DIY car maintenance
With autumn’s shorter days, cooler temperatures and inclement weather drawing closer, now is a good time to get your car ready for the demands of the coming driving season.
Although some seasonal car maintenance will require the assistance of a qualified car mechanic, here are five, simple do-it-yourself car maintenance projects to make your auto better prepared for fall and save you the labor cost of having these services done by a mechanic.
Change your wiper blades
“Wiper blades should be replaced annually every fall,” says Tony Molla, spokesman for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence in Leesburg, Va. “You generally use your wipers more frequently in the fall and winter. They’ll also be taking a lot more abuse from road grime and windshield-washer solvent, so it’s best to have a fresh set then.”
Fortunately, replacing wiper blades as part of car maintenance is very easy and requires no tools. They cost from $10 to $20. Be aware that some cars will require same-sized blades for the driver and passenger sides, while others will require a longer blade for the driver-side wiper. So, be sure to consult the in-store sizing guide to buy the right ones. And don’t forget to buy a third blade if you own a hatchback, station wagon or SUV, with a wiper for the rear window.
Check your spare tire
“Autumn is also a good time to check your spare tire to ensure that it is properly inflated,” says Jim Travers, associate editor for autos at Consumer Reports and familiar with car maintenance. The typical space-saver spare tire found in most cars must be inflated to the inflation pressure listed on the side of the tire. A tire pressure gauge costs $7 to $20.
“Spare tires on pickup trucks and sport utilities are suspended underneath the vehicle on a cable, and that mechanism requires regular attention,” says Pat Goss, master technician of PBS’s “MotorWeek.” Lower and raise that under-car spare to check if the cable mechanism works freely. In fall, spray it with a rust penetrant like WD-40 and then lube with white lithium grease. If the mechanism has seized, repair it immediately.
Tire pressure drops one PSI, or pound per square inch, for every 10-degree drop in temperature, according to the AAA, so check your tires on a weekly basis. The proper inflation pressure will generally be listed in your vehicle’s owner manual and/or noted on a sticker located on the driver’s doorjamb.
Check and top off fluids
“In fall, windshield-washer fluid needs to be replaced with a solvent that is suited for use in cold weather,” says Molla. The washer fluid costs $2 to $4 per gallon, depending on the brand and whether it has antifreeze mixed in.
Travers says autumn is also a good time to check your level of antifreeze ($10 to $16 per gallon) in the coolant recovery reservoir. In this car maintenance move, if you find that you are below the required minimum stamped onto the side of that opaque container, add the appropriate quantity of properly diluted fluid to that reservoir and not to the radiator. Make sure that you use the correct fluid because green and orange antifreeze/coolant cannot be mixed.
Checking the brake-fluid reservoir is also a good idea. If the level is low, top it off with the appropriate type of brake fluid ($3.50 to $17 per container, depending on the type). “As your brakes wear, it’s normal for the fluid to go down a bit,” says Molla. “However, if you notice a bigger decrease, that could be an indication that you have a leak or other issue in the braking system.”
Replace the air filter
At a minimum, engine air filters ($11.50 to $53 per filter, depending on brand) should be replaced twice per year as part of car maintenance. So, if you haven’t done so already, replacing your car’s air filter is a good idea. When an air filter reaches the point where it causes enough of a pressure drop to restrict airflow, the car’s fuel economy, performance and emissions begin to deteriorate, getting progressively worse until the dirty filter is replaced.
“Fortunately, it’s easy to replace an engine air filter and, again, it’s a job anyone can do without tools,” says Travers.
Check battery terminals and lights
“Many electrical issues and ignition problems stem from loose or corroded battery connections,” says Travers. “If you notice corrosion on the posts or cable connectors, use an appropriate brush ($4 per brush.) This is a very inexpensive, yet handy tool that you can get at any auto parts store. And clean both (posts) completely, and then reconnect everything snuggly and securely.”
As part of regular car maintenance, and for safety, make sure all of the car’s lights are working; it’s important for you to see, as well as be seen, during autumn’s longer and darker nights, adds Molla. “Replacement bulbs will typically cost a dollar or two, with the exception of headlight bulbs, of course. They’re considerably more expensive, but you can replace them all quite easily on your own without tools and save yourself a hefty labor charge in the process.”
Headlight bulbs range in price from $14 to $27 for a single bulb to $25 to $50 for a dual pack.