Having your car serviced can be both stressful and expensive. The cost of replacement parts and the labor to install them at a repair shop can add up quickly and can drain your wallet faster than a Dodge Hellcat running the quarter-mile!
There is a better way, and if you're reasonably handy and have some basic tools and supplies, you can save a ton of green by doing it yourself. Big repairs should be handled by a skilled mechanic, but if you just need some maintenance, you're the perfect person for the job!
Oil Change - The Basis Of Good Car Maintenance
The foundation of car maintenance is changing the oil. It's a fairly simple process that involves removing the old oil filter, draining the old engine oil and replacing both with new. Every car is going to be a little bit different, so YouTube is the best place to see a tutorial on your specific car.
A few wrenches, a drain pan, a funnel, and rags are about all you need. If your car is low to the ground, a jack and jack stands come in handy. The average cost of an oil change is $46 at a car dealership, and you can likely save $10 to $20 by doing it yourself.
Air Filter - Help Your Car Breathe Easier
The engine's air filter helps prevent dirt, dust, debris, and water from entering the intake system. Over time, the filter gets clogged, allowing less air to move through it. Think about it like a dryer lint trap for your car's engine.
A typical repair shop may charge $60 - $70 to replace just the air filter, but with minimal equipment and about five minutes of your time, you could literally breathe new life into your ride. Air filters range in price depending on the make and model of car, but the average is about $30.
Cabin Air Filter - Clean Air In, Odors And Dust Out
Like the engine's air filter, the cabin filter keeps funky stuff from entering the interior of the car through the HVAC system. Some cabin air filters may be charcoal activated, which help eliminate fumes and odors. All cabin air filters are designed to remove dust, pollen, and soot from the air entering the cabin.
The average cost to replace the cabin filter is around $85 at a repair shop, but it's a simple job that you can do quickly for just the cost of the filter, which is typically around $45 for charcoal activated, and $20 for traditional materials.
Cooling System Flush - A Great Preventative Maintenance Job To Keep Your Engine Healthy
The coolant in your car's cooling system has a life span of one to two years before it needs to be flushed and changed. Over time, coolant loses its ability to prevent corrosion which results in damage to water pumps, thermostats and other parts of your cooling system.
It's important to get all the air out of the cooling system, so it's a good idea to watch a tutorial on flushing and bleeding the cooling system on your car. It's a simple procedure that helps protect your car over time. A mechanic might charge $100 to $150 for the procedure, but you can do it for less than half of that.
Headlight Bulbs - Brighten Up Your Night Driving
When your headlight goes out, it becomes a safety issue as your path at night is less illuminated and other drivers can't see you as well. There are typically three types of headlights on cars and trucks today, halogen, Xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) and light-emitting diode (LED). Halogen bulbs are the cheapest but don't last very long and LED lights may be the most expensive but they can last for 20,000 hours.
Typical replacement costs range from $80 to $100, but if your car has LED headlights, that could double. Cut the cost in half and replace them yourself.
Fuel Filter - Keep Your Car At Peak Efficiency
The fuel filter, as its name suggests, filters contaminants from the fuel. This is typically dirt and rust from the fuel tank, and if left unfiltered could clog fuel injectors and cause the engine to run poorly, if at all.
Most fuel filters live underneath the car, in-line with the fuel supply to the engine, others can be a replaceable cartridge in the fuel tank with the fuel pump. Most are held on with only a few clamps and screws so it's a great maintenance project for saving some dough. A repair shop may charge upwards of $125 to replace, but you can do it for an average of $25.
Spark Plugs - Shockingly Simple And Beneficial
The engine's spark plugs thread directly into the cylinder head and provides the high-voltage spark necessary to ignite the air-fuel mixture within the cylinder. Your car will have one per cylinder and will require a special socket for removal.
It's important to note the type of spark plugs your car has, as you'll want to replace them with the same type. That will help keep your car running at its best and prevent any drivability issues from creeping up. Spark plug replacement can get expensive at a repair shop with an average cost of $200. If you do it yourself you can likely save more than half.
Windshield Wipers - Better Vision Helps You Drive Safer
Replacing windshield wipers is one of the simplest and quickest things you can do to dramatically improve your driving experience. If they start to leave streaks when wiping, you know it's time to swap them out for new. They usually clip onto the end of the wiper arm and take no more than a minute or two to replace.
If you have a repair shop do it, expect to pay around $40 for parts and labor. If you replace them yourself, you can save about $20.
Turn Signal And Brake Light Bulbs - Keep Your Car Safe And Visible To Others
Just like headlights, turn signals and brake lights are a safety item, and it's important to keep them blinking at their best. Most cars will have several different bulbs in the tail light assembly and each one costs only a few dollars. A repair shop may charge $10 to $20 per bulb for replacement, but this is a repair that everyone can do at home.
Usually, a screwdriver and pliers are all that's required making replacing bulbs yourself: simple, cheap and quick.
Brake Pads and Rotors - Make Sure Your "Woah" Matches Your "Go"
You use the brakes almost as much as you use the engine on your car, and it's important to keep them in tip-top shape. Squeaking, grinding, pulsating and a brake pedal that goes to the floor are all indications that it's time to service your brakes.
A repair shop could charge around $400 to replace brake pads and rotors on an average car, and if you happen to have a high-performance vehicle with uprated brakes, that cost can double. Despite being more involved than replacing an air filter, it's still possible for the average person to replace brakes themselves, saving hundreds of dollars.
