Unless you’re living in a large city with plenty of public transportation options, owning a car in the United States is just a fact of life. We are dependent on it as our main mode of transport and when it’s not functional, it becomes a major inconvenience. Having car repairs are just a part of the price of ownership. It’s not a matter if, but when. When you can be your own auto mechanic (for at least basic things), it will save your a lot of headache in the long run.
I have to guess that many of us are not ASE certified mechanics, but that doesn’t mean you cannot do some simple fixes yourself. Not being car savvy does not mean the end of the world. There are many basic fixes which you could do yourself, without much expertise except some tools, supplies from an auto part store and some video instruction form YouTube. This will help save you a few bucks and prevent you from having possibly more major repairs down the line.
Once you understand more about your car, you will appreciate it more and realize that it is a very complex machine. Are you ready to get some grease on your hands?
Be your own auto mechanic and take care of your car, PLEASE
Let me start off by saying that preventive maintenance will be the biggest factor. You will avoid a lot of issues due to wear and tear (not design). From experience, I would recommend getting more common cars to begin with which are reliable like Toyota or Honda. The parts and maintenance cost are cheaper too. I’ve recently learned my lesson about this one, the hard way.
Read your manual for proper maintenance schedules
I cannot stress this one enough. How are you going to know what needs to be done regularly? Different cars have different maintenance schedules, especially those with exotic vehicles. Some booklets, there is even a chart that lets you fill out what has been done and needs to be done! You are not going to remember what you did 6 months ago so it’s better to update the chart or make one yourself. Keep a maintenance log. Just remember that the manual is not just something to fill up glovebox space.
Keep your tires inflated at proper levels
On the side of your car door, there is generally a sticker which will display how, when and where your car was manufactured, There is additional information including how much pressure (PSI) to inflate your tires. I would suggest buying a cheap gauge to keep in your glove box as the ones at the gas station do not give accurate readings. Having properly inflated tires will also save you on gas.
Check the tire wear
You could either do the penny test or buy a cheap gauge to measure the amount of wear on your tire. Pay attention to this one as a tire blowout will cost you a ton of money and possibly your life.
Change your oil regularly
No car could run properly without clean oil. It lubricants all the engine. Since most modern engines are made out of aluminum blocks, overheating can cause the head to warp which will lead to costly repairs.
The engine could also seize from the lack of lubrication which will lead to another costly repair or require a whole new engine. Once again, refer to your owners manual on how often to change and type of oil recommended. If you’re more carefree or forgetful, consider using switching to a synthetic oil as it will last longer (it does cost more though).
In terms of changing your own oil, I am mixed on this one. It’s one of those things that’s so relevantly cheap, that I would outsource it to a reliable place. However, if you do decide to do it yourself, for sure you know it’s done properly. After all, no one is going to ever care for your car more than you.
Check your coolant
Cars get hot from combustion. You need something to keep it cool while running. This is where the coolant comes in to help dispel the heat. The coolant is a mixture of antifreeze and water. Very important to make sure you get this changed regularly as it helps prevents corrosion as well.
Change your air filter
Since the way, combustible engines work by mixing fuel and air, having a clean air filter allows this to work at high efficiency. Having a clogged filter will decrease the airflow, leading to reduced performance and high gas usage.
The location could be on the left or right side, but it’s always enclosed in some large square plastic box. It’s usually only held down by clips. All you need is a Phillips screw driver, if even that, to open it up.
Do not drive your car until it runs out of gas
Weird right? Why? This causes the fuel pump to work extra hard and causing more wear. In addition, it could suck in the dirt or other particles that could clog and damage the pump. It could also damage the very costly catalytic converter.
You really shouldn’t go lower than 1/4 tank worth of gas at all times if possible. Don’t be lazy and go fuel up. You’re not smart by thinking you can get every drop of gas in the tank.
Now onwards to basic repairs…
I will rate the difficulty on a scale of 1-3. For any work related to electrical, it is highly recommended that you unplug the battery. However, this will reset your car computer. There is a cheap tool (OBD II Vehicle ECU Emergency Power Supply Cable Memory Saver) you can purchase to prevent this which plugs into your OBDII slot underneath the area of your steering wheel.
Many of these repairs are easy and do not require specialty tooling. With some practice, you won’t think much of it. It’ll also help with your mechanic skills in other parts of your life.
The only exception of needing a tool to change the spark plugs. You could most of the time be able to borrow one from an auto parts store. If you are nice to them, they won’t even charge you.
Yellowing or foggy headlamps (1)
You don’t need some special expensive formula or brush to get some decent results. Just use toothpaste and an old toothbrush! Brush your headlamps as if you were brushing your teeth.
