In last week's post we talked about 6 easy auto maintenance steps that anyone can do; if you're doing these yourself then you're already saving a few hundred dollars per year. This week we've got 5 more DIY procedures - they're a bit more complicated, and might require a few tools that you don't already own, but they have the potential to save you even more money. Plus, if you're doing it yourself, you can (usually) trust the work being done, and the knowledge gained may help out in a situation where you can't get to a mechanic.
As before, this is not an exact step-by-step set of procedures. Every vehicle is going to be a bit different. Be sure to get a good maintenance manual, and check out YouTube for videos of the exact procedure for your car.
Change The Spark Plugs
The spark plugs do the work of actually igniting the fuel mixture in your engine and making it go. When they start to wear, you may notice a drop in your gas mileage, or you may find the engine idling rough when the car is not moving. A typically copper spark plug will last from 10,000 - 20,000 miles, while more expensive plugs may last up to 60,000 miles or more, but various factors could cause them to need to be changed more frequently.
- Make sure that your engine is cold and that you have the correct spark plugs for your vehicle. A good auto parts store will be able to look up the exact ones you need.
- You'll be disconnecting a spark plug wire, replacing the plug, and reconnecting the wire, one at a time. It's important to complete each one before moving on to the next - you don't want to be guessing which wire goes to which plug when they're all disconnected.
- Remove the spark plug wire from the plug by wiggling the boot (the part that is actually attached to the plug) back and forth while pulling. Don't pull on the wire itself, you may damage it.
- Clean any dirt from around the plug with a rag or compressed air. you don't want any gunk falling into the engine!
- Remove the spark plug from the engine with the socket wrench and spark plug attachment. Remember - "Righty tighty, lefty loosey". In other words, counterclockwise to loosen.
- You'll need to be sure the spark plug has the proper "gap" before installing it - this is the length of space between the hook on the bottom and the spark plug itself - the area where the spark will form. Your manual should tell you the correct gap that is needed. Insert the gap gauge and bend the hook higher or lower as needed.
- Insert the spark plug in the engine, screwing it in by hand for several turns until it is secure. Finish tightening it with the socket wrench. Reconnect the plug wire - you should feel and hear a click when it has connected properly.
- Repeat these same steps with the other spark plugs.
I don't think anyone would argue the importance of a working braking system! If you're starting to hear a squealing noise when stopping, then it's probably time for new brake pads.
If you've gone a while with worn brake pads, then your rotors may be damaged and require professional machining. Also, if the front end of your car vibrates when you apply the brakes, your rotors could be warped, again requiring professional service. But if you follow a regular maintenance schedule you can do most of this work yourself.
You'll need a metal C-clamp (to retract the brake piston), a wrench (either a socket, box or open-end wrench), and a turkey baster.
- Start by jacking up the car (be sure to use a jack stand!) and removing the wheel.
- Find the two bolts that hold the caliper (the component that squeezes the brake pad) in place. Loosen the top one and remove the bottom one. You should be able to swing the caliper up and away from the rotor.
- Slide the old brake pad and retaining clip(s) off, and install the new ones.
- There will be a piston (or possibly two) on the inside of the caliper that pushes on the brake pads. As they wore down, the piston moved out, so now you'll need to push it back in. Use the C-clamp to slowly pull the piston in until it's far enough that you'll be able to slip the caliper back over the pad. While you're doing this, keep checking your brake fluid reservoir to be sure it doesn't overflow - as you push the piston back the fluid should rise. If it's about to overflow, use the turkey baster to remove a bit.
- Once the caliper is back in place, reinstall and tighten the bolts. Put the tire back on and tighten the lug nuts.
- Repeat this process for the other side of the front brakes. Unless you have a high-performance car, you'll probably have drum brakes in the back; those should be professionally serviced.
Once you're completely done, test drive the car in a safe area, being careful for the first few stops. Don't just head straight out onto the highway until you're sure you did everything right!
Some people say your filter will last the entire life of the car, while some say it should be changed as often as every 12,000 miles. If your car doesn't accelerate like it used to, or has problems going up hills, it might be due to a clogged fuel filter.
Now, depending on your model of car, this might not be something you want to tackle yourself. The filter could be located near the top of the engine or the gas tank in an easy-to-reach position, or it could be buried under lots of other things that would need to be removed first. Find a YouTube video showing you the location, and then decide if you want to tackle it.
- First you'll relieve the pressure in the fuel line by disabling the electric fuel pump. With the engine off, remove the fuel pump fuse from the fuse box. Start the engine. It will die shortly after you start it up, but the pressure in the fuel lines will be reduced. Turn off the engine.
- Compare the old filter to the new one so you can verify which direction to install it. Remove any clamps or clips holding the old filter. Remove the old filter, replace it with the new one, and replace or reinstall any clips or clamps.
- Replace the fuel pump fuse and start the car to verify that everything is working properly.
Power Steering Flush
If you've had your oil changed at a "Quick Service"-type place, odds are at one point or another they've tried to get you to have your power steering fluid flushed. The fluid may become dirty over time, but it will probably last for the life of most cars.
If you're worried about the appearance or age of your power steering fluid, you could disconnect the hoses, drain it all and refill it, but you'll probably do just as much good by sucking as much fluid as you can out of the reservoir with a turkey baster and replacing it with new fluid.
Your radiator protects the engine from the high temperatures generated inside. Once gunk starts to build up inside, it can't do the job as well. Your owner's manual will tell you how often it's recommended to flush the system, but it's typically every two years.
- Park the car with the parking brake on, and allow the engine to cool.
- Find the drain valve at the bottom of the radiator and place a bucket underneath. You may need to raise the car onto jack stands to get at the valve easily.
- Open the drain valve and allow the liquid to drain into the bucket. Once all the liquid has drained, close the valve and pour the used liquid into containers with tight-fitting lids. Be sure to dispose of them at a proper recycling facility - don't dump the coolant down the drain or into the sewer!
- Open the radiator pressure cap and fill the radiator with water. Don't use new coolant at this point, you're flushing out any of the old coolant, and you'll be draining it again, so plain water is fine.
- Run the engine with the heater turned to high for about ten minutes. Keep an eye on the temperature gauge to make sure that the engine doesn't overheat.
- Shut off the engine and allow it to cool down. When the radiator is cool to the touch, drain the water out of the radiator into your bucket again, and then transfer it to a sealed container for proper disposal.
- Close the drain plug and refill the system with the proper mixture of water and coolant. You'll need to add it slowly to allow any air to bubble back up. The coolant should come up close to the top of the radiator and to the "Max" line on the coolant recovery tank.
Replace the radiator cap and run the engine until the temperature gauge is in the normal operating range. Check the recovery bottle to see if you should add any more fluid - there may have been a few bubbles trapped in the system.