Car Battery - An Easy Repair That Could Save You A Tow
Having your battery go dead is a huge pain, having to pay to have your car towed to a repair shop to replace the battery is even worse. Save a bunch of money and replace it yourself in a few minutes.
The batteries in most cars are fairly simple to remove and require only a wrench or two for the hold-down clamp and battery cables. Depending on the car, a battery will cost between $100 and $200 with high-end European models costing much more. Labor will add another $20 to $30 and can be as high as $100 if it's an emergency roadside repair.
Serpentine Belt - Keep Everything Connected With A New Belt
The serpentine belt allows your car's engine to drive critical components like the alternator, air conditioning compressor, power steering pump, and water pump. Over time, the rubber belt begins to crack and wear and can lead to failure which would definitely ruin your day.
Replacement of the belt is fairly straight-forward but you'll want to pay attention to how it's routed around the engine's pulleys, as misrouting can cause a lot of problems. Typical replacement costs range from $100 to $200. Most serpentine belts cost between $25 and $75, so it's a worthwhile project to tackle to save some money.
Cooling System Hoses - Keep Your Car Cool Under Pressure
Like the serpentine belt, your car's cooling system hoses are made of rubber and crack and fail over time. They're designed to channel hot coolant from the engine to the radiator and back to the engine. This keeps the engine running at an ideal temperature which helps with efficiency and longevity.
When hoses fail, they will start to leak coolant, and if neglected can lead to the engine overheating and failing, sometimes spectacularly. The main coolant hose can cost around $175 to replace at a repair shop. If you do it yourself you can save in the neighborhood of $100.
Fuses And Relays - Sometime The Most Complicated Problems Have The Simplest Solutions
Just like the fuses and circuit breakers in your home, fuses in cars are there to prevent damage to electrical components and wiring. The relays your car uses act just like a light switch in your home. They use a small amount of electricity to turn a circuit on or off with a larger electrical current.
When an electrical component in your car suddenly fails, without warning, it's worthwhile to check the fuse and/or relay for the component. Most repair shops will charge you "time spent" to diagnose an electrical issue, but you can confirm the fuse is bad just by looking at it and save a lot of money.
Brake Fluid Flush - Avoid Spongy Brake Pedal Feel With New Fluid
The brake fluid in your car, just like the coolant, has a finite lifespan. Most automotive brake fluid, with the exception of DOT 5 which is silicone based, absorbs water and moisture from the air. When water mixes with brake fluid it reduces the effective operating temperature range and usually results in the driver feeling like the brake pedal is going soft under hard braking.
Most brake fluid will last about 2-3 years and it's a good idea to flush and change it when you replace brake parts. A repair shop might charge $100 for the service, but you can do it for about $25.
Check and Adjust Tire Pressure - An Easy Check To Ensure Optimum Performance
One of the simplest things you can do to ensure that your car is operating at its best, is to regularly check tire pressures. If your tires are under-inflated, it takes more of the engine's power to turn the wheels, and this will increase fuel consumption and wear on the tires. Another symptom of low tire pressure is "pulling" or wandering to the left or right, requiring steering corrections to keep it going in a straight line.
A simple tire gauge (use a dial or digital gauge, not a stick gauge) costs under $10 and helps extend the life of your tires.
Loose Or Rattling Exhaust - Relinquish Rattles To The Past With A Few Simple Repairs
A loose or rattling exhaust can be a major annoyance. It can also hasten the demise of your exhaust system if a metal bracket or rubber hanger fails. If your exhaust isn't leaking and a simple bracket or hanger is all that's required for repair, it's a job that most people can tackle from the comfort of the driveway.
Having a mechanic repair a rattling exhaust has an average cost of about $100, but the parts are relatively cheap and if you're able to do it yourself, you could save $70 - $80.
Transmission Fluid And Filter - Shift Into High Gear With A Simple Fluid Change
Transmission maintenance is critical for a well operating car or truck. Whether your car is manual or automatic, the transmission is filled with oil that requires replacement over time. A manual transmission is likely filled with just gear-oil and an automatic transmission will use a specific fluid and have a filter to strain it.
For most cars, a repair shop might charge up to $250 to drain the fluid, replace a filter (if equipped) and refill with new transmission fluid. If you have a drain pan, some wrenches and a little bit of time, you can do the job for about $75.
In-Tank Fuel Pump And Sending Unit - Feed Your Engine Without Starving Your Bank Account
The fuel pump in your car brings the fuel in the tank to the engine, and the sending unit provides a fuel level for the gauge on the dash. In most cars, the fuel pump and sending unit live inside the fuel tank and are typically accessible from under the rear seats. If your fuel gauge is not reading correctly you may need to replace the sending unit, and a common cause of a car not starting is a failed fuel pump.
Costs to replace at a repair shop range from $275 to over $1000, depending on the car. Save a ton and do it yourself, just be careful around flammable gasoline.
Miscellaneous Trim Pieces - Refresh The Look Of Your Car In A Matter Of Minutes
Every car and truck suffers from wear and tear through regular use. The interior and exterior trim pieces can take a lot of abuse as well. Whether it's parking lot door dings or interior scrapes and scratches, trim pieces regularly break, wear out of fall off.
Most of these pieces are simply attached to the vehicle with screws or clips and can be removed and replaced with a simple set of automotive trim and molding tools. A basic set, made from plastic to prevent scratches and damage can be bought for under $10. Having these tools in your arsenal can save a ton of money over dealership replacement costs.