The Dos and Don’ts of DIY Car Repairs

There are some people who practically grew up underneath the hood of a car, were baptized in grease, and celebrated their 16th birthday not by getting a new car, but by building one practically from scratch. For these rare individuals, there isn’t an auto repair that they couldn’t do themselves.

But if you’re like the rest of us, you probably need a little guidance when determining which car repair jobs can be done in the driveway versus the neighborhood auto garage. Granted, you’re not a gearhead – but you’re not an idiot either.

Here are some of the dos and don’ts of do-it-yourself car repairs:

Simple repairs that everyone ought to know how to do

  • Changing a tire. You never know when you’ll be stranded on the side of the road with a flat. Every car comes with a jack and spare, although you can buy better equipment if you wish.
  • Changing windshield wiper blades. Usually, no tools are required. Under normal conditions, you should swap them out twice a year.
  • Checking/filling fluids. This includes engine oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, windshield wiper fluid, and engine coolant/antifreeze. The owner’s manual will tell you where these spots are located under your hood.
  • Changing air filter. This should be changed once or twice per year. As with windshield wiper blades, you won’t need to use any tools.

DIY repairs which require a little more skill

  • Bulbs. When your headlights, taillights, or other exterior lights burn out (or are broken), you can buy the bulbs and replace them. This can be more difficult on some cars than others.
  • Fuses. These fuses are located underneath the bottom of the dashboard in most vehicles. But you’ll need a reliable diagram to figure out which fuse powers which control.
  • Changing your oil. The actual task is pretty easy; just unplug your oil plan, drain the oil, then replug and refill. The difficult part is getting under the car to do it, as well as finding an environmentally-safe place to dispose of the old oil.
  • Using an OBD scanner. This is the machine that repair shops use to plug into your car’s diagnostic port and identify what’s wrong (like when your Check Engine light comes on). If you don’t want to buy a scanner, some auto parts stores or car repair shops may let you use theirs. But beware: the scanner tells you what the problem is, but not how to fix it.

Jobs which you probably trust professionals to handle

  • Changing the serpentine belt. Replacing the large belt in your engine probably looks easy. But if you do it incorrectly, everything will spin backwards. (Not good.)
  • Changing spark plugs. Today’s newer cars require special tools to remove spark plugs and/or partially taking apart your car to access them.
  • Fix your brakes. The mechanism is too complex, and the stakes for incorrectly doing the job are too high.
  • If you want to explore more difficult DIY auto repairs, look to the web for manuals, parts lists, and instructional videos to aid you. But don’t let your pride keep you from throwing in the towel and getting the job done by a pro. After all, a broken car caused by DIY mechanic ignorance is probably not covered by your auto insurance.

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