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If you own a car, chances are a big chunk of your income goes directly to vehicle costs. According to Your Driving Costs by AAA, the average amount Americans spent on their new cars in 2018 was $8849.00. This includes everything related to the car, such as auto payments, fuel, insurance, registration/license fees, and maintenance and repairs.  

Most of those costs are straightforward and require you to merely comply and open your wallet. For instance, you can’t bargain on your license fees, and your car payment is due when it’s due. But with car maintenance and repair, the decisions are seemingly unending and often confusing.  

Simple preventive DIY car maintenance

You know the old axiom: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With cars, following the saying can save you a bundle in the long run. If you keep driving around and ignore weird sounds emanating from your engine, you’re on borrowed time. The longer you put it off, the more costly the repairs will likely become. But here are 5 things you can do yourself.

Start with the basics. Heed the dashboard warning lights, aka “idiot lights.” Ignoring these will prove costly. It’s easy to deal with; just head to a local auto parts shop and ask them to do a free diagnostic test. They can hook up to the car’s computer and isolate the problem so you know what’s wrong before it gets worse.

Keep up with the oil situation. One way to DIY car maintenance is to learn how to check your oil levels and make certain you keep track of your oil change schedule. Not sure when it’s due? Take a look at your car’s manual and see the suggested time schedule or mileage timeline for your vehicle. 

Pay attention to your tires. Check the pressure and watch the tread level. Many new cars have a tire pressure monitoring system, so that makes things a little easier. Tire tread can be checked with the old school method of the penny test. Place the penny head down into several tread grooves on the tire. If you repeatedly see the top of Lincoln’s head, you have bald tires and need to replace them.

Keep cool by routinely checking your vehicle’s coolant levels. If you don’t know where the coolant reservoir is in your car, check the owner’s manual. It’s as simple as looking and adding to it when it’s low.

Another simple DIY car maintenance task is to check your air filter. This can have a direct effect on how your car runs and your fuel efficiency. Again, if you haven’t a clue where to look, check your owner’s manual, or even look it up online for a diagram. If it’s dirty, replace it. Just that easy!

Easy DIY car repairs you can manage

The newer the car, the fewer things you may be able to repair yourself. Autos have become just too high tech for much of that. However, the average car on the road today is 11.5 years old, so yours may not be that new. An older car will need more repairs. Here are some auto repair tasks you can (and probably should) do for yourself.

Windshield wipers do a lot of dirty work for us, so they are likely to need replacing multiple times in the life of our vehicle. However, you don’t need to pay someone else to replace them. Simply go to your local auto parts store and tell them what your car’s year, make and model is, and they will tell you your choices. Don’t buy the most expensive, or the cheapest, and you should do fine. Look online first to see which shop has them cheapest. Then follow the directions on the package, or look online. It shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes or so. 

Headlight and taillight bulbs are likely to burn out, and when they do, simply follow the same procedure as with the wipers. It’s easy to replace a bulb, but take care not to get grime, grease or oil on the bulb. Wear gloves to be sure.

If your car battery isn’t working, it doesn’t take a mechanic to figure it out or replace it. If you can’t get your car to start, and none of the lights or accessories are working simply disconnect your battery cables and take the battery out. Head to your now-familiar auto parts store and ask them to check it out. If they tell you it’s bad, then price a replacement. Many offer warranties. You don’t need to pay someone to replace it. Buy the new one and place it where the old one was, and reattach the wires. 

When it’s time for an oil change, going by either mileage or time since the last one, you don’t have to pay someone else to do it. Simply go to a department store or auto parts shop and get the correct filter and oil for your vehicle. Read up online on how to do it. You’ll need something to catch the dirty used oil and dispose of it properly when finished. It will take 30 minutes or less.

For DIY jobs, remember many auto parts stores have rental tools available, which can keep costs down for those tools you don’t need often, but having a simple set of hand tools is smart. Look online to compare prices of parts, and study your owner’s manual. Also, if you can’t do it yourself, you can check out AAA’s Estimate Car Repair Costs page to see what the average cost for that repair job should be. If someone quotes you a crazy number, say thanks and head elsewhere.