5 Automotive Repairs and Maintenance Tasks that Anyone Can Perform at Home (2020)
It goes without saying that taking care of your vehicle is not only an important part of being a car owner, but an essential part, and for numerous reasons. Taking care of your car keeps it in great shape, so that it’s running well and is safe for you to drive (and, if you like driving as much as we do, fun to drive). Properly maintaining a vehicle, however, goes beyond just having it run well. It also increases the lifespan of a car, while diminishing the chances of some serious damage occurring. Cars often work like dominoes: if one little problem is ignored, it can lead to a much bigger problem. Finally, proper care for car greatly increases the resale value, meaning you can cash in big time when you’re ready to change rides.
Taking care of your car mostly boils down to two things: maintenance, and repairs. That said, there’s often an overlap between the two, as maintenance often means replacing a component that is at or near the end of its life. Either way, replacing or adjusting parts is a necessity when it comes to keeping your car happy, both in the short term, and the long run.
Unfortunately, maintenance and repairs generally cost money. Whether you’re hiring a mobile mechanic, taking your vehicle to a specialist, or dropping it off at the dealership, it’s not free to have your car worked on. That’s one of the main reasons that we do as many repairs at home as possible.
While we don’t recommend rebuilding an engine unless you really know what you’re doing, there are a fair number of basic repairs and maintenance needs that can be performed in your garage or driveway, with minimal, affordable tools, and no prior experience. Here are a few of our favorites: maintenance and repairs that we think are relatively easy to do, even for first-timers. They’ll save you a lot of money, and if you’re anything like us, you’ll have a pretty good time in the process. Just remember to never go outside of your comfort zone; cars are serious, heavy, dangerous objects, so if you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe, spend the few extra bucks and have a professional help you out.
Changing your oil is the most well-known automotive task for people to do at home, and for good reason. Most vehicles require oil changes every 3-5,000 miles, which means you probably have to head to an oil change spot with great regularity. Unfortunately, the price of getting your oil changed on a regular basis quickly adds up. Not only that, but getting your oil changed often means waiting in your car, or a dull waiting room for anywhere between 30 minutes and a few hours, while you wait for the mechanics to do the job
Thankfully, changing your oil at home is really easy, and can save you a lot of money and headache. And while the first time changing your oil might take a little while as you figure things out, it’s an incredibly quick procedure once you’re comfortable with it. We even think it’s fun!
Before starting, you’ll need to purchase a new oil filter. It’s vital that you buy an oil filter that fits your specific vehicle, so go to an auto parts store, and let them know the make, model, and year of your car.
To start out, you need to have a car jack, and two jack stands. Turn your car on, and let it run for about five minutes; this allows the oil to warm up, so that you can drain it, but keeps the oil from being dangerously hot. When you turn off your car, make sure that you’re parked on perfectly flat ground, with the parking brake engaged. You should also help stabilize and secure your car by placing blocks on both sides of the rear tires.
Next, lift the front of your vehicle up with a trusty jack and jack stands. Give the car a little bit of a jostle to make sure it’s secure, as you don’t want to go under the vehicle if there are any questions about the safety.
Now it’s time to find the oil drain plug, which should be pretty easy to find, as is located near the engine. Just make sure it’s not the transmission drain plug, as you don’t want to drain that. If you have any questions about whether or not you’ve found the oil drain plug, simply compare the filter to the oil filter you purchased: they should look the same.
Once you’ve located the oil drain plug, place your oil pan underneath the plug, and unscrew the plug. Once the oil flow has slowed to a trickle, it’s time to unscrew the old oil filter, and remove it. Then dip your finger into some new oil, and rub it on the top of the new oil filter; this will help create a strong seal. Finally, replace the gasket on the oil plug (usually a new one comes with your oil filter), or clean the old one, and screw the plug tightly back into place.
Lower your vehicle back to the ground, and then replenish the oil supply with the variety and quantity of oil designated in the owner’s manual. Use the dipstick to make sure that the oil level is accurate, and you’re good to go!
When cleaning up, be sure to take your old oil to a responsible waste facility, rather than dumping it in the trash. Oil is very harmful to the environment, so it’s important to dispose of it correctly. It’s easy to find a hazardous waste place that will take your oil: simply call your local mechanic, auto shop, or oil shop, and ask them. Often times, these places will even take the oil for you.
