35 Automotive Maintenance Tasks You Can DIY

Car maintenance seems daunting at first but start small and work up the car repair ladder. Here are some DIY car repairs you can take on.

1 / 35

Pouring oil to car engine. stock photo

Change Engine Oil and Filter

One of the most common engine maintenance tasks, change the oil and filter as often as your vehicle manufacturer specifies is important.

Although you won’t save a ton of money doing this work yourself, there are good reasons why it makes sense. First, it’s the only way you can be sure of the quality of oil that actually goes into your engine. And second, it lets you get underneath the vehicle to look at other things while you’re loosening and tightening the drain plug. I’ve often spotted small mechanical issues while changing my oil.

WD-40, which is still great at scaring away spiders, believe it or not.

2 / 35

Buff Out a Paint Scratch

Complete this job correctly and you’ll think you’ve done magic. When scratches don’t go through the paint, some very fine abrasion can make them go away. You can even use a 6-in. random orbit woodworking sander for this, but with a buffing pad installed instead of the abrasive disc pad, of course. Use a mild auto body buffing compound with the moistened buffing pad, then rinse off when you’re done. Do you know what cars are made of other than steel?

3 / 35

Nail in front of a tire
James Porter/Getty Images

Fix a Flat Tire

Automotive tires became tubeless more than 40 years ago, making it possible to fix a flat tire while it’s still on the vehicle. First, locate the leak. Pump up your flat tire and spray it with a mixture of 80 percent water and 20 percent dishwashing liquid — it will bubble where the air is leaking. When you’ve found the spot, mark it with a piece of chalk or white paint marker.

If you have a screw, nail, staple or empty hole in the tread of the tire, that’s a DIY car maintenance job. Jack up the vehicle and put a safety block under the frame, pull out the screw or nail, then use a plug kit to fix the leak. You’ll also need a tube of tire repair cement to use with the kit.

If air is leaking where the rubber meets the metal rim, that’s a job for a mechanic who can take the tire off the rim and remount it with sealing compound.

4 / 35

Ivan Godal/Shutterstock

Check and Top Off Fluids

This is a simple yet vitally important thing. Many older cars break down unnecessarily for want of nothing more than the addition of some fluid that’s low. You should check fluids in your vehicles weekly.

Standard fluids to check include the engine oil — check that with the engine off and the vehicle sitting on a level spot. Brake fluid and power steering fluid also need to be checked with the engine off. Automatic transmission fluid needs to be checked with the engine running, ideally after at least 10 or 15 minutes of driving.

5 / 35

Family Handyman

Add Trailer Wiring

This job used to be difficult, but not so much anymore. Ready-made trailer wiring harnesses are available for many different vehicles. Some install more easily than others, but it’s not a difficult task under any circumstances.

6 / 35

7 Best Torque Wrenchs Ft Olsa Tools Ecomm Via Amazon.com

Re-Torque Your Wheels

After a spate of tragedies involving wheels falling off vehicles in the late 1990s, auto mechanics everywhere started advising that nuts on a reinstalled wheel be checked for tightness after the first 50 miles of driving. This DIY car maintenance can be done with a torque wrench, which measures the amount of force applied to a nut. Seventy foot-pounds of torque is a common amount for wheel nuts, but check online for the right amount for your particular vehicle.

7 / 35


Test Your Battery

All automotive batteries eventually die, but how close is yours to leaving you stranded and unable to start? It’s hard to tell, and that’s why they invented battery testers.

Battery testers measure the capacity of the battery compared to what it was designed to deliver, plus critical details such as voltage during start-up. Great battery-testing gauges aren’t expensive, and they provide insights that will help you keep your vehicle working reliably.

8 / 35

Westend61/Getty Images

Replace a Car Battery

If you’ve tested your battery and found that it’s just not keeping a charge, that means it’s time to replace it. As a reminder, most car batteries only last about five years, if they’re taken care of. The good news is that you don’t need to take it to a mechanic. Replacing your battery is an easy fix, and most stores where you can buy a new battery will recycle your old one free of charge.

9 / 35

car transmission

Change Transmission Fluid

Most people seem to understand that engine oil needs to be changed regularly. What’s more often missed is the importance of changing transmission fluid as well. A mechanic friend of mine tells me that most transmissions that stop working do so because the fluid wasn’t changed as often as it should have been — if ever.

Some transmission oil pans have a drain plug in them while others require you to remove the pan to get rid of the oil. Removing the pan is a pain, so only do it once before installing a retrofit drain plug to make future fluid changes much easier. You can use this same kind of retrofit drain plug if the plug in your engine oil pan gets stripped from use.

10 / 35
Family Handyman

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 (ANCO, Trico or Bosch). 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.

