This month is car care month. It is not only a celebration of the avid home mechanic but also an opportunity to discover your own abilities and figure out where you can save some money on car maintenance. There are many car care activities that even the person who is all thumbs with tools can safely do for their vehicle. These are some of the most basic or most consumer accessible car maintenance items that almost anyone can be successful with.
1. Inflate those Tires
Of all the car care tasks, this is by far one of the easiest. A basic tire gauge can be had for a couple dollars but getting into the habit of checking your tire pressure and adding air if need be during every other fuel fillup can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars over the course of a vehicle’s life. Properly inflated tires wear much better, putting off the cost of replacing the tires for up to ten or twenty thousand miles. On top of this, improperly inflated tires can degrade fuel economy by as much as three to five percent.
2. Wash and Wax
Instead of paying someone to wash and wax your car, do it yourself. Washing is easy but requires soap that is designed for vehicles. The soap for your china can actually do damage to a vehicle’s paint. A bucket and sponge of some sort are all that is left to get your vehicle clean and a few old towels are a great way to dry off your vehicle.
Waxing a vehicle takes only half an hour. Purchasing a high quality car wax kit that includes all the components is a great way to get started and all waxes have detailed instructions. For the person looking to avoid a wax on/wax off process, there are one step waxing products available as well.
3. Clean the Interior
Cleaning the interior is another service often offered if you take your vehicle to a commercial car wash but can easily be done with your home canister vacuum as well. You can take it a step further with a detailing kit that attaches to the vacuum, helping getting into all those small nooks and crannies.
After vacuuming, apply a cleaner/surface protector to the plastic and leather surfaces. There are numerous brands and some that are designed to work both on plastic and leather. For safety reasons, do not apply these products to your steering wheel as they can make it slick.
4. Change the Air Filter
Of all the things related to car maintenance, replacing an air filter is one of the easiest tasks on most vehicles. In most cases, no tools are needed but checking one’s manual will indicate if tools are needed. Autoparts stores typically carry numerous brands of filters for most every vehicle out there and replacement instructions are included in most car manuals. Be sure to note details like which way the existing air filter is pointing before removing so the new one can be put in the right way.
5. Change the Cabin Air Filter
Many vehicles, from economy cars to luxury vehicles have some type of in-cabin air filtration system in place to filter out odors and even pollutants from the air. Some of these systems filter all the air while others only filter the air when the system is put on the recirculation setting. Regardless, this is an activity that is typically easy to do. Again, your car’s manual will have the instructions for this procedure and in many cases is a job that requires no tools.
6. Windshield Wipers
We’ve all had windshield wipers that begin streaking. They are so easy to replace that many of the car parts stores will replace them for customers for free. Learning how to do them yourself, however, will let you replace them at a gas station at two in the morning if you have to at some point.
7. Fluid Top off
You’ve gone four thousand miles and your car hasn’t told you to change the oil yet, but you are out of windshield washer fluid; either because a light tells you or you have requested fluid and none has come out. It is really easy to add more and while you are under the hood, you should check the other fluids as well. On most vehicles, the fillers for the various fluids are easy to access and at times even color coded. Check the coolant and brake fluid reservoirs and purchase the appropriate products as needed. If you find that you are filling one of these fluids regularly, you are discovering a problem without having disastrous results as well.
8. Change the Oil
The oil is the lifeblood of your vehicle and for many vehicles is something very easy to do in a driveway or garage. With the popularity of SUV’s, the added ground clearance means that an oil change is simply a matter of crawling under, without having to jack up the vehicle. Basic equipment needed are a crescent wrench or box wrench of the correct size for the oil plug, an appropriate oil filter wrench for the vehicle as well as a oil catch can, new oil of the right type and quantity and a good quality oil filter. The basic instructions for a cold vehicle are to start the vehicle and let it run for a few minutes to get the oil warm, then shut off the vehicle and wait for about 5 minutes. Get underneath the vehicle with your tools and oil catch can and locate the oil pan and oil plug. Use the wrench to remove the plug and make sure to have the oil catch can lined up to catch all the oil coming out. Once the oil has all drained, replace the plug and crimp washer if specified for your vehicle. Then move the oil catch can to be underneath the filter and pop the filter loose and let it drain.
Before screwing on the new filter, be sure to lubricate the rubber gasket with a little new motor oil then install. The trick to installing a new oil filter is to hand tighten then tighten only about a quarter turn after hand tight. Add the oil from the top, reserving about 10% of the specified quantity until after you have started the vehicle for the first time. My car takes 5 quarts, so I put in about 4.5, start the vehicle, let it run and check for leaks then turn off the engine. I will then check the oil dipstick and add up to that half quart mark. Too much oil in an engine can be as disastrous as not enough so do not over-add.
9. Basic Tune-Up For Some Cars but Not all
For those with vehicles with rear wheel drive or four cylinder engines, replacing spark plugs is incredibly easy. V-6 and V-8 engines and front wheel drive or at times all wheel drive are much more difficult and should be left to the seasoned professionals. For those that have a rear wheel drive car or only four cylinders, purchasing spark plugs, spark plug socket that fits the plugs and if need be an extension for the socket are the major parts that are needed. Doing the job one plug at a time ensures that the wires don’t get mixed up. Many vehicles do not specify plugs for over one hundred thousand miles now but there are still vehicles that require more frequent changes and many manuals have vehicle specific instructions available. In general, the spark plug boot must be removed, the spark plug removed then the new one installed. Using dielectric grease on the new plug will guarantee a good connection and taking great care with screwing down the spark plug is important. The general rule is to hand tighten and the give the plug only about two hours of additional tightening. (Imagine a clock and you are turning from 12 to 2, for instance.)
10. Disk BrakesMost modern cars have 4 wheel disk brakes. For the person that wants to take on a slightly more intricate maintenance task, this can be one of the best ones to attempt. Disk brakes are very straight forward and are a place where the typical car shop makes the most profit. A typical brake job costs a few hundred dollars yet the parts cost very little and the mechanic can do brakes faster than most any other repair. Unfortunately, most manuals do not have instructions for replacing brake pads and occasionally brake systems require specialized tools. That said, for most vehicles, step by step replacement instructions are available from auto parts stores where you are most likely to go to purchase replacement pads. If special tools are needed, they may even have them available to borrow or rent.