OK, full disclosure: We're B-I-G fans of professional auto maintenance. A good mechanic can spot early signs of trouble before they turn into dangerous, expensive or time-consuming problems. But that said, a trip to the mechanic for every little thing can add up.
Here are 10 car maintenance tasks that DIYers can comfortably tackle (maybe with a little help from YouTube).
1. Check tire pressures.
Keeping your tires inflated to manufacturer specifications will improve your gas mileage and, more importantly, prevent a blowout. Never ignore a low-pressure warning light but, ideally, you'll catch a pressure problem long before it's bad enough for the light to come on. Buy a tire pressure gauge to test your tires at least monthly. Do it when the tires are cold (first thing in the morning, before you've driven), since manufacturer's PSI recommendations are set using cold tires. Also, inspect your tire tread to ensure it's not overly worn. You can buy an inexpensive gauge to measure, but in a pinch, use a quarter. If you insert it between the tire treads and can't see the top of Washington's head, you have more than 4/32nd of an inch. Less than that, and your tires are ready for replacement (new tires have 10/32nd). They're considered bald and dangerous at 2/32nd.
2. Check oil.
Even though you're likely changing your oil less frequently than the old "every 3,000 miles" rule (thanks, synthetics!), you still need to periodically check oil levels. You can ask your mechanic for advice on how often (some say every 1,000 miles as a rule of thumb), but it's something you'll always want to do before a long trip and more often if your car burns or leaks a little oil. Here's a step-by-step how-to from the experts at Castrol. And remember: If you need to add oil, use the same type that's already there and don't be tempted to overfill. Your engine can suffer damage from both too much and too little oil.
3. Change wiper blades.
A screwdriver is likely the only tool you'll need. Just make sure to choose the correct size wiper blades at the auto parts store (most offer a touchscreen or paper manual for reference). Wiper blades are good for only one year, so learning to change them yourself will help you save money for years to come.
4. Refill washer fluid.
Don't top off with water. You really do need washer fluid to cut through road grime.
5. Fix a flat.
We don't love the idea of changing tires on the side of the road. Your chances of being hit by a passing motorist are too great, and we recommend calling for roadside assistance (whose technicians are better equipped to handle it safely). Still, if you're in a safe location, you may be able to handle this emergency yourself. We recommend carrying a product like Fix-a-Flat, an aerosol that can inflate and temporarily seal a small puncture long enough to get you to a repair shop.
6. Defog headlights.
If your car's headlights have grown yellow and hazy with age, they can dramatically reduce visibility. Before you spring for replacements, try buffing your headlights with ordinary white toothpaste (Colgate is good). The mild abrasive can temporarily cut through the fog without scratching and give you clearer headlights.
7. Wax and minor paint repairs.
A coat of wax does more than keep your car looking sharp. It helps protect it from oxidation and damage. Apply a new coat with each change of the seasons. If you notice a small paint chip, use matching touch-up paint (available through your car dealership) to cover it and prevent rust. Here are some tips to help you touch-up like a pro.
8. Reattach loose weather stripping.
A few seasons of freezing winters can damage the weather stripping around doors. Here's how to reattach it and keep it in place.
9. Replace your cabin air filter.
Did you even know you had one (likely accessed through the glove compartment)? A dirty filter can be a frustrating source of musty, mystery stink (!!!) and will force your car's heating and cooling system to work harder. See your owner's manual for replacement instructions and the model number of the replacement filter you need. These general instructions will help, too.
10. Change a blown fuse.
A bad fuse could be the culprit if, for example, your interior lights suddenly stop working. Consult your owner's manual to locate fuses and determine which one controls the area where you're having trouble. The fuse panel likely has some spares included. Here are some tips to get you started.
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