5 Easy Maintenance Jobs You Can Do Yourself
Routine car maintenance is vital to the reduction of expensive and unnecessary large repairs which increase the vehicle’s performance and extend longevity. It is important to state that there are two main options available when it comes to car maintenance. You can either perform a car maintenance DIY (Do-It-Yourself), or take your car to a mechanic. There are some jobs that are better left to the professionals. However, other car maintenance tasks require little equipment and skills.
Most people prefer to take their cars to the mechanic to get things done. However, doing routine maintenance on your own is a great way to reduce costs. Many of these tasks only require a few common tools and skills while others require some special tools, knowledge, and resources. As you gain experience, many of those fixes you once thought is difficult will become easier. Check these simple maintenance and repair tasks you can do yourself.
#1. Changing Your Oil
Changing your oil is the most basic and important maintenance task for your vehicle. If you want your engine to last, a consistent oil change is key. Although some manufacturers specify longer intervals between oil changes, we recommend you should always try to play it safe and pretend it’s 3,000 miles anyway. (You may want to follow your car’s owner’s manual.)
You’ll need to pick up new oil, as well as a new oil filter. Be ready to get a bit dirty; you’ll want to change into coveralls or older clothes before beginning. Use car ramps or a jack to give you some room. There will be a single bolt under your engine. Put your oil drain pan below it and undo that bolt. You can replace the bolt once it stops draining, but this can be a 10-minute process, so feel free to crawl back out from under the car while you wait. Locate your oil filter, reposition the oil drain pan beneath the filter as it will have some oil trapped in it. Depending on your vehicle, it may be easier or necessary to unscrew the filter from the top of the hood. Use an oil filter wrench to give yourself more torque if it’s on too tight.
Apply a thin film of oil to the new filter and screw it on according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Many filter manufacturers recommend tightening by hand, though some advice using a wrench. Over-tightening can damage the gasket and cause an oil leak or strip the threading. Now that you’ve replaced the drain bolt and oil filter, simply pour in the new oil. It shouldn’t leak, so long as everything was tightened properly.
#2. Putting In a New Battery
Every battery has a positive and negative terminal. Non-intuitively, electricity runs from the negative to the positive terminal, so it’s advisable to first disconnect the negative side. Whether your posts are top or side-mount, you should see a wire running to each of them, usually red (+) and black (-). Check the symbols on the battery just in case. Each wire will be held in by a bolt or perhaps tightened by a nut. They can usually be removed with a wrench or pliers.
Touching the metal of the wrench is not dangerous, as long as you don’t touch both terminals at once. Also avoid any exposed copper on the wires as, unlike the metal you just unscrewed, they do conduct electricity. Once you’ve unscrewed the bolts or nuts, simply lift out the old battery by its handle.
Place the new battery in the vehicle. Grab the positive wires by its rubberized portion to guide it onto the post, then tighten. Do the same with the negative side again, this order is important. Don’t be alarmed by any sparks you see or hear when connecting the second terminal; they just mean the battery is alive and well.
#3. Checking Your Fluid Levels
Once you know where to put each fluid, this process isn’t much harder than filling your gas tank. Every dipstick process is the same: pull it out, wipe it off with a paper towel, dip it back in, pull it back out. The second time you will be reading the correct level. There should be markings to indicate the proper levels for your vehicle directly on the dipsticks.
We’ve already covered how to put oil into the engine, but don’t forget to use the dipstick to check its level and color in between oil changes. Just look for a skinny stick near the engine, often labeled “engine oil”. Also check the color of the oil, which should range from deep amber to black. A similar dipstick will allow you to check your transmission fluid. This dipstick usually slides into a much larger tube as that tube is the only access point for fluid. Most vehicles will require a narrow funnel for adding transmission fluid.
Power steering fluid may go into a reservoir farther from the steering wheel than one would think, but that cap is normally clearly labeled, as is the windshield wiper fluid cap and radiator cap. There’s no trick to finding or removing these caps, but the radiator cap can be dangerous — do not attempt to remove it while hot.
#4. Flushing the Radiator
The engine coolant cap is typically near one of the headlights and is perhaps the most dangerous cap to remove. If you unscrew it while the radiator is still hot, you may get scalded with high-pressure, high-temperature jets of steam. Wait until the car has cooled down and remove the cap slowly. To flush a radiator, wait as long as it takes for the radiator to cool down. You can accelerate this process by taking a garden hose to the radiator, spraying each section until it quit creating steam. However, you may want to let it cool naturally.
Once the radiator has cooled down, you should be able to find a drain bolt, screw or valve somewhere along your radiator’s bottom side. Use a large drain pan as there will be a lot of fluid to drain. It’s potentially fatal to pets, so make sure to capture all the fluid and clean up any spills. When the fluid has been drained, replace the valve, screw or bolt. Fill the radiator with a jug of radiator flush solution and distilled water, which will prevent calcium deposits.
Turn on the engine, allow it to run until the vehicle reaches normal operating temperatures, and then turn the heater on the highest setting for 10 minutes. At this point, the flush solution has run its course. Now it’s time to repeat the cool-off and drain process. Replace the drain bolt, screw or close the valve and fill the radiator with coolant or a 50/50 mixture of coolant and distilled water.
#5. Maintaining Tire Pressure
Low tire pressure can poorly affect the handling, safety and fuel economy. You can easily keep an eye on your tire pressure with a pen-style pressure gauge. Simply remove the valve cover, place the valve within the gauge and bend it a little to the side, just enough to let a little air out. The gauge will give you a reading within a fraction of a second. If in doubt, look closely at the side of your tire. It will have a normal pressure range written on the side. If your tire pressure is lower than recommended, it’s time to head to a nearby station to add a little air.
Handling these simple maintenance tasks yourself helps you save money on car repairs and keeps your vehicle in better shape.
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