11 Car Maintenance Tasks You Can Do Yourself

It might sound intimidating, but you can take care of many expensive car fixes in your own driveway.

By SHARE

With the price of gas going up at a rapid rate, people are looking for ways to cut back on automotive expenses. When it comes to routine maintenance, most people will take their cars to the mechanic to get things done. However, doing routine maintenance on your own is a great way to reduce the amount of money you spend on your car each month. Here are eleven car maintenance tasks you can do yourself. (See also: How to Save $0.54 Per Gallon on Gas)

[In Pictures: 10 Smart Ways to Improve Your Budget.]

Air Filter

Changing the air filter on your car will take about ten minutes and will only cost you the price of a new filter, which runs usually runs around $15. Here’s how to do it:

1. Pop open your hood and locate the air filter in your car (typically housed within a black case with metal clips on either side).

2. Open the case and look at how the old filter sits inside of it. By making note of this, you will have an easier time putting the new filter in.

3. Remove the old filter while making sure nothing falls into the bottom of the filter box.

4. Put the new filter in, close the case, and secure with the nuts.

Oil/Oil Filter

First and foremost, do not change your oil when it is hot! If you change it while it is hot, you may get burned. It takes about 45 minutes to change your own oil and will cost around $20 (the price of oil and a new filter). Here’s how to change your oil and oil filter:

1. Make sure your car is on level ground so you can safely jack up your car.

2. Locate the oil pan under your car and unscrew the drain plug to drain the old oil. Be sure you drain the oil into a recycling container so you can recycle the old oil at your nearest full service gas station, then replace the drain plug.

3. Locate your oil filter and use an oil filter wrench to remove the filter. Be careful as old oil will still be on the filter. Make sure the rubber gasket on the old filter comes off with the filter.

4. Lubricate the rubber gasket on the new filter, then fill the new oil filter about 2/3 with new oil.

5. Screw the new filter into place as tightly as you can without stripping the threads.

6. Pop your hood, remove the oil cap, and fill your engine with new oil using a filter. Use a dipstick to make sure you’ve added enough oil.

7. Put the oil cap back on and you are done!

Windshield Wipers

Replacing your windshield wipers is another simple maintenance task you can do on your own in about 10 minutes. It only costs about $15 (the price of new wipers). Here’s how to do it:

1. Pull the wiper away from the windshield and press the small tab on the underside of the wiper to slide the wiper off the wiper arm.

2. Line up the new wiper with the wiper arm and lower it onto the arm, making sure the open end of the hook on the arm is facing the plastic clip on the wiper. Pull it tight so the assembly clicks into place.

3. Lower the wiper arm back onto the windshield. Repeat with the other wiper, and you are done!

[See the best personal finance stories from around the Web at the U.S. News My Money blog.]

Battery Connection

Checking your battery connection to make sure you battery is being properly maintained takes about 20 minutes to do and will cost around $5 (the price of a wire brush). Here is how to do it:

1. Remove the battery cables from your battery, starting with the negative cables first.

2. Clean the posts using a wire brush and corrosion removal fluid, which is basically a mixture of baking soda and water. Save even more money by making this solution on your own.

3. Clean the battery terminals with a wire brush.

4. Rinse the cleaning fluid with water and dry with a rag.

5. Re-install your battery terminals starting with the positive ones first.

Headlights

Replacing your headlights is fairly simple and should only take you ten minutes. The only cost with this maintenance task is the cost of the new headlight, which can run anywhere from $20-$100 depending on what kind of bulb you need. Here is how to change your headlights:

1. Pop your hood and look for the bulb holder. Typically it is a plug shaped like a trapezoid with three wires coming out of it.

2. Remove the wire harnessing from the bulb holder. If the holder has a plastic catch, simply press the lever on the top of the plug and pull firmly on the plug. If the holder has a metal clip, just pull up and away from the holder. If the holder has a screw cap, simply unscrew it.

3. Pull the old bulb out of the holder.

4. Using a clean rag, wipe down the new bulb, hold it by the plug end, and stick it into the back of the headlight. Look to make sure it’s all the way in by confirming that there is no rubber gasket showing.

5. Plug the wiring back in and re-secure the bulb. Test to make sure it works and you are done!

Brake Pads

Installing new break pads can be a little more complicated and may take up to an hour to complete. Depending on the type of car you have, you will pay at least $40 to do this task on your own (the price of new break pads). Here is how it’s done:

1. Brake the lugs on your tires, then use a jack to lift your car.

2. Remove the wheel from your car.

3. Remove the bolts that are attached to the break caliper so you can slide the break pads out through the top. Don’t let the caliper hang loosely; secure it using a bungee cord.

