NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There's more to the cost of a car than just your monthly payment plus insurance. Oil changes alone can add up to an extra $500 per year, but they're something basically anyone with just a few simple tools can do themselves. No matter what your cost is, basic auto maintenance and repair is something you don't need to spend extra money on. Why pay someone else to do it when you could easily take care of it yourself. All the money you're spending on keeping your car up is money you can invest in your retirement, put aside for a family vacation or just save for a rainy day.
"You don't need a single tool to check tire pressure," says Karl Brauer of Kelly Blue Book. "All you need are opposable thumbs. It's a very low effort, high return form of maintenance." What's more, checking your tire pressure won't just save you money when it comes to the cost of having someone else check it for you. Checking your own tire pressure will save you money every time you drive your car in the form of increased fuel efficiency.
Another thing you can do without even a tool set is check your fluid levels. "You just need hands and how to do it properly," says Brauer. Some fluid levels, such as coolant, shouldn't be done when the car is warm, while others, such as transmission fluid, should be done after the car is heated up. The "trick" is only knowing how to check fluids the safe way.
We cited oil changes at the top of this article, because it's one of the most common tune-ups all cars need. And there's a good chance your father used to change the oil on his car rather than have someone else do it for him. "An oil and filter change is a very simple and easy thing to do," says Richard Reina, training director with CARiD. While this is a simple procedure, safety is important. "Sliding your body under the car when you're jacking it up with the jack in the trunk of you car is very dangerous," says Reina. However, he's quick to note that "With Google and YouTube, it's easy to do it right." More than just saving money, you'll also be absolutely certain that you're putting the right kind of oil into your car.
"From my experience, a lot of people are afraid to work on their own brake pads," says Reina. But he's quick to add that since more cars have disc brakes rather than drum brakes, changing pads is a lot easier. "If we're just talking pads and not the rotors, this is an unbelievably easy job to do," he said. "All things considered, it's probably easier than changing your own oil." Again, safety is of primary concern, so make sure that you're doing it the right way. But disc brakes are self-adjusting, so most of the work the brake itself is going to do for you. Again, you can find just about all the information you need to perform a brake pad change on YouTube. Pump the brakes a couple of times before you go for a drive, test it on the way out in the driveway and you're on your way.
A Basic Tune-Up
A tune-up basically consists of changing the fuel filter, spark plugs and air filter, all of which you can still do on your own, even if it is a little more complicated. "The fuel filter is not like the old days," says Reina. "Modern cars with fuel injection has a lot higher pressure." All told, you have to change fewer parts, but changing parts is more labor intensive than in the past. You'll spill a little fuel, so again, safety is paramount. "You don't want to do this in a garage with a water heater with a pilot light, and you certainly don't want to smoke," he says. The hardest part about changing the fuel filter is finding the component and buying the right parts.
What You Need to Start Doing Your Own Repairs
Reina compares getting a set of tools to moving into your first apartment. Eventually you're going to have to cook. You need to buy some basic pots and pans to get going. It's not so much a cost as it's an investment. "You're going to have to buy some sockets, screwdrivers and maybe a hammer," Reina said. "As your confidence grows, you want to expand what it is you do and you can buy more tools." You'll also need a proper floor jack and a set of jack stands for anything that involves lifting the car up. And remember -- safety first.
--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet