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Basic Car Maintenance and Repairs You Can Do Yourself

Dan Ferrell writes about DIY car maintenance and repair. He has certifications in Automation and Control Technology and Technical Writing.

Car maintenance can significantly reduce breakdowns.

Car maintenance can significantly reduce breakdowns.

DIY Car Repair and Maintenance

You can do many routine car maintenance and repair jobs yourself at home. The best part of doing your own maintenance at the car manufacturer's recommended intervals is that you significantly reduce the chances of your car breaking down, so you save time and money.

Many of these tasks only require a few common tools and skills. Others require some special tools, knowledge, and resources. Start with basic tasks first, those you feel more confident about, and add other ones as you gain experience and acquire more tools.

How easy or difficult you find some tasks will depend on your previous mechanical experience and the specific car make and model you own. For example, checking or replacing an alternator or starter motor may take a few minutes on a particular model because you have good access to it, while some other car models may require removing one or more components first.

As you gain experience, many of those tasks you once thought difficult will become easier.

So to help you keep your vehicle on the road longer at a lower cost, check these simple maintenance and repair tasks you can do yourself in your own garage.

Start with a basic, quality set of mechanic tools

Start with a basic, quality set of mechanic tools

Your Toolbox

First, a word about your toolbox: Do you have the repair manual for your particular vehicle make and model?

You can't maintain and repair your own vehicle at home without this tool.

The repair manual comes with pertinent information about your car's different systems, specs, manufacturer-recommended fluids and capacities, a routine maintenance schedule, plus step-by-step procedures along with images and pictures to service, diagnose, repair and replace many parts and components in your particular vehicle. You can buy an inexpensive, aftermarket repair manual at most auto parts stores or online.

Also, if you don't have that many tools right now, start with a basic, quality set of mechanic tools. It's cheaper to buy the set than buy them piecemeal of course, but if you can't afford a set right now, buy tools as you need them.

Your basic mechanic tool set should include:

Combination wrenches

Metric and standard

Ratchets, extensions, universal joint, and sockets

Metric and standard


Phillips and standard

Allen or hex wrenches

Metric and standard

Breaker bar

Torque wrench

To tighten spark plugs, lugs, bolts and nuts to specs

Adjustable wrench

aka Crescent wrench

Pliers set

Slip joint, needle nose, rib joint, etc.

Ball peen hammer

Comes in handy in light body work as well

Set of chisels and punches

To mark work and disassemble parts

Pry bar


Nice to have but can wait


You may use it to replace brake pads and hold parts together

Digial multimeter

With 10 Megaohm protection. If possible get an automotive DMM

Test light

For current presence checks, but you can use the Voltmeter

Code reader or scan tool

Get an inexpensive, aftermarket one, if necessary

A Word About Tools

You can spend a fortune on tools. So keep in mind that a tool should help you save time and money. Many tools only make your job a bit easier and you can do without them. Others not only help you work faster, but also prevent you from damaging components. Use your best judgment when adding tools to your toolbox.

Occasionally, you may need a special tool when working on a steering pump or wheel bearing, for example. Some of these tools are expensive and they are not worth buying because you'll rarely use them. See if your local auto parts store will loan you the tool instead.

Vehicle Repair Manuals

Basic Car Maintenance You Can Do Yourself

Changing the Engine Oil and Filter

This is perhaps the most important maintenance task you can do for your car. This job doesn't require special tools (except for an oil filter wrench) or technical knowledge, and you can find the correct procedure for your model in your vehicle repair manual.

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Replacing the Windshield Wipers

It only takes about 10 minutes. Usually, you need to change them once a year.

Checking Hoses

From time to time, it's a good idea to pop the hood and check the condition of the different systems' hoses—especially vacuum hoses. Hoses wear out over time, become brittle, swell, tear and get disconnected due to heat and vibration during engine operation. So leaking hoses—vacuum or fluid ones—are a common source of engine performance problems.

Inspecting Electrical Wires and Connectors

Wires suffer cuts and burns, and corrosion finds its way into electrical connectors, interfering with the electrical flow. So check them from time to time as well.

Checking Belts

Drive or serpentine belts run the alternator, steering pump, radiator fan (on some models), and a/c compressor. Belts wear and may suffer damage over time, so you need to check and replace them according to schedule; pay particular attention to serpentine belts, which rarely show signs of wear on the outside. Consult your service manual for the recommended service interval.

Replacing Air, Fuel, Crankcase Ventilation, and Cabin Filters

These filters have a limited service life. So you need to replace them at regular intervals. Maintaining filters take just a few minutes and will have a positive impact on engine performance. Don't skip on this service just because they look simple and, apparently, in good condition. Follow their service interval as listed in your service manual.

Checking Fluids

Inspect the level and condition of the different fluids. This includes engine oil, transmission oil, steering fluid, brake fluid, and washer fluid. Replace fluids according to the schedule in the service manual.

