You can save big by performing minor maintenance on your car yourself. If you can follow basic instructions in your owner's manual or repair book, you don't have to be mechanically inclined to perform these simple tasks.
The maintenance tasks reviewed in this article are safe to accomplish on your own if you carefully follow the instructions. If you run into trouble, you should consider consulting a mechanic or taking the car to a shop. These common maintenance items can be accomplished with a standard toolkit. (Read The True Cost Of Owning A Car to find out how much you'll really be paying for your vehicle.)
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- Dead Battery
There are several reasons why a battery will fail to perform, including old age, corroded terminals, extreme driving conditions and faulting charging system.
Replacing your own battery will save you around $20-30 in installation cost. Follow your manual's instructions and wear eye protection. Don't attempt the installation if you have any doubts about how to disconnect the old battery and connect the new one. It's also a good idea to carry jumper cables or a jump box in your trunk in case of an emergency.
- Oil Change
Check your owner's manual for the recommended mileage for oil changes and the type and quantity needed. The cost of premium oil is more than offset by the extra protection it provides your engine. When you change the oil, replace the filter at the same time. You'll also need some basic tools including an adjustable wrench, filter wrench (for older cars) and a sealable container to catch the used oil.
Check your oil level frequently, using the dip stick in the engine compartment. If you ever notice oil leaks under your car, bring your car to a mechanic.
The best way to save money on oil changes is to buy oil in bulk if you have a place to store it. Otherwise, your savings will be limited since there are many discount chains that offer specials on oil and lube service. (Fixer-Upper Or Scrap Metal? Which kind of car do you have?)
- Windshield Wipers
To maintain a safe and clear view through your windshield, you should replace your wipers once a year. For most cars, you only need to replace the rubber blade itself and then reuse the wiper assembly that holds it in place.
Your savings will vary depending on your particular vehicle, but you could expect to pay $47 to have your wipers changed, while doing it yourself will likely cost you under $15 based on estimates at Automd.com.
Replacing your headlight bulbs normally requires no tools and can be done in a few minutes. It's a bit more complicated if you have sealed-beam headlights, but most halogen headlights have easily removable bulbs behind the lens.
Your owner's manual will usually have a diagram of the bulb holder and the clip that holds the bulb in place. It's important that you don't touch the new bulb with your fingers, since skin oil will attract heat and cause premature burnout and possible breakage of the bulb. Either hold the plug end or use surgical-type gloves.
Depending on your engine compartment, you might need to disconnect the battery to access one of the headlights. It's worth the time and effort, since you'll spend $13 rather than $79 according to Automd.com estimates. (Which is the best option for you when Car Shopping: New Or Used?)
- Air Filter
Installing a new air filter is literally a "snap". Many cars have an air filter housing that is secured by clamps that unsnap in seconds. Depending on driving conditions, air filters should be replaced every 15,000 miles. Do it more often if you frequently drive in dusty conditions or on dirt roads.
The air filter compartment is one of the first things you see when you pop the hood. It's either right on top of the engine or off to the side on some fuel-injected motors. After removing the old filter, clean the inside of the compartment. In a matter of minutes, you'll save around $35. (Read on to find out How To Get The Best Price On A New Car)
Other Money-Saving Ideas
There are simple things you can do to keep your car running smoothly and avoid big repair bills. Pay attention to your gauges and warning lights; your owner's manual explains the meaning for each. Open the hood occasionally and check fluid levels. All of these are easy to refill.
If you notice a strange noise or smell, get the car to a mechanic. If you can spot a problem early enough, your car may still end up going in for work, but it could be to fix a small problem that would have developed into a huge one.
The Bottom Line
When you take your car to a mechanic, you will usually find that the bulk of the cost is labor, and a fraction is parts. If you can do it yourself, the labor cost vanishes. You can expect to save between 60-90% of the total cost of repairs in this way, depending on the nature of the work. Finally, anything you do to keep your car running better will improve efficiency and save you money on gas as well.
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