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How to save money on car maintenance when you’re a student

college car repair

So, you've bought (or been gifted) your first car but you're still at school or college and you're spending all of your dollars on clothes, food and rent. The last thing you want to splash the cash on is your personal transport. After all, insurance and gas cost enough as it is.

But cars need regular maintenance. If you skimp on an oil change the motor will fail much sooner than usual. If you don't make sure the coolant contains enough antifreeze the block could crack in harsh winter weather. And if you don't change that busted bulb you risk getting pulled by a cop and getting issued with a ticket - as well as not being able to see where you're going.

The good news is, thanks to Haynes, you don't need to take your vehicle to the shop. You can do the work yourself. We've got plenty of free advice and a YouTube channel that'll give you a general idea about how to carry out the task, but for more detailed information on your model we sell a comprehensive range of online manuals that you can access on the go with your favourite Apple or Android device.

Complete these simple jobs for less with Haynes

1) Change the air filter

You'll find this under car's hood, within the intake system that feeds clean air into the engine as part of the combustion process. The air filter traps dirt that would otherwise make its way into the motor and cause premature wear.

Most manufacturers recommend that air filters are changed every 15,000 to 30,000 miles. However, the frequency depends on the conditions your car has encountered, and how hard it is driven. If you're wondering "Why should I change the air filter?" the answer is that a dirty filter will harm your car's fuel economy and reduce its performance, costing you extra money over time.

If you've never even checked your car's air filter before, this is a great time to do it. The job usually takes just a few minutes, you're likely to only need the most basic tools, and a new air filter can be bought for around $10-$40, depending on your model. Learn more about how to change an air filter here.


2) Replace the wiper blades

This is a job anyone can do. Believe it or not, windshield wipers should be renewed once a year, irrespective of whether you use them much. The rubber degrades over time and the wipers will start to squeak and judder. Worse, the blades won't be able to clear rain from the glass efficiently at higher speeds, reducing visibility and increasing the likelihood of an accident.

Although this is an easy job, there are few important things to know: make sure you buy the right blades for your model (many online sellers ask for your make/model/year); new wipers tend to come with adaptor brackets that enable them to be fitted to a variety of different arms, so take a look at your old ones before you fit the new blades, to make sure you choose the right ones from the box.

Also, use a towel to rest the wiper arm on while you change the blade; if the sprung arm snaps back on the glass you're likely to end up having to replace the windshield, too! And don't forget to change that rear wiper blade, if applicable. Learn more about choosing the right blades here and read about fitment here.

3) Change the engine oil and filter

You'll need more tools for this job - specifically gloves, a jack, jack stands, fresh oil, a new filter, a funnel, a wrench for the oil sump plug, an oil filter spanner and a drain pan for the old oil. But if you can borrow the tools you'll only have to pay for the oil and filter (our manuals will tell you which grade of oil is right for your engine), which will cost from around $50 – perhaps less if you own a subcompact car.

You'll find more on how to change the oil and filter here, but just be aware that you should never use your emergency jack when working under the car. Always make sure it's properly supported and check that the floor jack you're using can support your car or truck's weight.

4) Swap out that headlight bulb!

Most older cars still use halogen bulbs with filaments that eventually burn out. You get no warning that this is about to happen, so the first you'll know of it is much reduced visibility at night or blue flashing lights in your rear view mirror.

Your car's handbook should have instructions on how to change your bulbs but some manufacturers prefer you to visit a main dealer to have the work done there, which can land you with a ridiculous bill for something that will cost you a few dollars if you do it yourself.

Note that you can replace some xenon (HID) bulbs yourself (your Haynes manual will tell you) but these use high voltage, so extra precautions are required before you start work. Learn more about changing your car's bulbs here. 

5) Flush and fill the coolant

Most car engines need liquid to help them stay at an optimum temperature. This coolant remains liquid below the freezing point of water and contains corrosion inhibitors that prevent rust and other oxidized elements from forming within the cooling system, so it's important to use the correct coolant even if you live in a part of the country that never experiences cool winters. Your Haynes manual will show you which specification coolant to use – this is usually ready mixed.

Coolant can last for several years but we recommend changing it every four or five. As with the oil and filter job above, you'll need to support the front of the car safely to do this job and will need a drain pan to collect the old coolant. Head here for more on this job.