this Autocraft option ($3.19 via "P20" with pickup, $1 off).

Parts You'll Need: New windshield wiper blades (obviously), but don't forget the rear window blade if you have one. Be aware that the two front windshield blades could be different sizes. Know your make, model, and year of your car before buying. (Amazon frequently offers discounts and price lows online.) Also, you might as well buy a gallon of windshield wiper fluid as well, while you're at it.

The Fix: Most windshield wiper blades snap on and off. First, pull the blade upright, so that it stands clear of your windshield. At the midpoint, you'll see where it hinges into a crook. There should be a release pin or clip there that you can push or pry up; use the screwdriver if you have to pry.

Once you do this, the blade should slide out and free of the crook. Insert the new blade into the crook the same way the old one was oriented, then push until it locks. Lower the blade assembly to the windshield and you're done. It's that simple.

Then fill your windshield washer reservoirs. There will be one in the engine compartment, usually near the rear. If you have a rear window wiper, there may be a separate reservoir that you will need to fill in the back of the vehicle.


2. Replace Your Fuses

The electrical system in a car has numerous fuses designed to burn out when the current spikes, protecting more expensive systems in your car. If something on your car abruptly quits working, such as your car radio, headlights, or wipers, you may have a blown fuse. Luckily, these are usually a snap to replace.

Tools You'll Need: A pair of pliers such as the Mountain Slip Joint Pliers ($2.71 via "P20" with pickup, a low by $3), or even better, a plier-like device known as a fuse puller ($5.99 plus $4.47 s&h, a low by $3). A flashlight might also come in handy.

Parts You'll Need: Replacement fuses — like this 120-piece assortment ($5.44 plus $4.80 s&h, a low by $2) — are dirt cheap; this bundle of fuses ranges from 5 to 30 amps. Check your owner's manual for the correct type for your car. (Most use blade mini-fuses.)

The Fix: First, make sure the car is turned off before you begin. Then, consult your owner's manual to locate which fuse controls the system that's not working properly. Unfortunately, the fuse box is often positioned under the dashboard, requiring some yoga-like contortions to view.

Once you locate the fuse you suspect is bad, pull it and examine it closely; if the wire running through the center of the fuse is broken, it's bad and you should replace it with one rated for the same amperage. But regardless, when in doubt, replace it; the per-unit cost of the fuses is negligible.


3. Replace Your Air Filter

A dirty air filter is to your car what pneumonia is to your body. It robs your car of air and reduces your mileage. Replacing it is a very cheap way to make your ride more efficient.

Tools You'll Need: A flat-blade screwdriver and an adjustable wrench. The Stanley 10" MaxGrip Locking Adjustable Wrench ($20.60 plus free shipping via Prime, a low by $3) is a good all-purpose tool for working on cars.

Parts You'll Need: A replacement air filter for your make, model, year, and size of engine.

The Fix: Check your owner's manual for the location of your filter. It may be covered with a plastic shroud that is held down by a few plastic clips that you can flip, or it may be held in place with a nut on a long screw. Either way, remove the cover and you should find the filter lying loose. Simply pick it up and place the replacement filter in the same position. Then replace the cover. Job done. Did we mention these were simple tasks?


4. Replace Your Battery

Many companies such as Autozone will test your current battery free of charge (no pun intended), so you have no excuse if you're stranded on a cold February night because you put off testing and installing a new one.

Tools You'll Need: A wire brush, like this Lisle Battery Brush ($7.20 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $4), and an adjustable wrench.

Parts You'll Need: A new battery. Your parts store will help you select a battery that matches your car's requirements. Check to see if you can drop off the old one for recycling when you've finished replacing it.

The Fix: Turn off your car. Pop the hood and, using your car's manual, locate the battery. It may be under a plastic housing, but most likely it will be conveniently placed.

There are two cables connected to your battery: a black one (the ground, or negative) and a red one (the positive pole). Using the adjustable wrench, loosen and disconnect the black one first and pull it away, then disconnect the red one. Lift the battery out of the housing and set it aside. Keep it oriented upright, especially if it's not a sealed unit.

Using your wire brush, clean the metal terminals of the black and red cables, both inside the clamp and outside. If they're corroded or dirty, clean them with a solution of baking soda and water.

Then, lower the new battery into position. Once secure, attach the red cable to the positive pole of the battery, then the black cable to the negative pole.


