5 DIY Car Fixes That Save You Cash
Here are five of the best ways to save money on car maintenance. These are easy jobs that you can do yourself in minutes instead of overpaying at the oil-change joint. Do each one as needed throughout the year and you’ll leave about $175 in your wallet.
Replace Your Wiper Blades
DIY Savings: $20
It’s easy to tell when your blades need replacing. Simply press the washer button and see if they wipe the windshield clean. If you see streaks, the blades are done. The auto parts store will have lots of economy blades, but get a name brand instead (such as ANCO, TRICO or Bosch). They cost more, 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
DIY Savings: $12
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. 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 ($4). But don’t replace it on appearance alone—all used PCV valves look dirty.
Need help locating your PCV valve? Buy a short subscription to an online factory service manual, which you can get at sites such as eautorepair.net and oem1stop.com. Non-factory manuals are cheaper, but they’re skimpy on instructions and diagrams for repairs like this.
Replace Your Air Filter
DIY Savings: $30
Told that your engine air filter needs replacing? It may be true. But testing your filter is easy and replacing it is a brainless task—so do it yourself. Replace the filter ($12 to $20) based on its actual condition rather than the manufacturer’s recommended service intervals. Checking its condition isn’t rocket science. Just pull it out and examine it. If it fails the backlight test, replace it. The backlight test: Remove the air filter and vacuum out any dirt. Then hold it in front of a shop light. If dirt blocks more than 50 percent of the light, replace the filter While the filter is out, vacuum out the crud in the air cleaner box.
Change Power Steering Fluid
DIY Savings: $55
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 or 24,000 miles). 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
DIY Savings: $60
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 color 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 will 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 color.
Note: The brake fluid may damage the baster’s rubber bulb, so don’t suck the fluid all the way into the bulb.