4. Slide the old break pads out and put the new ones in.

5. Using a c-clamp, compress the brake piston to the point where it is easy to put the caliper assembly back over the new brake pads.

6. Replace the bolts once you put the caliper back on. Press your brake pedal a few times to make sure you have good brake pressure.

7. Put your wheel back on and tighten the lug bolts.

Fuel Gauge Sender

When your car’s gas gauge is acting up or you seem to be running out of gas faster than usual, it’s probably time to replace your fuel gauge sender. Replacing your fuel gauge sender is fairly straight forward and should only take 10 minutes. It costs around $40 (the price of a new sender). Here is how to do it:

[See 12 Money Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes.]

1. First, disconnect the negative battery cable so that there is no risk of fire.

2. Locate your fuel tank sending unit, typically located under your back seat or trunk carpet.

3. Unplug the wire harness on the top of the sender or remove the screws and bolts holding it in place.

4. Remove the sender by rotating it until it is lose.

5. Then, put the new sender in and secure it in place.

Fuel Filter

Changing your fuel filter is fairly straightforward and takes about a half an hour. It costs around $20 to do on your own (the price of a new fuel filter and washers). Here’s how to do it:

1. First and foremost, relieve the fuel system pressure by locating the fuel pump fuse on the fuse box. Start your car, leave your engine running, and pull the fuse or relay out. You will know you have done this right if your engine dies.

2. After relieving the fuel pressure, you can use two wrenches to disconnect the fuel lines from the fuel filter. Be sure to use a rag to cover the lines after you get the wrenches in place just in case there is still some pressure in the lines. Hold the wrench that is on the filter while turning the other wrench until the bolt comes out.

3. Slide the fuel line off the bolt and repeat on the other side.

4. Remove the old filter. You may need a flathead screwdriver to do this. Be careful as gas may still be in the old filter.

5. On the bolts you removed in steps 3 and 4, there will be washers. Remove the old washers and replace with new ones. 6. Install the new filter by doing the opposite of what you did to remove the old one. Put the fuel pump or relay back on before you try starting your car.

Spark Plugs

Changing your spark plugs can take anywhere from 20-30 minutes depending on how many plugs you have. It costs around $15 to do this yourself (the price of new spark plugs). Here is how to do it:

1. Locate the spark plugs by following the thick, rubbery wires under the hood of your car. Depending on the number of cylinders in your engine, you will find four, six, or eight spark plugs.

2. Start at the end of the row of spark plugs, pull the wires off the plugs by grasping the wire as close to the engine as you can then pulling or wiggling it a bit. Only pull off one wire at a time.

3. After you get the first wire off, attach a spark plug socket and extension to a ratchet. Set your ratchet to loosen, slide it over the plug as far as it will go, then remove the old plug.

4. Install the new plug by screwing it in by hand then tightening with a wrench.

5. Reattach the spark wire plug. Then repeat with each spark plug, one at a time.

Radiator Flush

Be sure you give your engine time to cool before you take on this task, otherwise you may burn yourself! It takes about 30 minutes to perform a radiator flush on your own and costs about $25 (the price of radiator flush solution, a coolant receptacle, and coolant).

1. Locate the radiator drain plug on your car. Place a coolant receptacle under the drain, then unscrew the plug and let it drain into the receptacle.

2. Replace the drain plug and remove the radiator cap. Using a funnel, add radiator flush cleaning solution to your radiator and fill the rest of the radiator up with water.

3. Replace and tighten the cap. Start your car, turn on your heater to the hottest position, then let it run for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off your car and wait for the engine to cool down.

4. After your engine cools down, unscrew the drain plug and empty out the contents of the radiator into your coolant receptacle.

5. Replace the drain plug. Then, using a funnel, fill your radiator with 50 percent coolant and 50 percent water. Tighten all your caps and you are done!

Fuses

If you happen to be driving and suddenly your headlights go out, chances are you blew a fuse. Luckily, this is an easy fix that should only take five minutes and cost you nothing if your car came with spare fuses. Here is how to do it:

1. Locate your fuse box under your dashboard on the driver’s side.

2. Pull out the box and locate the fuse that looks melted. Most fuse boxes have a diagram, so if your headlights go out you can easily look at the diagram to make sure you are replacing the fuse that goes with the headlights. Replace the blown fuse with a fuse of the same color.

3. If there are no blown fuses in the fuse box under the dashboard, locate the fuse box under your hood. Find the fuse that looks melted and replace it with a fuse of the same color.

Ashley Jacobs is the college correspondent for personal finance blog Wise Bread. Follow her latest tweets on @CollegeCents.