5. Change Your Oil and Filter

Changing your own oil is not difficult and can save you a little cash to use on your next night out.

Tools You'll Need: An adjustable wrench, an oil filter wrench ($9.99 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $7), an oil drain pan, a funnel, and perhaps a car jack and jack stands, like this Torin Jack Stand 2-Pack ($19.99 via "P20" with pickup, or $23.97 with free shipping).

Parts You'll Need: Oil (check how much your car holds), an oil filter, and drain plug gasket.

Before you begin, can you reach the oil pan drain plug without jacking up your car? The oil pan will be hanging off the bottom of your motor, and the drain plug will be located at the lowest part of it. If you can reach it without jacking your car up, it makes an oil change much easier (and you won't need the aforementioned jack stands).

Start by running your car for a few minutes to warm the engine oil; this will allow it to drain more completely and quickly. Park your car on a level surface and engage the parking brake. Then, if necessary, begin by jacking your car up and placing jack stands on either side of the car. Never work under a car supported only by a single jack. Place the oil drain pan beneath the drain plug, then turn the plug counterclockwise with the adjustable wrench until it comes free. Be careful; the oil that comes gushing out will be warm. Let the car drain until it stops.

Next, locate the oil filter. Using the oil filter wrench, loosen and remove the filter. Keep it tilted upright until you can empty any oil into the oil pan. Then replace the gasket on the drain plug and screw it into place, taking care to not over-tighten, which will cause the plug gasket to distort, allowing oil to leak out. Rub the rubber gasket on the oil filter with a little clean oil for a better seal, then screw into place. If you have a good grip, hand-tightening should be enough. If not, snug it up with the oil filter wrench. Again, don't overdo it.

Once the plug and filter are in place, locate the oil filler cap on top of the motor, remove it, and add oil to your engine using a funnel to prevent spillage. When done, use the jack and remove the stands, lowering the car to the ground. Run the car for a couple of minutes, then turn it off and check your dipstick to make sure it's filled to the height indicated. Also check for leaks under your car. Lastly, dispose of dirty oil properly; many oil change shops will accept it for recycling.


If you've mastered these simple tasks, you may be ready to take on even more complicated ones, such as flushing and filling your coolant system or replacing your brake shoes. Who knows, maybe you've even tapped your inner grease monkey, and that alternate identity will emerge to save you a lot of money on car repairs.

Another way to save? Always check dealnews for discounts while shopping for parts and tools, like the aforementioned Advance Auto Parts code "P20" that takes 20% off sitewide. (Click for a list of additional dollar-off codes.)

Photo credit: Comedy_nose via Flickr



Tom Barlow formerly wrote for Aol's WalletPop and DailyFinance, and in addition to his dealnews contributions, he currently writes about lifestyle topics for Forbes.com. You can follow him on twitter @tombarlow. You can also sign up for an e-mail alert for all dealnews features.
Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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9 comments
Dougz
In a comment above, Bikeral advises that:" When a fuse blows, it does so for a reason. Something is wrong."
He is correct, but sometimes it is only the fuse that blew due to thermal stress, temperature cycling, and years of use.  Unless there is a reason to suspect some problem may have been brewing, I always change the fuse first.  If there is a real problem, the fuse will blow again quickly and you can troubleshoot accordingly.  The current type of fuses used in autos seem to be better than the old glass tube type, but they are still subject to stress failures. 
 
I think every microwave oven I have ever owned eventually failed due to the ceramic or glass cartridge fuse blowing because the soldered end caps crystalized, caused a poor connection, overheated and finally opened.  A new fuse put them back in business for many more years.
95m3ltw
Diogo_M    Research oil testing.  Several labs have tested economy brand oil vs any of the brand names and discovered there is about 0.0000000001% difference between the oils.   As with gasoline, there are only a few suppliers and most companies add their additive package.  Most brand name synthetic oils do NOT use a synthetic base oil either.     So as long as the oil being used meets or exceeds the required service ratings for the automobile, there is no problem with using "cheap" "no name" "jiffy lube special" oils vs a expensive brand name.  If you think otherwise, the oil companies marketing have worked :-). 

 I've done extensive oil testing on my own vehicles to determine 'safe' oil change intervals, both on Mobil 1 synthetics and generic dino oil.  According to Blackstone oil labs, both were still good at 8000 miles which was my target mileage for changing them.   

