If you're busy and stressed, it's easy for basic car maintenance to slip by the wayside, leading to expensive problems down the road. Fortunately, there are plenty of small repairs and replacements you can do at home. With a few tools that are easily available from an auto parts or big-box store, and your owner's manual in hand, you can do these repairs in under an hour.
The basic steps below cover most modern cars. Your car may have peculiarities that make the descriptions a little different, so check your owner's manual before beginning.
Learn how to:
1. Change the Engine Air Filter
A new air filter, a screwdriver, and a dry cloth. Before you begin:
Make sure you buy an air filter that will fit your car. Look it up online
using your car's year, make, and model, or ask someone at an auto parts chain store.
- When the engine is cool, pop the hood and find the air filter housing. The air filter itself will be inside a black plastic case approximately the same size and shape as the filter you bought.
- Release the clamps (you may need to use a screwdriver to pry them open) or remove the screws holding the air filter housing together and then open the box.
- Use your phone to take a picture of the positioning of the old filter so you can place the new one correctly, then remove the old filter and toss it in the trash.
- Wipe down the car's plastic housing with a dry cloth and check it for cracks or damage. If you find any issues, you can ask to have it repaired or replaced on your next trip to the mechanic.
- Put the new filter in position using your photograph for guidance.
- Replace the top of the air filter housing and fasten the clamps or tighten the screws.
- Close the hood and you're good to go.
2. Change Your Windshield Wipers
New wiper blades.Before you begin:
Make sure you find the correct blades that will fit your car. Look up your car's year, make, and model online
or at the store to find the right ones. Even big-box stores usually have a small computer in the auto parts aisle to help you find the right sizes. Remember that passenger and driver side blades are often different sizes, so double-check the packaging against the computer's recommendation. Buying the right size blade is the most important factor, but price and water repellency are up to you. Sometimes it's possible to buy just the rubber inserts for the blades you already own, but buying the entire blade makes the replacement far easier.
- At your car, pull the wiper arms away from the windshield. Remove one blade by popping or sliding it free, depending on how your wipers are attached to the arms. If the way your old blades are removed is not easily apparent, the packaging of the new blades will often have a diagram that will show you exactly how to do it. Replace with a new blade.
- Repeat step 1 for the blade on the opposite side. (Do one blade at a time so you don't accidentally swap them when installing the new ones.)
- Toss the old blades in the trash, and lower the arms against the windshield.
3. Replace a Headlight
Your vehicle's owner's manual, the correct replacement bulb, some tissue, and a dry, lint-free cloth. Before you begin:
The owner's manual is extremely important for understanding how your headlight assembly is arranged, so pull it out of the glove box and have a look. Sometimes you can find an electronic version online, too.
- Open the hood and find the wiring harness at the back of the headlight. It will look like the picture in your owner's manual.
- Undo the plastic catch or metal clip holding the housing in place, then pop it out. Some cars might have a large, plastic nut that simply requires a half-twist to release. Either way, no tools are required, though it might initially feel like it's kind of stuck in place.
- Pull the bulb holder straight out of the headlight assembly. At this point, there may be another small plastic clip to release, depending on the make and model of your car and the type of bulb it requires. Either way, remove the old bulb from the socket.
- Wipe down the metal connections with the dry, lint-free cloth to ensure a good connection.
- Plug in the new bulb without touching the glass. Oily residue from your skin left on the light bulb surface can get so hot that it cracks the glass. Wipe the bulb off with the tissue once it's in the socket, just to be certain it's clean.
- Make sure the bulb is held firmly in place and that the gasket is properly seated at the rear of the headlamp assembly as you insert the new bulb.
- Reattach the clasp or clip or plastic nut, depending on your car's design.
- Drop the hood and turn the key in the ignition. Test all of your lights. If the light you just replaced doesn't come on, it's often the case that the connector at the back of the bulb isn't all the way in place. Lift the hood, make sure all connections are secure, and try again.
4. Replace the Battery
Your old car battery, a replacement battery, a box wrench or socket set, a clean cloth, some terminal cleaner, and an anticorrosion solution (or baking soda and water).Before you begin:
Your battery has all of the information you'll need printed right on it. At an auto parts store, buy a replacement that matches what you already have. You may be charged an additional $20 or so as a "core charge." You'll get the money back when you bring your old battery in for recycling.
- Take your keys out of the ignition before you begin. Leaving the key in the ignition while you work is a safety hazard.
- Open the hood and note how the old, worn-out battery is oriented, notably the position of the positive (red) post and negative (black) post. You'll need to match that when you install the new battery.
- Use a socket or a box wrench to remove the cable from the negative (black) post and then pull it (or even tie it) away from the battery so it doesn't inadvertently touch the battery post. It might take some work to get the negative cable off, especially if it's corroded.
- Remove and isolate the cable from the positive (red) post in the same way.
- Use a box wrench or socket wrench to remove the battery hold-down clamp or bracket. Your owner's manual might offer some assistance here, as sometimes the hold-down clamps are hidden deep down near the battery tray. Put all the loose pieces somewhere safe where they won't get lost or roll away, like on a towel or the overturned lid of a cooler.
- Carefully lift the battery up and out. Batteries are very heavy, and if there's any damage to the casing, acid could leak out.
- Check your car's cables and connectors for wear or corrosion. If they're corroded, you can easily clean them with a 50/50 baking soda and water solution or a pre-mixed cleaner you can buy at the auto parts store. You should check for corrosion on the battery tray, too. It can be cleaned up using the same chemical solutions. Make sure everything is completely dry before moving on.
- Lift the new battery into position, making sure the positive and negative posts on the battery are in the correct orientation.
- Replace the bracket or clamps and secure them tightly with the box wrench or socket wrench.
- Spray a little anti-corrosion solution on the new battery posts.
- Reattach the positive (red) cable and tighten it with a wrench. Repeat with the negative (black) cable.
- Give the battery a couple of gentle shoves to make sure everything is secured.
- Once everything is tight, start the engine to check your work.
- Take the old battery back to the auto parts store so it can be recycled and you can reclaim your core charge.
Handling these basic maintenance tasks yourself will save you some money and a trip to the mechanic. By being more familiar with your car's inner workings, you'll also be better able to discuss issues and repairs with your mechanic when they do appear.