100 Car Maintenance Tasks You Can Do on Your Own
Car maintenance seems daunting at first, but start small and work up the car repair ladder. Here are 100 car repair tasks and maintenance you can do yourself.
Replace Your Wiper Blades
It’s easy to tell when your blades need replacing. Simply press the washer button and see if your blades wipe clean. If they streak, they’re toast. The auto parts store will have lots of economy blades, but go with a name brand instead. They cost more than economy blades, but their higher-quality rubber wipes better, has better UV protection and lasts longer. Follow the installation instructions on the package. Be sure you have a firm grip on the wiper arm once you remove the old blade. If it gets away from you, it can hit the windshield with enough force to crack it.
Shake Your PCV Valve
This sounds complex, but it’s not. If your car has a PCV valve (some late-model cars don’t), pull it out every other oil change. In most cases, you’ll find the valve on the top of the engine, connected to a vacuum hose. Some late-model cars don’t have PCV valves, so don’t beat yourself up trying to find it. Slide the vacuum hose off the valve and unscrew the valve. Then perform the world’s easiest diagnostic test: Shake it. If it makes a metallic clicking sound, it’s good. If it doesn’t make noise or sounds mushy, replace it. But don’t replace it on appearance alone—all used PCV valves look dirty.
Replace Engine Air Filter
Inspect and replace your engine air filter. Just unscrew or unclip the air filter box retainers and remove the old filter. Then hold a shop light behind the filter to see how much light passes through. If the filter blocks 50 per cent of more of the light, replace the filter. If not, put it back in, secure the air filter box cover and keep driving.
Get the full step-by-step on changing your air filter!
Why risk your noggin when you can replace gas lift cylinders yourself? Just buy new lifts at any auto parts store. Then have a helper hold the hood or liftgate while you disconnect and replace the worn lifts. Many styles simply unbolt using a metric socket set. Others connect with a ball and socket style connection held in place with a spring clip. To disengage the spring clip, simply shove a small flat blade screwdriver between the clip and the cylinder. Then pull the cylinder off the ball stud.
Replace Non-Headlight Bulbs
To access burned out license plates, side marker and fog light bulbs, just remove the retaining screws and pry off the lens. Pull the bulb straight out of the socket. Handle the new bulb with gloved hands or hold it with a paper towel to prevent skin oils from depositing on the thin glass. Then push the bulb into the socket until it clicks. Reinstall the lens and you’re done.
Here are more car problems you can diagnose—and fix—yourself!
Replace That Broken Antenna
Replacing a fender mount antenna mast is easy. Just unscrew the remaining portion of the mast and buy a replacement mast at any auto parts store. Replacing a pillar mount antenna is a bit more involved but is still a DIY fix. Disconnect the antenna cable from your radio and connect heavy string to the end. Then unscrew the antenna mount from the pillar and pull the old antenna and the string straight out. Attach the new antenna cable to the string, pull the cable back into the vehicle and connect it to your radio. Then secure the new antenna to the pillar using the screws provided.
Touch up Chipped Auto Paint
If you don’t cover paint chips with touch up paint, they’ll rust and then you’ll have a much bigger problem on your hands. The actual touch up is easy. Just buy touch up paint, fine tip paint applicators and wax and grease remover from any auto parts store. Clean the chip with the wax and grease remover and let it dry. Then dip the applicator in the paint and dab it onto the chip. Don’t add too much or the paint will drip. Let it dry completely and apply wax after 30 days.
Fix That Leaky Sunroof
If raindrops keep falling on your head, it’s probably because your sunroof drains are clogged. That’s something you can fix yourself in just a few minutes. Open the sunroof and look for drain holes in the front and rear corners of your sunroof. Once you locate the drains, duct tape a small rubber or plastic tube to the end of your shop vacuum and suck out any debris stuck in the drains. Then dribble water into each drain and check under the car to see if it’s draining onto your driveway or garage floor. If the drain is still plugged, buy a speedometer cable from an auto parts store. Insert the cable into the drain and gently push it down the drain as you spin the cable with your fingers. Don’t push too hard because you can puncture the drain tubes and they’ll dump water into your dash area. Flush the drain after snaking it with the speedometer cable. If it now runs free, you’re done and shouldn’t have any more water coming inside your vehicle.