Tools needed to change your oil:
- Jack stand
- Oil pan
- Wrench set
- Possibly a mallet or soft hammer to help power the wrench
- New oil filter
- New motor oil
Replace your air filter
If you’ve ever taken your car to an oil change shop, you’ve probably had your air filter changed for a much higher price than it should be. Oil change shops love to look find items under the hood that still have a few thousand miles left on them, and convince you that you need them replaced now.
For that reason, you can save a lot of money by replacing your own air filter. Not only does it cost less to replace it yourself, but you won’t have to do it as frequently. And here’s the best news: replacing an air filter in your vehicle is incredibly easy.
To replace your air filter, you first need to buy one, which you can do online or at any auto store. As is the case with most fixes, make sure that you buy an air filter that is compatible with your vehicle.
Next, pop the hood of your car, and find the air filter box. It’s easy to find your air filter box: it’s large, black, has a hose coming out of it, and is placed right near (or on top of) the engine. Still, if you’re at all unsure, consult your owner’s manual to make sure you have the correct piece.
Then, remove the old air filter, by opening the air filter box, which is latched close with basic clips. Take out the old filter, and check to make sure it needs to be replaced. If it’s dirty, it’s time to replace it. Put in the new air filter, close and latch the box, and you’re done! Yep, it really is that easy, and that affordable.
Tools needed to replace your air filter:
- New air filter
Change your windshield wiper blades
Windshield wipers are an overlooked auto repair. Wipers may not seem like a particularly important part of your vehicle, but as soon as it starts raining, it becomes clear just how necessary they are. As your windshield wipers wear out (which can happen pretty regularly), they lose the ability to wipe the water off of your windshield. When that happens, your windshield stays wet, and it’s incredibly difficult to see when it’s wet out, or even when you activate the windshield wash feature.
Thankfully, changing your windshield wiper blades is about as easy as automotive repairs get. To start, you’ll need to purchase a new pair of windshield wipers that are the right size for your make and model. You can find the windshield wiper blades you’re looking for at any automotive store.
Start by lifting your windshield wipers up, so the point straight outwards. Starting on one of the wipers, find the blade (the rubber part), and rotate it away from the wiper arm (the metal part), so it forms an angle. At the bottom of the arm, you’ll find a release tab for the blade. Squeeze the tab until it releases the blade; if you have any problems with this, you can use a pair of pliers to help you out.
Then, pull out the wiper blade, and put the new one in. Slide in the new blade until you hear the tab click, at which point the blade should be secured. Repeat the process with the other wiper blade, and you’ll have good as new windshield wipers.
Tools needed to change your windshield wiper blades:
- New windshield wiper blades
- Needle-nose pliers (optional)
Rotate your tires
Rotating your tires is an important part of auto maintenance. By rotating your tires, you can dramatically increase the lifespan of your tires, while also limiting damage to your suspension, and reducing how frequently you need a costly wheel alignment. Ideally, you should rotate your tires every 5-7,000 miles.
Most tire shops will rotate your tires for free if you got your tires replaced there. However, if your shop doesn’t, or if you’re not near your shop, you can easily rotate your tires at home.
The most important part of rotating your tires is making sure your vehicle is secure. Park on flat ground, with the emergency brake engaged, and put blocks or wedges around the tires that will be staying on the ground.
When rotating tires, you want to follow a specific pattern. Most vehicles have non-directional tires, which means they work on either side of the car. For these tires, you want to rotate the left front tire with the left rear tire, and the right front tire with the right rear tire. The next time you rotate your tires, you’ll want to do them diagonally (right front with left rear, and left front with right rear). Alternate between these two patterns every time you rotate your tires. If you have directional tires, you want to only ever swap the front and back tires with the tires on the same side.
After your car is secured, use your lug nut wrench to loosen the lug nuts on all of your tires, using the star pattern, rather than going in a circle. You want to do this when the car is still on the ground, partially because it is easier, but mostly because it’s safer. Then use a jack and jack stands to lift the vehicle nearest the first tire you intend on working on. Finish removing the lug nuts, and take the tire off. Repeat this process with the tire that will be swapping with the first, then put the tires back on, and tighten the lug nuts by hand.
