diy car repair

Five DIY car guides that will help you save

Information verified correct on December 9th, 2016

Save time and money with five car maintenance procedures anyone can do.

If you need to take your car to a mechanic every time something goes wrong, you’re probably spending more than you need to.

These five guides can help you identify and solve some of the more common car problems so you don’t have to spend a lot whenever something goes wrong.

Bookmark this page so you have a handy reference at any time.

Check your tyre pressure

The main cause of tyre failure is having tyres at the wrong pressure. You can find the correct tyre pressure for your vehicle in your owner’s manual, or on the inside of the driver’s door.  It might be different for the front and rear wheels. It is recommended that you check your tyre pressure no less than once a month, because it will drop even if your car is just sitting in the garage. Keep a tyre pressure gauge in your car so you can easily do a check at any time.

You will need:

  • A tyre pressure gauge

How to check tyre pressure:

  • Unscrew the valve stem cap (the air nozzle) on the tyre.
  • Press the gauge evenly over it. If there’s a hissing sound of air escaping, it means you haven’t connected it on correctly and won’t get an accurate reading. Adjust the angle until it’s snug and no air is getting around it.
  • Read the pressure. With a digital gauge you might need to press a button, but many will simply show it automatically.
  • Note the tyre pressure, check it against what’s in the manual and inflate the tyre as needed. Don’t forget to replace the valve cap.
  • Do the same for all the tyres on the car. You may also want to check the spare tire pressure occasionally to make sure it’s ready to go if needed.

Change the oil

Regularly changing your car’s oil can help you get thousands of extra kilometers out of your vehicle. Consult your car manual to find out exactly what kind of oil is best for your car, and pay special attention to viscosity because getting that wrong will cause trouble.

The manual will also tell you how often you should change the oil, which it is important to note because it determines the kind of oil filter you will need. If the manual says to check the oil every 2,000km then a cheap filter that only lasts 2,000km should be adequate. If it says to check the oil every 5,000km then you will need a more durable filter that will last at least that distance.

You will need:

  • Engine oil
  • New oil filter and gasket
  • A container to catch the used oil, rags, and a big plastic sheet if you don’t want oil on the ground
  • A wrench
  • A funnel
  • An oil dipstick
  • A jack and jack stands if you need these to get under your car

How to change the oil:

  • If you’ve just driven the car, give it half an hour or so to cool down so you don’t burn yourself. If the car is cold, turn on the engine for a couple of minutes to warm it up so the oil flows more easily.
  • Find the drain plug under your car. This should be right under the oil pan beneath the engine. Sometimes you can reach it easily, but sometimes you need to crawl under the car or jack it up.
  • Push a container beneath the oil pan to catch the used oil. Wrap a rag around your hand before you unscrew the drain plug as the oil will start coming out straight away when you unscrew it. Unscrew the plug and pull it away, and allow the oil to drain out into the container as you move on to the next steps.
  • Open the car hood and remove the cap from the oil hole at the top of the engine, then unscrew the oil filter that’s beneath it. Sometimes it will unscrew by hand, and sometimes it will need a wrench. The filter will have oil inside it, so take care and empty it out into wherever you’re keeping the old oil. Both the old oil and the old filter will need to be disposed of later.
  • Open the bottle of fresh engine oil, dip a finger in (make sure you’re wearing gloves) and use it moisten the gasket of the new filter. After that, gently screw in the new filter until it shifts into place and then give it another three-quarter turn. If you’re having trouble, check the installation instructions that came with the filter.
  • After the oil has finished draining, wipe down the area around the oil drain and replace the plug. Replace the plug gasket with a new one if the old one is leaking or shows a lot of wear and tear, and tighten it all with a wrench.
  • Slowly pour the fresh oil into the filler on top of the engine, but leave about a litre in the bottle.
  • Replace the oil filler cap. Turn the engine on and let it run for 30 seconds to a minute while you check for any leaks around the plug (on the bottom) and the filter (on the top).
  • Turn off the engine and wait for a few minutes for the oil to settle. Remove the oil dipstick and check the level, then wipe it off with a clean rag and put it back. Wait a few moments then pull it out and check again to be sure it’s showing the change in oil level.
  • Add more oil, bit by bit and keep checking the dipstick. Fill it up until the dipstick indicates the oil level is topped up.
  • Put everything back in place and make sure you haven’t left anything where it shouldn’t be, then take the car for a quick test drive. Park the car, let it sit for 5 or 10 more minutes, then check the dipstick one last time. If it shows the oil is still at the same level, then you’re all done.