Fix Small Dents and Door Dings
If you can patch a wall, you can patch a dent in your car. You’ll need various sandpaper grits, a small can of autobody filler and cream paste and plastic applicators. Start by sanding the dent down to bare metal with coarse grit sandpaper. Then feather the edges. Clean the dents with wax and grease remover. Then mix the body filler and apply a very light skim coat to fill in the sandpaper scratches. Allow the filler to set up and then build up the repair with additional layers no more than 1/4-in. thick per application. Feather the final coat so it levels with the painted areas. After it cures, sand until smooth. Then apply a cream filler to the entire area to fill in any pinholes. Let it cure and do a final sand. Then you can paint the area with touch up paint.
Learn more about fixing car dents!
Fix Tears in Leather and Vinyl
Upholstery shops charge almost $200 to fix tears in your seats. You can do it yourself in a few hours with a vinyl and leather repair kit (less than $20) from any auto parts store. You’ll have to practice a bit to get the right colour mix and it might not be a perfect match when you’re done, but it’s a heck of a lot better than driving around with torn seats. Start by gluing reinforcing fabric onto the underside of the torn vinyl or leather. Then mix the heat-set filler to match your fabric colour and apply it to the tear. Next, find a textured mat that most closely resembles the texture of your vinyl or leather and place it onto the liquid filler. Heat the patching tool with a clothes iron and press it onto the textured mat. Remove the patching tool, but leave the textured mat in place until the patch cools. Then peel it off.
Check out the full story on repairing leather.
Replace Your Cabin Air Filter
A clogged cabin air filter can damage your car’s blower motor and cause your AC to run longer and harder in the summer. Cabin air filters are easy to access and replace and you’ll save about $30 by doing it yourself. Buy a replacement cabin air filter at any auto parts store and ask the clerk to print out the installation instructions. Cabin air filters are usually located in the air ducts behind the glove box in late model vehicles. However, some car makers locate them in the cowling or console area. Just remove the access covers and slide out the old filter. Note the direction of the airflow arrows so you can install the new filter in the proper orientation. Then reinstall the covers and you’re done.
Change Power Steering Fluid
There aren’t any test strips for power steering fluid, so you’ll have to rely on the manufacturer’s service recommendations or general rule-of-thumb (two years). Use the turkey baster method to remove the old power steering fluid. Suck out all the fluid (engine off) as shown. Then refill the reservoir with fresh fluid. Start the engine and let it run for about 15 seconds. Repeat the fluid swap procedure until you’ve used up the full quart.
Note: Never substitute a “universal” power steering fluid for the recommended type, and never add “miracle” additives or stop-leak products. They can clog the fine mesh filter screens in your steering system and cause expensive failures.
Swap Out Brake Fluid
Some carmakers recommend replacing brake fluid every two years or 24,000 miles. Others don’t mention it at all. But it’s easy to test your brake fluid. Just dip a test strip into the fluid and compare the colour to the chart on the packaging. You can’t do a complete brake fluid flush yourself, but you can do the next best thing—a fluid swap. This procedure won’t replace all the old fluid with fresh, but you’ll introduce enough new fluid to make a difference. Use a baster to suck out the dark brown brake fluid (brake and power steering fluids are incompatible, so use a different baster for each). Squirt it into a recycling bottle. Refill the reservoir with fresh brake fluid as shown. Then drive the vehicle for a week to mix the new fluid with the old. Repeat the procedure several times over the next few weeks until the fluid in the reservoir retains its light honey colour.
Note: The brake fluid may damage the baster’s rubber bulb, so don’t suck the fluid all the way into the bulb.
Every car owner should look out for these things when checking brakes.
Chalk Marker Under Hood
Keep track of when you last changed the oil, air filter, spark plug, etc., by jotting it down under your car’s hood. Use a chalk marker to make notes on a flat surface, such as an air filter cover, so you never forget important maintenance tasks.
Use Sawdust to Soak Up Spills
Pick up used oil spills on the driveway or in the garage using sawdust. The material is readily available in most home workshops—just open up the dust-collection bags on your orbital sander, miter saw, etc. Pour sawdust over the spill, let it soak up the liquid for about 20 minutes, and then sweep it up. the bench outdoors.
Brush Out the Air Vents
These louvers are a real magnet for dust, and a vacuum with a brush attachment just won’t get it all. Take an inexpensive artist’s paintbrush and give it a light shot of furniture polish. Work the brush into the crevices to collect the dust. Wipe the brush off with a rag and move on to the next one.
