A funny thing happened on the way to our sputtering economy: Frugal became fabulous. For vehicle owners, that means it's suddenly savvy to pop your head under your hood. By performing simple maintenance tasks yourself, you'll save money on parts and labor, and extend the life of your vehicle.
"If you spend a few dollars, you can save a lot of dollars," says Brian Hughes, an automotive instructor at South Seattle Community College. "Your car will run better and it will be worth more when you go to sell it, because it will be in good shape."
Here are a few simple automotive projects that you can do yourself.
Maintain the correct air pressure in your tires
You'll need: Tire gauge (starting at $5), optional safety glasses (starting at $3)
Hughes recommends that you check your air pressure once a month or about every other time you fill up your gas tank. By keeping your tires properly inflated, they will last longer, you'll save fuel and your car will handle better. Maintaining correct tire pressure is also good for the environment, because when tires last longer, fewer of them end up in landfills. Consult your owner's manual or the sticker on the driver's-side door or in the glove box for the correct air pressure, and check the pressure when the car has been driven less than a mile.
Change your air filter
You'll need: Air filter (about $5 to $15, varies by vehicle), screwdriver
Do-it-yourself online auto maintenance resources:
If you take your car or truck to one of those drive-in quick-lube joints, then chances are you've been sold an air filter - and the labor to install it. Next time, just say no and install it yourself. A dirty air filter not only robs your car of power, it reduces your gas mileage, according to Matthew Wright, an auto repair expert on About.com. To change your air filter, pop the hood when the engine is cool and locate the filter. According to Edmunds.com, it's typically enclosed in a breadbox-size black plastic casing near the center-top of the engine. Unscrew or pry open the casing, replace the filter with a new one and reseal the casing.
Check your belts and hoses for wear and tear
You'll need: Safety gloves (starting at $5)
Broken belts and hoses are among the most common causes of breakdowns, according to how-to Web site Quamut (quamut.com). "They may look good on the outside but still be corrupt on the inside," says Hughes. Belts and hoses should be replaced every three to five years and checked regularly. To check them, be sure the engine is off and that no one is in the vehicle. With your safety gloves on, gently squeeze the hoses, looking for cracks; hard, brittle spots; pinholes; hardened, glassy surfaces; and abrasions. If you find compromised belts or hoses, take your car or truck to a trusted mechanic for replacements.
Remove corrosion from your battery terminals
You'll need: Baking soda, water, old toothbrush, safety gloves
Corrosion on your battery terminals will rob your car of voltage, making it hard to start and possibly costing you a trip to the repair shop. If there is light corrosion on the terminals that connect to your battery, you can remove it with a mixture of one part baking soda to one part water. Hughes recommends wearing safety gloves. Using an old toothbrush, vigorously brush the terminals with the baking soda and water solution, then rinse with clean water. Be sure not to disconnect the clamps, or you will lose any electronic presets such as radio stations or seat positions.