Replacing the Coolant

Every two or five years (depending on the particular antifreeze you use) you'll need to change the coolant in the system. Change it with the help of your service manual. The manual contains the type and amount of antifreeze your car needs; the steps you need to take to replace it; and how to purge air from the system to prevent engine overheating.

Ignition System Maintenance

You'll need to inspect and change spark plugs, spark plug wires, and — if your vehicle has them — distributor cap and rotor. Besides the service interval, your manual has the calibration specs for your spark plugs and the torque specification to install them.

Battery Service

This item doesn't show up in every car's maintenance schedule, but it's important to check the battery condition, the electrolyte level, the condition of the hold-down mechanism, that the terminals stay clean and tight, and that the tray and battery case remain in good condition and clean. Once corrosion builds up around the battery terminals, it'll make it hard for you to start the car, the alternator will have difficulty charging the battery, and the battery service life will shorten. You can remove corrosion by using a solution of baking soda and warm water. This simple service will go a long way in extending the service life of your battery.

Other Simple Maintenance Tasks

The average car owner can do other, more involved maintenance tasks as well. However, you need some mechanical experience and get used to paying attention to detail. These tasks may include replacing the automatic transmission fluid, replacing a water pump, replacing brake pads or a fuel pump and other similar jobs. By the time you start venturing into these types of jobs, you'll have learned that things don't always go according to plan. So, you'll need to talk to people with more experience than yours or real car technicians. Automotive forums and similar specialized sites online, for example, are valuable resources for the home mechanic. Many of these sites are run by qualified mechanics and offer professional advice, and experienced users within the community will also help you as well, so become familiar with them.

For specific winter car care tips, check the next video.

Basic Car Repairs You Can Do Yourself

Replacing Hoses

You can replace most leaking, worn out or damaged hoses. Unless you need to remove components to gain access, you'll only need a few basic tools.

Adjusting and Replacing Belts

Your vehicle uses a drive belt or serpentine belt to operate the alternator, steering and water pump (and sometimes the radiator fan). You'll need to adjust or replace these belts every number of miles. The serpentine belt on many vehicle models only takes a few minutes using a breaker bar and a socket.

Repairing Electrical Circuits

Even if you don't know much about electricity, your vehicle repair manual will help you do simple voltage drop tests, troubleshoot relays, locate and check fuses, tell you how to check lamps, connections and other simple parts that often cause trouble. For this, you'll need a simple test light and a digital multimeter.

Repairing Cooling System Problems

Frequently, you can trace an engine overheating or overcooling problem to some failed part in the cooling system. Some of these repairs only require replacing a radiator hose or thermostat. Following the procedure described in your repair manual can help you fix the system.

Removing Corrosion From Battery Terminals

You can remove corrosion by using a solution of baking soda, warm water, and a battery-post cleaning brush. This task will help you restore starting and charging system performance without the use of special tools.

Suspension and Steering System Issues

Some problems affecting these systems fall within the scope of the average car owner to diagnose and possibly repair at home. For instance, a common issue in the system is incorrect tire pressure, which may cause the car to pull to one side, make the steering system hard to operate, and cause the tires to wear prematurely. Checking and adjusting tire inflation pressure may correct many of these problems. Other times, it's a matter of replacing a tie rod end, adding fluid to the steering pump, fixing a leaking hose, or adjusting a belt. Depending on your car model, you'll need screwdrivers, wrenches, a ratchet and socket set.

Replacing Components

Often, you'll find yourself dealing with a broken starter motor, alternator, sensor or actuator. On many vehicle models, these repairs only take a few minutes. Your vehicle repair manual will guide you through the procedure. You'll need wrenches, ratchet and socket set.

Engine oil change its one of the most important maintenance tasks.

Engine oil change its one of the most important maintenance tasks.

Will You Try?

You can do many more basic car maintenance and repairs in your own garage with the help of your car owner's and repair manuals, but start with the items in this list. Maintaining or repairing some systems under the control of the car computer in newer vehicle models need the expertise of a professional and (sometimes) expensive equipment that only a car shop can afford. Still, you can do many simple maintenance and repair tasks yourself. Always consult your car owner's and vehicle service manual when doing maintenance or repair work; and don't forget other resources like automotive repair forums, online search engines, YouTube, and friends with more mechanical experience than you. Take your time to learn and add to your car repair and maintenance skills set. Before long, you'll find yourself doing more challenging jobs on your own car.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can I use Teflon tape on the threads of a new PCV valve?

Answer: If your are installing a plastic valve to a plastic cover, it's better to use a ring seal. It it is metal, than Teflon tape would be okay. The best way to go about it is to check the repair manual for your application. If you don't have it, check the reference section in your local public library.

Question: My car key won't open the driver side door. It has a security lock that doesn't work. How can I fix my car's driver's side door or do I need a mechanic?

Answer: There could be a problem with the door lock solenoid. Also, the wiring might be bad or loose. If it feels jammed, this could be a mechanical problem. Either way, you need to remove the door panel and check for power to the motor and solenoid and check the wiring. A test light can help you to trace for voltage to the motor and solenoid.

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