If you have a drill with a buffer attachment or some old buffing machine. That would work best. However, I know everyone has toothpaste and old toothbrushes they can spare.
The reason this works is that toothpaste is abrasive, but not so harsh that it will scratch up your headlamps.
Do it. You’ll notice a big difference afterward! No one should have old dingy looking headlamps that affect their driving at night. You don’t need xenon headlamps to see!
Changing batteries (2)
Relatively easy to do. Pretty much you just need to loosen a few bolts that the mounting bracket holding on to it. Some things to be careful about is obviously to disconnect the batteries before doing this. In fact, you may want to disconnect the batteries with most repairs so you do not risk damaging any electronics. Another thing to watch out for is that by disconnecting your battery, it will reset your ECU. This may lead to a rough idle since the computer has to relearn its idle speed and other things. Don’t freak out and think you broke your car. The computer will take time to reprogram itself once you do some driving. Also, don’t forget to recycle the old battery core to get back some of the money.
Changing spark plugs (3)
Not too hard once you do it once. This is one of those things that it looks harder than it really is. Please refer to the video below to see how it’s done in action.
Rough Idle (2)
There are a few approaches to this one. One might be the clogged air filter. Another might be due to the AFS being dirty and another could be due to the dirty throttle body. You can buy some cleaner for under 10 dollars which could clean those items. Depending on the age of your car, the idle is either control by a computer or a throttle control which you can adjust with a Phillips screwdriver.
Super easy. Don’t pay someone else to do this one. You can literally do this in 5 minutes just from reading the instructions of the package of the wipers you are buying. Just make sure that you get the right ones for your car.
Changing Head or Tail Light-bulb (1)
Another easy one to do. In terms of which bulb to get, the bulb itself will have model numbers you can refer to. This makes it difficult to get the wrong ones. Now you need to get the bulb out. You just need to know where to look. Figure out which bulb is burnt out first and take out the bulb. This is another instance the manual will come in handy if you’re not familiar with the locations. Generally, you will want to find the bulb holder. People unfamiliar might think you need to take off the housing from the front, but to replace just the bulb, you want to access it through the back. This is easily located as you will see electrical wires going in behind your headlights or backlights. Disconnect the wires plugs. Now depending on the model of your car, it could be a simple twist or might require more work like taking off a rubber housing. Make sure after you replace the bulb that the rubber parts are tight and sealed.
Cabin Lights (1)
Honestly, no different than changing a lightbulb in your home. The hardest part will be to uncover the housing which is covering the bulb.
Brake Pads (3)
This will probably be the most difficult thing on the list of the easier items you can do yourself. I would recommend having a friend who had experience help you out the first time you do this. Please refer to the video from Scotty Kilmer as he does a fantastic job on his car repair videos.
Change cabin filter (1)
You know where you store your manual? Yes, the glovebox. The cabin filter is generally behind the glovebox. Remove it and it’s there. Nothing special, just switch it and throw the old one away. Changing this might help with weird smells in the car.
Changing fuses (1)
This one seems harder than it has to be. First, you need to locate the fuse box. This is usually in the front of the engine bay on left or right side, depending on the model. It’ll look like a plastic rectangular box. Once you pop that open, the lid will reveal a diagram of which fuse does what. The way you can tell if a fuse is broken is if the little wire inside the fuse is broken or not. Once again, electrical work so disconnects the battery before you start.
How to save if you require bigger repairs
Buying used parts from online or junkyard. – This will work if you DIY. Not all mechanics will agree to put in your used parts. They don’t want to be liable or give warranty on the repair.
Find a reputable mechanic through word of mouth. – Take online reviews with a grain of salt as many of them could be fake. Nothing beats a reliable source of your friends and family who had previous experience with the mechanic. You might even get a discount on the referral. It’s like a doctor or dentist if you can find a reputable mechanic, hold down to them for life.
Do not necessarily avoid the dealer as they may have specialty tools or diagnostic systems. – Certain cars nowadays have computers so complicated that only specialty diagnostic machines can read the error codes.
Avoid prices that are too good to be true. – If someone is selling really cheap prices, be wary.
Avoid buying certain used items. – One example is, don’t buy used tires. You are not saving a lot of money on it and used tires wear out extremely fast. It also could give you rougher rides since the wear on the tires are different. Don’t skimp on tires as they much a huge difference in ride quality.
Always look for a coupon and always haggle for lower price. – Often, if you can either pay in cash or commit to the repair, they may lower the pricing.
That’s it…now go be your own auto mechanic!
Hope this helps some of you save some money and to realize that there are a lot of simple items to do which could help extend the life of your car. By being your own auto mechanic, this will help you save even more money by not having to get another one!
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