Repeat this process with the other two tires, then remove your car from the jack and jack stands. Once the car is back on the ground, tighten all of the lug nuts with your lug nut wrench. When tightening, remember to use the star pattern as well.
After that, your tires are successfully rotated. However, turn your car on, and take it for a low and slow test drive, just to make sure that all of the tires are on correctly and safely.
Tools needed to rotate your tires:
- Car jack
- Jack stands
- Lug nut wrench
Replace your brake pads
Your brakes are the most important safety feature in your vehicle, and it’s vital that you take care of them well. A big part of that maintenance is replacing your brake pads when they begin to wear out. Unfortunately, having your brake pads replaced can be a pretty costly repair, and that can keep people from having them replaced on time, which can be highly dangerous. One way to work around this is to replace the brake pads yourself, which can save you hundreds of dollars.
To start, buy some brake pads that will fit your vehicle, which you can find at an auto parts store. Then, secure your vehicle, by parking on flat ground, putting the emergency brake on, and placing blocks around the wheels you won’t be lifting up.
When you replace your brake pads, complete the process start to finish for one wheel at a time, then repeat for the other wheel or three, depending on whether you’re replacing all four brakes, or just the front ones.
Loosen the lug nuts with a lug nut wrench, working in star formation, so that you don’t loosen them in a circular order. Then, use a jack (and jack stand, if you wish) to lift the wheel of the ground. Finish unscrewing the lug nuts, still working in star formation, and remove the tire.
Next, locate the brake caliper, which is the large item connected to the brake rotor. Use a socket wrench to unscrew the brake caliper. The caliper will remain connected because of the brake fluid lines, so you can’t remove the caliper fully; you can only remove it from the rotor. After it’s released, rest it on top of the rotor, as you don’t want it dangling by the fluid lines, which will cause damage. With the caliper removed, you can remove the brake pads from in front of, and behind the rotor. Some will slide out, but some may need to be worked with a little bit until they pop out.
Next, place the new brake pads on; just like removing the old ones, applying the new ones usually requires a little bit of finagling. If you want, you can add some brake grease to the outside of the brake pads, but be sure that you don’t get any on the rotors. Brake grease isn’t necessary, but will help limit the amount of noise that your brakes make.
Now it’s time to adjust your brake caliper. The caliper won’t fit over your new brake pads, so you need to push the piston back into the caliper, to make space for the size of the new pads. The easiest way to do this is by using what is called a brake tool, which is a cheap but strong tool specifically for this task. However, if you have a strong metal clamp, you can use that as well: simply apply pressure until the piston has been fully pushed back into the caliper.
Once the caliper is adjusted, you can place it back over the pads, and screw it back into place. Put your tire back on, and use your hands to loosely screw the lug nuts on, in star formation. Lower the vehicle back to the ground, tighten the lug nuts with the lug nut wrench (again in star formation), and that brake is good to go. Repeat the process until you’re finished.
Once you’re done, turn on your car, and pump the brakes a few times to get the brake fluid back into the calipers, and the calipers tightened around the pads. Try driving slowly on flat ground, using the brakes frequently, to make sure they work well.
Tools needed to replace your brake pads:
- New brake pads
- Lug nut wrench
- Socket wrench
- Brake tool or metal clamp
- Jack stands (optional)
- Brake grease (optional)
Performing maintenance and repairs and home can save you a lot of money – hundreds, or even thousands of dollars each year. And once you make the initial investment for some of the equipment, such as wrenches and car jacks, the savings become even bigger. If you’re looking for ways to limit the amount of money you spend on your vehicle, or simply the amount of time you spend in auto shops, then learning some basic maintenance and repairs is a great idea.
Beyond that, we think it’s fun, and gratifying. Getting your hands dirty, learning a little bit about how your car works, and fixing something yourself has a lot of value. Plus, it makes you feel more confident should an emergency repair be needed. Either way, one thing’s for certain: learning how to perform some maintenance tasks and routine on your vehicle is a terrific thing.
Just remember to always stay safe. Any time you feel at all uncomfortable working on your vehicle, stop. Take your car to a mechanic, or have a friend who is familiar with auto repairs come show you what to do. Taking care of your car is very important: but taking care of yourself is even more important!