The majority of Americans don’t know how to do basic repair and maintenance on their vehicles, but these tasks are actually easy to do yourself. The more routine ongoing maintenance and repairs you take on, the more money you’ll save over the life of your vehicle. With just a few tools, a little time and the drive to learn, you can start by taking on these four DIY auto repairs.
1. Change Your Air Filter
Your air filters keep dust, dirt and other harmful things from all the areas of your vehicle where air and fluid flow — like your engine, radiator and fuel lines — as well as from the interior. When these filters become too dirty, they cease to work properly, risking your health and negatively impacting the performance your vehicle. If left unresolved, these dirty filters can damage your vehicle. Luckily, this is an easy DIY auto repair you can tackle on your own. The recommendation is to change these filters every year (or every 12,000 miles) to ensure top performance.
What you need: New filter, screwdriver.
Cost: $20 per filter if you do it yourself (depending on the make and model of your car) versus $75 per filter to have it done.
Time investment: Changing your filters takes less than 15 minutes.
Basic procedure: Find the filter under the hood and unscrew as needed to access the filter housing. Swap the filter and replace the screws.
2. Swap Out Your Battery
Replacing your battery is a simple DIY car repair that can be done with very little time, effort or tools. Don’t wait until you start having troubles to swap it out, as you risk being stranded with a dead battery. On average, batteries last for 4-6 years; most have a date code indicating when the battery came off the manufacturing line, making it easy for you to gauge when you should replace it. The date code uses a letter to indicate the month (skipping “I”) followed by the year — for example, F8 is June of 2018.
What you need: New battery, basic set of wrenches, screwdriver.
Cost: An average of $80 for the battery versus an average of $200 for the battery and professional installation, depending on your battery choice and car make and model.
Time investment: Replacing your battery takes less than 30 minutes.
Basic procedure: Locate the battery and remove the negative cable (black) followed by the positive cable (red). Swap out the battery. When you have installed the new battery, replace the positive cable followed by the negative cable; if you attach the negative cable first you could short-circuit the positive terminal.
3. Replace a Headlight or Taillight
Lights are crucial for safe driving and communication with other drivers; having a headlight or a taillight out can be a dangerous situation. It’s best to check your lights every month (it takes two people to check the taillights) so that you can replace one immediately if needed. An important part of a light repair is determining what bulb to purchase; use either your owner’s manual or take the old bulb to the store with you to find the correct replacement.
You should disconnect the battery prior to working with any electrical systems in the vehicle.
What you need: New bulb and a pair of gloves, as well as possibly a flashlight, flat-bladed screwdriver, and needle-nose pliers if the light is not easily accessible.
Cost: Approximately $20 per light if you do it yourself versus an average of $75 per light if you take it in.
Time investment: Replacing a headlight or taillight will take approximately 30 minutes but may take longer if the light is hard to access.
Basic procedure: Locate the housing (usually in the hood for headlights and the trunk for taillights) and disconnect the wires attached to the base of the lightbulb. Unscrew the old light then screw in the new bulb and replace the wires. Do not touch the new bulb without gloves, as the oil and dirt on your hands can cause the bulb to shatter when it gets hot.
4. Change Your Brake Pads
Brake pads are critical parts of your vehicle’s brake system. You can maintain them properly by checking them every 10,000 miles and changing them every 30,000-50,000 miles (when the pad thickness is below 2-3 mm). A squealing sound when you brake is usually the first sign that the brake pads need to be changed. A grinding sound means that the rotor needs replaced, which requires you to take the vehicle to a mechanic. Here’s where you can save on major costs with a DIY car repair.
What you need: New brake pads, wheel lug wrench, basic wrenches, pliers, jack and set of jack stands.
Cost: $20-$40 for new brake pads versus $300-$600 for new pads and professional installation.
Time investment: You should be able to change the brake pads on all four wheels in under an hour (even if you’re a newbie).
Basic procedure: Never get under a car unless the car is on jack stands. Once you have used a jack to lift the car, use jack stands for ongoing stability and strength as you work underneath the car. After the car is lifted and stable, take off the wheel, remove the hardware, pull out the worn pads, push in the caliper piston, install the new pads and reinstall the hardware.
Tackling these basic auto repairs can help set you up for a lifetime of savings and confidence. As you become more comfortable, you can take on more challenging vehicle repair projects (listen to some automotive podcasts to be inspired) or bask in the bliss of keeping your car performing at the highest levels while protecting your wallet. Whatever level of DIY auto repair you’re comfortable with, Farm Bureau Financial Services covers your car so you can drive on, worry-free.