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Thursday, September 24, 2020

DIY Car Repairs

By Catherine Powell

I’m old enough to remember when many people used to work on their cars.  Back then it wasn’t at all unusual to see someone either under the hood or under the car working on everything from an oil change to swapping out a starter.  These days you need to be an engineer to perform most car repairs since our vehicles have become so computerized.  But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some forms of auto maintenance that you can’t still do yourself.  DIY car repairs can not only save you money, they can help your car last longer and retain more of its value when it comes time to sell or trade it in.

Filters help you and your car breathe easier.

One of the things that are still possible to service are air filters.  The air filter on your engine is there to filter out things like pollen, dust and smoke that can cause a car engine to misfire.  The problem is if you don’t change them frequently enough, they can make it hard for your engine to get the fuel/air mixture right.  This can cause everything from sluggishness to a stalled engine.  The owner’s manual will tell you how often you should change the filter, as well as how to go about changing it.  Most vehicles don’t even require any tools to change the engine air filter.  Plus, you can get a replacement filter from any auto parts store.  Changing the filter on your own won’t just save you money, it could also save your life since a clogged engine air filter can reduce acceleration by as much as 10%.

Cabin air filters are another DIY repair that anyone can perform.  As with engine air filters, the specifications of the type and recommended replacement schedule can be found in the owner’s manual.  Depending on the location of the cabin filter, swapping one out on your own could simply be a matter of opening the glove box, or it could be a more complicated affair.  If your owner’s manual makes it seem like a lot of work to replace the cabin filter, there are videos on YouTube that will take you step-by-step through the process.  Not only will replacing the filter on your own save you money, it will help your vehicle’s air conditioner work more efficiently and last longer.

Replacing Windshield Wipers

This is another task that can be done on your own if you know how.  The reason I say this is due to the fact that while you can walk into any auto parts store to determine the size of replacement wiper blades your vehicle needs, actually changing them can be a bit tricky if you’ve never done it before.  Of course, that’s why YouTube was invented.  Below is a video that explains what’s necessary to make the swap without pulling out your hair.

Oil Change

Changing engine oil is just a matter of unscrewing the oil plug, draining the oil, replacing the plug and adding oil, right?  Still, if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be a messy process, that can damage your vehicle in the process.  The first step in the process is to consult the owner’s manual to determine the type of oil the manufacturer recommends.  The manual will also tell you how much oil your vehicle needs.  If you’re thinking of replacing the oil filter, you should know that on some vehicles it’s all but impossible to remove the filter unless the car is up on a lift.  Aside from the replacement oil, you’ll need something to catch and contain the used oil, a wrench to remove and replace the oil plug and a sturdy car jack.  I also recommend you put a drop cloth or shower curtain under the vehicle to help keep from creating an oil stain on the concrete. 

Rule number one when changing oil is you need to be on a level surface.  Changing oil on a sloped driveway is one way to injure yourself or damage the vehicle.  That’s also why you need to make sure that when you jack the car up, you do so using the manufacturers recommended lift points.  Make sure the car is in park and the wheels are chocked before you jack the car up.  (Using jack stands or ramps is even better.) Once the front of the car has been raised sufficiently for you to slide beneath it, make sure you open the hood and push everything you’ll need to drain the waste oil beneath the vehicle. 

Once you’ve set the drain pan on a drop cloth beneath the oil pan, it’s time to loosen the oil plug.  This can either be easy or hard, depending on how tightly the plug was installed the last time the oil was changed.  Be careful how much force you use when removing the plug or you risk stripping the threads.  Also, try not to drop the plug into the drain pan or you’ll have a messy time getting it back out of the waste oil.  With the plug removed, it will take a minute or so for the oil to completely drain from the sump.  Replace the plug and secure it snugly but not too tight.  Then you can change the filter if you so desire, before lowering the car to the ground and replacing the old oil with new.  Allow the vehicle to sit for  a few minutes before checking the dipstick to make sure there’s sufficient oil in the engine.

Radiator Drain & Fill

To get started you’ll need a Philip’s head screwdriver, a couple gallons of coolant, a floor jack, a jack stand and a bucket to catch the old coolant.  Make sure the engine is cold before you remove the radiator cap.  Then jack the car up and use a jack stand to secure it safely.  Slide the bucket under the radiator and remove the drain plug.  Allow the coolant to drain before replacing the plug.  Lower the jack so the vehicle rests on level ground before refilling the radiator with coolant.  Mission accomplished, right?  Not so fast, because you need to start the car to allow the coolant to circulate.  You’ll also need to bleed any air that has become trapped in the system.  While I could describe the process to you, it’s easier to understand if you see the process performed.  Here’s a YouTube video that shows you what you need to do: 

Battery Replacement

While this job used to be child’s play, when it comes time to replace the battery on your vehicle, it’s better to let a professional do the job unless you want to run the risk of altering or erasing your vehicle’s computer memory. 

Tire Rotation

This is another one of those jobs that used to be fairly simple.  However this is no longer the case, since the addition of electronic tire pressure monitoring systems.  If you rotate the tires yourself, you run the risk that the vehicle’s onboard computer will activate a warning light on the dash as soon as you finish rotating the tires.  A trained mechanic knows how to adjust the TPM system so this doesn’t occur.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more ways to save on flood insurance, check out her website at


  1. Cars are more computers than vehicles nowadays.

  2. If you want your car to be nice to you, you have to be nice to it! ;D


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