Replace your windscreen wiper blades

Replacing wiper blades is quick and easy, but that doesn’t mean mechanics won’t sometimes charge an arm and a leg to do it for you if they think they can get away with it. If your windscreen wipers are leaving streaks, look frayed, make annoying sounds with each pass or just aren’t working like they used to, it’s time to replace them.

You will need:

  • New windscreen wiper blades
  • Scissors
  • Pliers

How to replace windscreen wiper blades:

  • Measure the length of your windshield wiper assembly.
  • Pull the wipers up and away from the windscreen. Don’t force them; they’re on hinges and should move easily.
  • Squeeze the end where the attachment clip is and slide the blades off the wipers. You might need pliers to grasp it.
  • Slide on the new wiper blades and reattach the clip.
  • Cut off any excess length. It may be easier to just cut them back to the size of the previous ones.

Change your headlight and tail-light bulbs

If you’ve noticed that one of your car lights isn’t working, it might be because the bulbs are burnt out. You should change them as soon as you notice a problem, or you risk being pulled over by the police. The method for changing headlights and tail-lights is slightly different, so make sure you’re following the right steps. Depending on your model of car, the bulbs you might need to change can be for fog lights, high beams, indicators or tail-lights. It’s a good idea to test all of them monthly, because you often can’t tell tell they’re broken while you’re driving or when the car is switched off.

You will need:

  • New light bulbs. Any good automotive supply store should be able to match bulbs to your car’s make and model.
  • Philips-head screwdriver
  • Tissues or alcohol wipes to hold the new bulbs without smudging them

How to change car headlights:

  • Open the hood and look for the headlights exactly where you expect them to be. They will be in a bulb holder with a power connector leading to them which is usually three wires.
  • These wires are attached to a plug which will be held in place with some form of clip or cap, depending on your vehicle. There should be a lever for removing the plug, or you might have to push and unscrew it as you do with a child-safe bottle cap.
  • Remove the old bulbs. They should unscrew or unclip intuitively.
  • Replace them with new ones. Avoid touching the glass and only handle them by the base, or with clean tissues or alcohol wipes.
  • Replace the connector and anything else you removed.

How to change car tail-lights:

  • Check your vehicle manual to find out how to access the tail light housing. It will either be through the trunk or from the outside.
  • Open the tail-light housing. This may involve unclipping, unscrewing or simply using the right knobs and levers. If you’re removing screws make sure to keep track of them, because you’ll need to reinsert them afterwards. The housing should be connected to wires, similar to the headlights. These should not be removed, so don’t yank the housing too hard or you might rip it out.
  • Remove the old bulbs. Sometimes you can just pull them out, but you might have to push and then pull them.
  • Replace the housing and put everything back that you removed.

As always, give the car a quick test once you’re done to make sure everything is working as it should.

Check and top up your radiator fluid

Radiator fluid keeps your engine cooled, so it’s important to check the fluid levels regularly, or whenever you notice a leak. Inadequate coolant levels can cause a lot of problems, so knowing how to check your fluid levels can help you deal with any issues quickly rather than needing to take your car to a garage whenever you suspect a problem.

The easiest way to check your radiator fluid on newer cars is by simply looking at the reservoir and checking whether it’s full. If it isn’t, top it up with engine coolant. Check the bottle to see whether it needs to be mixed with water or already comes pre-mixed. To check and change the fluid on older cars:

You will need:

  • A decently thick rag so you don’t burn yourself

How to check and top up radiator fluid:

  • Park the car on a level surface and turn off the engine. If you have just done a fairly long drive, let it cool down. The ideal time to check fluid levels is just after you have driven a short distance. If it’s still uncomfortably hot under the hood, you might want to wait a bit longer for it to cool down.
  • Pop the hood and look for the radiator cap. This should be clearly marked on newer cars, but might be unmarked on older models, in which case you should consult your manual.
  • The cap absorbs heat from the coolant so is often a lot hotter than other parts under the hood. Wrap the rag around the cap and unscrew it. If it’s a radiator pressure cap, as some older cars have, push down while unscrewing.
  • Top it up with the appropriate coolant and water mix as needed until it registers as full.
  • Look for other problems. Check the hoses to make sure they’re still firm and in good shape. Make sure they are not cracked, bulging or soft, and ensure your engine coolant is vibrantly coloured. If it’s clear, rusty or has bits floating in it, it’s a good idea to flush the entire coolant system and refill it.

Image: Shutterstock

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