By Alex Perdikis
In the old days, backyard mechanics could do most car maintenance and repair jobs themselves. Modern cars come equipped with computers and often require diagnostic tools only available to manufacturers and certified repair shops.
But, if you keep your car in top running shape, you can avoid many of those costly repair jobs down the line. Follow these DIY car maintenance tips to keep your car running smoothly and save yourself a little money, too.
1. Change your air filter. A dirty air filter makes your car’s engine work harder and uses a whole lot more gas. A general timeframe for an air filter change is every year or 12,000 miles, but check your owner’s manual and follow its recommendations.
“If you often drive down dirt roads, change your filter more often.” — Alex Perdikis
You’ll see a huge difference in performance and gas efficiency with a clean air filter.
2. Change your oil and oil filter. If this one sounds a bit daunting, it’s OK to take your car to a service and pay someone to do it. But, changing the oil in your car isn’t really difficult if you know how and have the required tools and space. Check your owner’s manual for the recommended oil change timetable and type of oil required for your vehicle. Most manufacturers recommend changing your oil every 3,000 miles. You’ll need a place to work on your car, a car jack, ratchet, oil pan, funnel, new oil, new filter replacement and work clothes. Wait at least two hours after running your car before attempting to change the oil to avoid burns from a hot engine.
3. Replace your windshield wipers. Replacing your wiper blades is an easy repair to do, and it just might save your life. Change the blades every six months to a year or anytime you notice a degraded performance. Depending on the type, you might need a screwdriver to replace your wiper blades, or your hands may suffice. Directions are typically included with newly purchased sets.
4. Change your spark plugs. Replacing old spark plugs with new give you better fuel efficiency and a smoother ride. Replace your spark plugs after 30,000 miles or as recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer. Changing the plugs is not difficult, but you’ll need to follow a specific order, replacing a single spark plug at a time.
5. Replace the brake pads. This is another maintenance job that could save your life. Replace brake pads every 20,000 miles or as recommended in the owner’s manual. Consider replacing them sooner if most of your driving is stop-and-go. You’ll need a place to jack up your car and lug wrench, Allen wrenches, a hammer, c-clap and possibly other tools depending on your car. If you’re at all unsure about this one, leave it to the pros.
6. Flush your radiator. Deposit buildup in the radiator reduces a cooling system’s efficiency. Make sure the engine is cool before attempting this maintenance job. You’ll need rags, a wrench, screwdriver, coolant receptacle and new coolant. Follow the instructions in your owner’s manual.
Even if you do just one or two of these car maintenance jobs yourself, you’ll save a few bucks now and perhaps a major repair or two in the future.
Alex Perdikis, Koons of Silver Spring general manager and owner, lives in Chevy Chase with his wife and daughters.