Everyone knows, cars break down a lot. And when they do, it is often a very traumatic and messy affair, resulting in canceled plans, lost opportunities, problems with one’s employer, and a whole lot of stress. If you are not mechanically inclined, the problem is made all the more frustrating by the fact that you do not know what to do in order to fix the problem. So naturally, you call a mechanic to deal with the problem. Although they often will fix the problem, it will often be an expensive affair that leaves you playing financial “catch up” for weeks or even months afterward.
Although these kinds of situations cannot be totally avoided, there are many things one can do to make them less frequent and less likely. As any good mechanic will tell you, the lifespan of your car is greatly affected by how well you treat it.
Think of it like a garden. If you do not tend it, it will develop all kinds of problems. Weeds will grow in, bugs will move in, and fruit will rot on the vine. A vehicle is kind of the same way. Careful tending of its needs will keep it from wearing itself down and greatly prolong the life of the vehicle. So without further ado, let’s get into these 8 simple and easy car maintenance jobs that anyone can do.
1. Change your air filter frequently
Your air filter is meant to keep airborne debris out of your engine. As an engine runs, it takes in air to mix with the fuel and combust, so in effect, it “breathes”. When you understand it that way, you can also understand that a good clean filter is necessary for a vehicle to breathe properly. The dirtier that filter is, the more it will obstruct the air flow to your engine, affecting performance in negative ways. It needs to be changed once a year.
This is an extremely cheap and easy thing to do. Most air filters cost about $10 and should take no more than ten minutes to replace. Underneath your hood, you will see a large, black, rectangular box with metal clips holding it together. Check your owner’s manual if you have trouble locating it. Pop these clips and open up the casing. Pull out the old filter and inspect it. If it is dirty, just put a new one in its place and put the cover back on. Simple as that.
2. Changing your windshield wipers
This is something that is so easy, it almost needs no explanation. Like the previous task, it should take no more than ten minutes. All you have to do is lift up the blades and detach them from their bases. You may have to push a little tab to get them to detach. Different models vary, but most are simply hooked on. If you see how they came off, you can easily see how to put the replacement on.
3. Changing your spark plugs
This one is slightly harder, but not much. A new set of plugs will normally cost you ten to fifteen dollars. Most engines require spark plug replacement every 30,000 miles, but you should check your owner’s manual for an exact figure.
Finding your spark plugs should be pretty easy. They are usually on top of the engine, and there are thick rubbery wires leading to all of them. They go directly into the engine itself and have a small rubber boot at the end. Every model of engine looks different, but all you really have to do is look up a parts diagram for your car. It will tell you where your spark plugs are and how many there are. You will also need to look up the exact order in which you change the plugs, as this also varies.Locating them is actually the hardest part. Once you have found them, pull the boot off the first plug. At this point you will need a ratchet, a socket that fits, and an extension for the ratchet. They make special sockets for this exact purpose, which are made to grip the plug as you loosen it. These are very handy and will save you much frustration. Put the new plugin its place and tighten it down. BE VERY CAREFUL not to overtighten! If you tighten too much, the plug can break, as it is partly made from ceramic.
From here you just repeat these steps for the remaining plugs, making sure to do them in the correct order.
4. Oil and oil filter
Your oil should be changed every 3000-5000 miles. You begin by letting the engine cool completely. You’ll most likely need to jack up your car, because you are going to get under it and locate the oil plug. It should be located on the underside of the oil pan. Once again, consulting a good diagram can help a lot here. The pan is usually front and center on the underside of your car, so it shouldn’t be hard.
Place an oil container under the plug and loosen it. It will come out quickly so be ready to get out of the way. Let all the old oil drain, replace the plug, and add more oil.
Once again, you will need to consult a parts diagram to find the exact location of your oil filter, but it usually just screws right into the engine. You may need an oil filter wrench to remove it. Replace it and you’re done. Make sure you dispose of the old oil properly.
5. Battery maintenance
Often, corrosion and residues will build upon the terminals of your battery, causing various electrical problems. To deal with this, simply remove both battery cables and clean the posts with a solution of water and baking soda. Use a little clean water to rinse the posts, dry them, and reconnect your battery cables. Simple as that!
6. Radiator flush
This process is similar to an oil change. Radiators tend to build up deposits over time, which can clog and ruin them if not corrected. Flushing the radiator helps to keep it running nice and clean, and should be done about once a year. To do this, start by letting your car cool completely, then locate the drain plug at the bottom of the radiator. Unscrew this plug and let the fluid drain into a container. Replace the plug and add the flushing solution through the top. Now fill the rest of the radiator with water and replace the radiator cap.
Next, you will need to let your car run until it reaches normal operating temperature. Now, turn on the heat full-blast and let it run for ten minutes. Now let the engine cool down again, and drain the radiator one more time. Now you just fill it back up with fresh coolant and that’s that.
7. Brake Pads
This is another easy job that should be done anytime your brakes are making a grinding noise, or every 20,000 miles (whichever comes first).
Start by loosening the lug nuts on one wheel. Continue by jacking up your car and putting it on jack stands. Now remove the tire. You should see the brake pads being held in place by the caliper. That caliper will have two bolts holding it in place. Loosen those bolts and the pads will fall right out.
In order to replace the caliper, you will need to use a big C-clamp to push the cylinder in. This cylinder is located on the interior of the caliper. Push this drum-shaped cylinder in and you should be able to replace everything the same way it came out. Now do the other wheel and you’re done!
NOTE: most cars have brake pads on the front, but not on the back. Most back brakes are drum brakes, which are harder to work on.
8. Changing the fuel filter
This one can be harder, depending on your vehicle, but not too bad. Start by pulling the fuel pump fuse so that fuel won’t spray everywhere when you detach the hoses leading to the filter, which is step two. You will probably need wrenches to do this. When you put the new one back in, make sure to change the washers. Now you just replace your fuse and start the car. Using all of these simple processes, you can help your car to serve you well for years to come.