You can gain confidence in your DIY skills, fix your car, and save money all at the same time if you stop paying someone else to do these simple auto maintenance tasks. We start off small, with jobs that are easy and won’t save you a ton of money, but the last few could save you hundreds of dollars every year.
1) Changing Light Bulbs
For rear turn signals, reverse lights, brake lights, and taillights, there is usually an access panel in the trunk or cargo compartment. The socket for the bulb or attachments for the whole assembly will be found behind it, though some trucks and SUVs may have exposed screws in the lens itself. If the whole lens needs to be removed you will find wingnuts, Phillips screws, or some other fastener under the panel. Then all you have to do is identify the dead bulb and stick in a new one. Simple.
For the fronts, start by referring to the owner’s manual. Some headlights slide out with the removal of metals tabs. Others have a plastic access panel on the light unit itself. Occasionally there is enough room under the hood to access the back of the unit and replace the bulb without removing anything.
Some headlight bulbs can be a hassle, but it’s still not worthy of calling in a pro. Plus, you can always find step by step instructions in the Haynes manual for your car.
2) Installing Wiper Blades
Installing windshield wipers can seem like solving a Chinese puzzle box. People are frequently baffled by these, and that’s silly because most modern cars make it super easy. Lift up your wiper arm and you’ll see the end of the metal part is folded over into a ‘u’ shape.
Push out the wiper toward the open end of the ‘u’ (there may be a small tab that needs to be pressed) and it pops off. Installation is just the reverse of the process. It’s really that simple.
3) Checking and Topping Off Fluids
You should regularly check your car’s fluid levels, and doing so is easy. The oil dipstick will have a bright yellow ring to remove it. The dirty end has markers for low and full. So take it out, wipe it clean with a rag, put it back in, back out again, you can see your level. If you need to add more oil, the filler should be obvious, right on top of the engine.
The coolant overflow reservoir will be marked ‘MIN’ and ‘MAX’ or possibly with a full mark for cold and hot. If there is nothing there, or it is below the lower level, simply add water.
Power steering and brake fluid? Again, these are normally quite prominent, but check your owner’s manual - it’ll be in there. They both usually unscrew easily so you can check the levels and top up with the proper brake or power steering fluid as needed.
In the 21st century, most automatic transmissions no longer need to be checked on periodically, they don’t even have a dipstick.
Washer fluid? Normally there is a plastic bottle in one of the corners of your engine bay and handily has a logo of spraying water on it.
This is all simple stuff that a garage might charge an hour’s labor for. You ought to be familiar with the fluids and how to fill them, and that way you will notice any leaks before they become bigger issues.
4) Waxing Your Car
Do you know what keeps the paint looking good? It’s not the miracle product from the detailer; it’s just plain and simple hard work. Normal off the shelf wax or polish applied with time and care will add years to your paint.
Not the $5 car wash, not the $300 professional detailing, just simple, old-fashioned, elbow grease. You can do it yourself, and think how satisfying it will be to have a shiny car!
5) Testing the Clutch
One of the oldest mechanic tricks is this test for when you think your clutch is going, or if you’re buying a second-hand car. Do this: Start it up, put the transmission in fourth, and let out the clutch. If it is worn out it will slip and the motor won’t die. If the car stalls, the clutch is good enough for now.
6) Changing Your Oil
To change your oil, you need a jack, some jack stands and one wrench. Honestly, we’re not lying. You jack the car up, put it on the stands (make sure they go under strong, structural points of the car) then undo the one bolt that is the engine oil pan drain plug. Let the oil come out (into an appropriate container that you can dispose of responsibly later), stick the bolt back in, then remove the filter and replace that with a new one
The only tricky part of any oil change is that sometimes the filter can be hard to get off. It should just unscrew by hand with a bit of effort, but you may want to buy a special oil filter wrench.
Then just top the engine up with the amount and type of oil suggested in your manual. Job done.
A dealer could charge you $50 or more for this.
7) Resetting the Service Reminder
The next step after changing your oil is probably resetting your service indicator on the dash. Scour your owner’s manual or the internet and you’ll find the proper sequence of button-pushing you need to do it. If your car needs a special device to reset it (like the one for BMWs above), you can get these online for not much money. Easy or what?
8) Reading Trouble Codes
If your car has strange gremlins or a sudden warning light on the dash, don’t run to the dealer right away. First of all, learn what that light means from your owner handbook or Haynes manual. Then, buy a basic code reader and learn how to use it.
Readers start at about $25 these days, and it’s simple to use by plugging it into the OBD port under the dash (99% of cars). Let it scan, look up the codes online or in your Haynes manual, then either reset them or call the professionals if it is something serious.
9) Changing Brake Pads
After those eight simpler jobs, you’re ready for a challenge: changing your own brake pads. It’s incredibly simple (for most cars) once you have done it once, but a shop will charge you two hours labor, plus parts.
Jack the car up, pop it on jack stands again, remove the wheel, remove the two bolts on the back of the caliper, slide out the old pads, slide in the new ones (use a dab of high temp grease on the backs to avoid squeaks) then reverse the disassembly process. If you need more guidance, refer to the Haynes manual, or our online one-job OnDemand manuals with video tutorials.
Done! It’s that simple.