In fact, even finding a example of a oil related failure is nearly impossible in the last couple of decades.   The worst oil sold today is better than needed for 99.99% of the cars on the market.  For those few cars that need a special type of oil such as BMW M3 or Porsche 911 Turbo, the owners typically know this and buy accordingly. 

I would recommend for any person with a very short commute to consider changing their oil more often though due to water condensation which is not 'burnt off' if the vehicle does not have a chance to reach normal operating temps which would take 15-20mins of driving. 
Diogo_M
@Kyser_Soze  You are right, he did something really dumb. He didn't look in his manual to realize which was the ATF pan and the Oil pan. But that is no reason for those with common sense to follow instructions, not to attempt an oil change.
@slappy76 Most places will do your oil change for 20 bucks or so, HOWEVER the oil they put into the car isn't worth much. So if you yourself spent 30 dollars on oil and then do the job yourself, you have invested some quality in your car. I feel like you are saying that you would rather order a burrito at Taco Bell, then make one at home with better quality ingredients. 
Over all, the money you spent on the Quality items for your vehicle will increase its life in the long run. Finding the cheapest oil service in town is great for saving money but the quality of oils are lower than what you could buy for the same amount of money and install yourself.
veritas
Do not be intimidated by your dealership or other mechanics. Do research the task BEFORE you tackle it and make sure you have the proper tools required to complete the task. Buy a Haynes Manual for your model vehicle. Read thoroughly what is required and if are comfortable attempting
the task, go for it. Buy GOOD QUALITY TOOLS the first time. It will save you a lot of time. Some dealerships offer an "oil change night" where they allow you to use their lift and they also have a technician on hand for advice. Take advantage of this service if offered. Changing your oil is easier when your car is on a lift. Aside from saving money, you'll have the pride in doing the work yourself.
95m3ltw
Use a adjustable wrench on battery terminals OR a oil drain plug.   Really?   That is very poor advice IMO and should be clarified.  The cost of the correct size wrenches or sockets is far cheaper than a stripped oil drain plug or battery terminal.  
SuzukiSandy
Changing spark plugs doesn't seem too involved and can really enhance the performance of the car.  If you're going to attempt to change the engine oil, changing plugs isn't that much more difficult.  Do it when the engine is COLD and take care not to cross-thread the plug into the block.
bikeral
hmmm.  Except for the windshield wipers and airfilter, I would not suggest that a novice tackle any of the other suggestions without further guidance.  

A batter is something that only requires a little bit of knowledge to get right.   The one big caveat, especially with newer cars, is to make sure you have all information you need to get your car back to where it was when you started.  Lots of devices in your car depend on the battery to keep their memory.   So if you disconnect the battery your mirror and seat memories will go away.  Same thing with your radio and GPS unit.  So you should remember to have any security codes handy before you disconnect anything.  You should also be prepared to read the owners manual to reset any other setting that could disappear when you pull the battery.  The ideal solution is to have a separate power source that you can temporarily connect during the battery swap so that you don't need to worry about any codes and memory settings. 

When a fuse blows, it does so for a reason.  Something is wrong.  Simply replacing the fuse is not going to solve the problem.  It might get you going for a bit, but chances are the fuse will keep blowing till you correct the problem.  So the best bet is to fix the problem and then change the fuse.
slappy76
Changing oil is something you do as a teenager when you can barely afford gas. Changing oil takes me a minimum of 30 minutes. It's messy.. I have to stuff my ears so it doesn't get road crud dropping in the ear canal when I'm on my back. Plus you still have to drive somewhere to dispose of it properly. My local place will do it for 30 bucks and they throw in a car wash.

My time is worth more than 30 bucks to me.
Kyser_Soze
"The oil pan will be hanging off the bottom of your motor, and the drain plug will be located at the lowest part of it." I'll never forget the poor guy that came in to my shop thinking an oil change would be easy to do. He had drained his transmission instead of oil. He put 4 quarts of oil in the engine but he was checking the level with the transmission stick. He put 2 more quarts in but the stick still showed empty! He then drove to my shop with no transmission fluid and 10 quarts of oil in the engine that was coming through the crankcase breather. In the end, it cost him a way more than if he had just had us do the oil change.
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