Don’t miss how to get rid of the smoke smell in your car.
DIY Car Mats
Here’s an easy automotive hack: buy carpet squares from Home Depot and use them as car mats in your back seats. Another option is to use carpet scraps to make these DIY car mats.
Check out these car cleaning accessories that will restore your ride.
Truck Bed Reach Stick
Keep an extension handle with a paint roller on the end in your truck bed for easy loading and unloading. You won’t have to climb in and out, saving you time and saving your back!
Pipe Insulation Car Hack
Reader James Goldstein came up with a genius solution for preventing items such as keys or cell phones from falling between the seats and the console in a vehicle, which can be hard to retrieve and even dangerous if it happens while driving.
Here are more car hacks that’ll make driving so much easier!
Cardboard Drop Cloth
Save large pieces of cardboard from boxes that you bring into your home. Store them along a wall in your garage or workshop so they’re at the ready when you’re working on a messy project such as refinishing furniture or changing the oil in your car. A large slab of cardboard makes a perfect disposable drop cloth.
Lubricate Window Tracks
Freezing water can seep into the window tracks and create drag when you try to open the window. That drag can damage the window regulator cables, costing you almost $300. You can avoid the problem entirely by lubricating the window tracks with spray silicone or dry teflon spray lubricant. Lower the window and shoot the spray right into the front and back window track. Apply enough lube so it drips all the way down the track. Then operate the window through several open and close cycles to spread the lube along the entire track. Use glass cleaner and a paper towel to remove any spray that lands on the glass.
Save your back by storing your air compressor on a mechanic’s creeper, so you can easily tote it around your workshop or garage. Depending on the size of your compressor, you may be able to store your hose on the creeper, too.
Saltwater for your Car
Running late and you don’t have a windshield scraper in the car? So try a saltwater mix. Road salt mixed with some water will remove the thin layer of ice when the temperature dips below zero. And then use your wipers to push the slush away. Since salt isn’t great for your car, use this method sparingly.
Hands-Free Light Hack
Make a hands-free light in a snap with a flashlight, a pair of pliers and a rubber band. Place the flashlight in the jaws of the pliers; then wrap a rubber band around the handles of the pliers. That’s it! Point the light wherever you need it.
Spray Silicone Lubricant on Wiper Blades
Eliminate screechy windshield wiper blades by first wiping them down with soap and water; then apply a coat of spray silicone lubricant to the rubber blades. The silicone will keep the blades working smoothly (and quietly) during winter driving.
Vacuum Like You Mean It
Slide the seat all the way forward and clean out all the junk underneath. You’ll be surprised by what you find. We found a lost smartphone, enough pens and pencils to equip a small office, and enough coins for several vending machine lunches. Vacuum the seats, remove the mats and vacuum the carpet. Use a brush attachment for the dash and door panels.
Clean the Carpet
Deep-clean the carpeting and upholstery. Use a carpet cleaning machine to get the dirt that settles deep into the fibers of the carpet. (Clean cloth seats this way as well.) It sprays the carpet with a solution of water and cleaner and then sucks the dirt and grime into a reservoir. A machine like this pays for itself after just a few uses. You can also rent one from a rental centre or use a spray-on cleaner and a scrub brush instead.
Clean and Condition the Seats
After a few years, you’ll notice that the colour of the leather or vinyl seats no longer matches that of the rest of the interior. It’s not enough just to condition the leather. First spray on leather cleaner and rub vigorously with a clean terry cloth towel. To avoid rubbing the grime back into the seats, keep flipping the cloth to expose a fresh surface. Let the seats dry for an hour and then rub in a leather conditioner like Lexol to keep the leather supple. It’s available at discount stores and auto stores.
Remember the Recesses
Detailing means just that— cleaning all the trim lines and recesses. Wrap a cloth around a worn screwdriver (no sharp edges) and spray it with Simple Green or other all-purpose cleaner. Move it gently along the trim lines to pick up dirt, using fresh sections of cloth as you go. Then clean around the buttons and controls, and follow up with a rejuvenator like Armor All.
Wash the Windows
Don’t forget the top edges. Ever notice that line of grime on the tops of windows when they’re partially rolled down? Most people overlook this detail when giving their vehicle a quick wash. A few minutes with Windex and a clean rag is all it takes.