So you’re not a mechanic. We understand that; most people aren’t. Maybe you know essentially nothing about how cars work, and don’t really own any tools to work on them.
That doesn’t mean you have to be helpless, or spend extra money for maintenance problems that are truly minor. There are some car repairs that literally anyone can do, sometimes with no tools at all. The needed parts can be found at any auto parts store, with no service station markup. And labor? Hit pause on the DVR, because these will only take you a couple of commercial breaks each.
Don’t be afraid to pop the hood. Here are seven really simple car repairs that anyone—yes, even you—can do yourself and save.
1. Replacing the air filter.
When you should: Air filters are designed to be replaced occasionally (check your owner’s manual to see how often). An old, dirty air filter can make it harder for your engine to get air, potentially hurting performance and gas mileage. Plus, it’s fairly cheap and really easy to replace.
What you’ll need: Besides the replacement filter, nothing. On most cars, the air filter is held in place by simple latches you can open without any tools.
How to do it: Basically, you open the air filter box (under the hood, generally attached to the top of the engine by a large tube), remove the old filter, put in the new one and close the box. For more details and pictures, check out this AutoMD article.
2. Replacing a fuse.
When you should: If an electrical accessory (such as the power windows or radio) suddenly stops working, the problem might be a blown fuse. It’s easy to check and see if the fuse is broken, and easy to replace.
What you’ll need: A new fuse of the same size and amperage as the old one, and possibly tweezers or a small pair of pliers. Your fuse box might contain a small tool you can use to pull out the fuse.
How to do it: Use your owner’s manual to find where the fuse panel is located; it could be under the dash, under the hood, or both (two fuse panels). The fuse box or manual should have a diagram showing which fuse powers what system. Simply pull the right fuse, see if it is burned out, and replace if necessary. To see what a broken vs. non-broken fuse looks like, try this guide for dummies.
3. Replacing the battery.
When you should: If your battery won’t hold a charge. You can get it tested for free at most auto parts stores.
What you’ll need: The new battery, and a wrench. The wrench size will depend on the type of car, but you could get an adjustable wrench to fit any size.
How to do it: Using your wrench, loosen and remove the two cables from the old battery. In some vehicles, the cables will be bolted into the battery; on others, there will be clamps that wrap around the battery terminals. Some batteries may also be bolted into the car, so you’ll have to remove any such clamp to take the battery out.
Then put in the new battery and reconnect everything, making sure you connect the positive and negative cables to the correct terminals. More details are available here.
4. Recharging the A/C.
When you should: If your A/C is no longer cooling the air properly.
What you’ll need: A can of A/C Pro.
How to do it: OK, you’re thinking, of course we would include this on the list. But it’s true: this is one of the easiest car repairs you can do, and one of the biggest money-savers. All you have to do is find the A/C port, attach the hose to check the pressure and squeeze the trigger to recharge the system. It really is ridiculously simple. Full instructions are available in this video.
5. Changing or rotating tires.
When you should: If you have a flat, or when it is time to rotate your tires (check your owner’s manual for recommended rotation schedule).
What you’ll need: A spare (if replacing a flat), a jack and a lug wrench (which are included in most cars with the spare). A second jack or jack stand is needed if you are rotating tires.
How to do it: Make sure your car is on a level surface and has the parking brake set. Remove the hubcap (if applicable). Loosen (don’t remove) the lug nuts with your lug wrench. Then jack up that corner of the car; your owner’s manual should list the proper places to put the jack for each wheel. Once the tire is off the ground, remove the lug nuts and the tire completely.
Reverse the process for putting on the new tire. Tighten the lug nuts as much as you can before lowering the jack, and then lower the jack and double-check to make sure the lug nuts are fully secure.
If rotating tires, you’ll have to remove two tires at once, which is why you’ll need a jack stand or multiple sturdy jacks. The Art of Manliness has a full guide on which tires should be rotated where.
6. Changing the serpentine belt.
When you should: Preferably, before it breaks and leaves you stranded. Check occasionally to see if it is heavily worn, fraying or squealing.
What you’ll need: A replacement belt and a tool for loosening the tensioner arm. Usually, that tool is a socket wrench, sometimes without a socket attached.
How to do it: The serpentine belt winds itself over and around multiple pulleys, so you want to make note of the route it takes and which pulleys it goes over or under. (The grooved side will only go around grooved pulleys, while the flat side goes smooth pulleys.) The owner’s manual, or a sticker under the hood, should have a diagram.
With the wrench, rotate the tensioner arm (the only pulley that’s on a spring-loaded lever) until there is enough slack in the old belt to remove it. Then simply put on the new belt and release or re-tighten the tensioner. Helpful pictures, and more details, can be found in this Popular Mechanics article.
7. Changing the oil.
When you should: As recommended by your owner’s manual. Usually it is either every few thousand miles or every few months, whichever comes first.
What you need: A wrench, a drain pan (any wide container big enough to catch the oil), new oil and a new filter. Possibly a jack and jack stands, if your car is too close to the ground, and a filter wrench if you want to get fancy.
How to do it: This is the classic “easy” do-it-yourself auto maintenance item, though it is probably the most involved (and dirty) item on our “easy” list.
For oil changes, you don’t want the engine to be too hot, but it helps for it to be warm. So, if your car is cold, start it up and run the engine for a couple of minutes.
After turning off the engine, you’ll need to remove the oil fill cap from the top of the engine and use a wrench to remove the drain plug from the bottom of the engine. If you can’t get under the car to reach the drain, you can jack it up—just make sure it is safely secured by jack stands or blocks.
Make sure you have the drain pan in place before you remove the drain plug. After the oil drains out, unscrew the old oil filter and dump its contents into the pan. You can then screw in the new filter and screw the drain plug back in. Back on top of the engine, add the recommended amount of new oil and replace the cap. You can then run the engine briefly before checking the oil level with the dipstick. More details and photos are available here.
So, there you have it: eight maintenance items you can do yourself and save, in total, hundreds of dollars. Feel free to contact us with any questions, and follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more easy DIY tips.