11 / 35
Replace Engine Air Filter
Family Handyman

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 check the filter to see how much light passes through by holding a shop light behind it. If the filter blocks 50 percent of more of the light, replace the filter. If not, put it back in, secure the air filter box cover and keep driving. It's one of the easier things you can do to fix up cars.
12 / 35
Replace Non-Headlight Bulbs
Family Handyman

Replace Non-Headlight Bulbs

To access burned out license plate, 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 — that can cause premature bulb failure. Then push the bulb into the socket until it clicks. Reinstall the lens and you're done. Get more info on changing auto light bulbs here.
13 / 35
Replace That Broken Antenna
Family Handyman

Replace That Broken Antenna

Replacing a fender mount antenna mast is easy. Just unscrew the remaing 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. Get step-by-step replacement instructions here.
14 / 35
Fix That Leaky Sunroof
Family Handyman

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.
15 / 35
Fix Small Dents and Door Dings
Family Handyman

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 addtional 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 here.
16 / 35
Fix Tears in Leather and Vinyl
Family Handyman

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 color 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 color 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. Learn more about the step by step process of leather repair.
17 / 35
Replace Your Cabin Air Filter

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. It's one of at least 100 car maintenance tasks you can do on your own. 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. See how to remove and replace your cabin air filter here.
18 / 35
Family Handyman

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 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.

19 / 35
Family Handyman

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 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 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 color.

Note: The brake fluid may damage the baster’s rubber bulb, so don’t suck the fluid all the way into the bulb.

20 / 35
Family Handyman

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 center or use a spray-on cleaner and a scrub brush instead.

21 / 35
Family Handyman

Clean and Condition the Seats

After a few years, you’ll notice that the color 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 to keep the leather supple. It’s available at discount stores and auto stores.

22 / 35
Family Handyman

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.

23 / 35
Family Handyman

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. Want to update your car’s look? Find out the cost of wrapping a car.

24 / 35
Family Handyman

Change Your Engine Coolant

You can change your coolant yourself in about an hour. You’ll need to invest in an air-powered refilling tool to remove air pockets from the cooling system as you fill. You’ll save about $50 on your first coolant change and about $100 on each one after that. Check out how to change your engine coolant here.

25 / 35
Family Handyman

Free Up a Sticking Hood latch

If your hood doesn’t latch and unlatch easily, chances are it’s just rusty and dry. You can fix the problem in about 10 minutes with spray rust penetrant and spray lithium grease. Pop the hood and saturate the entire latch mechanism with rust penetrant. Latch and unlatch the hood several times until the mechanism works smoothly. The rust penetrant won’t last long, so you’ll have to apply a better lube. Open the hood and spray all the moving parts with white lithium grease. Latch and unlatch the hood several more times and you’re good to go.

26 / 35
Family Handyman

Replace a Serpentine Belt

Automatic belt tensioners, standard in most cars now, make changing a serpentine belt a simple DIY repair. Check out how to replace a serpentine belt in about 15 minutes.

27 / 35
Family Handyman

Change Your Spark Plugs

Change your spark plugs yourself to maintain peak performance and high gas mileage. In most cases it’s a simple job as long as you have the right tools.

28 / 35
Family Handyman

Recharge Your Car’s Air Conditioner

Improve the cooling of your car’s air conditioner. Using a recharge kit, you can recharge your air conditioner in four easy steps.

29 / 35
Family Handyman

Find and Replace a Blown Fuse

Cars run on electricity as well as gas, and almost all of it runs through fuses. Learn where they are, how to spot a blown one, and how to replace a fuse. It takes about five minutes, costs about $2, and it’ll save you the hassle of a trip to the repair shop.

30 / 35
Family Handyman

Add Graphite to Door Locks

Graphite powder keeps delicate lock mechanism working. We don’t think much about our door locks until the key breaks off in the cylinder. Keep these delicate mechanisms moving freely with a blast of dry graphite powder. You may need to push the dust protector flap back slightly with a small metal nail file to get at the lock. A quick pump of the tube will dispense enough graphite. Move the lock cylinder with your key several times to work the graphite into the mechanism. Do this to your trunk lock as well.

Check out the other car detailing tips you need to follow.

31 / 35
Family Handyman

Replace a Broken Wheel Stud

Tightening lug nuts without a torque wrench can be a recipe for disaster. If worse comes to worse and you break it, you can replace the wheel stud yourself.
32 / 35
Family Handyman

Clean Your Air/Fuel Intake System

Do you get a crummy idle or poor engine response when you put the pedal to the metal? You may have soot and carbon buildup on the valves, intake manifold and throttle body assembly, as well as clogged fuel injectors. Shops charge $100 and up to perform a fuel induction cleaning service. But you can do the same thing in about 30 minutes with the 3M No. 08963 Do-It-Yourself Fuel System Tune-Up Kit; $40 from amazon. com.

33 / 35
Family Handyman

Fix Your Headlights

Clean Cloudy Headlights

Clear your fogged or yellowed headlight lenses in 45 minutes for less than $15, rather than spending $100s to replace them. Learn the secret to cleaning headlights here.

Fix Dim Headlights

Simply clean the ground connection to restore the brightness of dim headlights. And apply a little dielectric grease. Or replace the bulb if you see a gray/brown film on the inside of the glass. See how to locate the ground connection and how to clean it.

34 / 35
Family Handyman

Replace Headlights

The hardest part of the job is choosing a new bulb. You can spend more time shopping for the bulbs than it takes to install them. The choices are mind-boggling. Every bulb manufacturer has its own confusing names for each style, making comparisons difficult. But it boils down to four upgrade categories—brightness level, life span, light color and energy consumption. Learn about your vehicle’s lights, flashers, and electrical systems.

35 / 35
Family Handyman

Fix a Leaking Valve Cover Gasket

Replace a leaky gasket cover on a 4-cylinder engine easily and in less than an hour for less than $100.