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5 DIY Maintenance Projects That Are Easier Than You Think

As things grind to a standstill, a lot of us are finding ourselves with a lot more free time on our hands. That coupled with so much uncertainty on what the next month or two has in store for us, I think we’d all be forgiven for wanting to tighten the purse strings a little bit as we ride this thing out. In the name of reducing unnecessary spending, I figured now is as good a time as ever to get into some maintenance you can get done yourself, and save some money on mechanic bills.

I get why people are afraid to do these things themselves! The fear of messing something up, leading to an even more expensive repair later is a legitimate concern. However, even in the age of complicated modern engines, you might be surprised at just how simple some things are to replace. I have had a harder time assembling Lego sets with my 6-year-old nephew than many car repairs.

Every little bit counts, and for some jobs, you end up paying as much or more for labor as you do for the parts themselves. So let’s get into some of these maintenance, repair, and upgrades you can do yourself with basic hand tools and a healthy dose of social distancing. Plus I’ll go into some tips on how to diagnose and look up issues for your specific vehicle. Since every vehicle is going to be a little different, I can’t really give exact instructions on each job.

A Note on Safety and Best Practices

If you’re new to wrenching on your own car, there are a few basic safety best practices and tools that should always be kept in mind — especially if you’re jacking it up to do the job.

  • Always use jack stands: Never rely solely on a jack to hold your vehicle up, especially if you are going to be climbing under it.
  • Always jack the car from recommended lift points: Your owner's manual will have a section on where to jack your car from.
  • Always go back and re-tighten bolts and wheel lugs after a few miles.
  • Get yourself some penetrating oil: This isn’t as much a safety item as it is a general tip to make your life easier.
  • Wear gloves: A set of mechanic’s gloves or a box of nitrile gloves to make clean up much easier.

DIY Maintenance Projects

  1. Change Your Own Brake Pads And/Or Rotors

    Skill level: 2/5

    It honestly kills me sometimes seeing how much people end up getting charged for a simple brake job sometimes. All in all, changing out pads and rotors is one of the most basic things you can do on your car, and along with changing your own oil, is one I recommend the most to people.

  2. Change Your Own Oil and Filter

    Skill level: 1/5

    This is an obvious one, but an important one nonetheless. If you’re due for an oil change anyway, what better time to get it done than now when you have some time on your hands, right?

  3. Scan/Diagnose Check Engine Lights

    Skill level: 1/5 to scan and look up codes, but it goes up from there to really narrow down issues

    Simply checking engine diagnostic codes has become something of a racket in the industry with some places charging upwards of $100 just to scan the codes and tell you what’s wrong. Meanwhile for less than that cost you can get a scanner yourself and practice a little Google-fu to get it done yourself.

  4. Changing Engine/Cabin Air Filters or Your Car’s Battery

    Skill level: 0/5

    Ever go in for something simple and find that the shop is tacking these other things onto your bill almost as a given? These are easy profit items for shops, as they are able to add their margin on the filters and batteries themselves, as well as charge the labor for something that is extremely quick and easy for them to do.

  5. Swap out Your Own Spark Plugs

    Skill level: 2/5 or 3/5 for most vehicles

    This is one that can vary in difficulty depending on the vehicle, but for most engines, it’s pretty simple to change out your spark plugs.

Now is as good a time as any to save some cash and learn a new, useful skill. Have any questions on a particular project you’re looking to tackle? Drop a comment below or shoot me an email at [email protected], and I’ll do my best to help point you in the right direction.