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How to Service Your Car or Van Yourself at Home

I am interested in cars and do my own repairs where I can. I like to share any knowledge I have to help other people where possible.

Tools Will Make the Job Easier


Hello, this is an easy to follow guide, which will give you some tips on how to service your own car or van at home.

Servicing your own car or van at home instead of getting it done at a garage has several benefits.

Firstly, you'll know that it has actually been serviced, rather than nothing at all being done to it, which is probably uncommon, but I have heard of it happening.

Secondly, you'll know it has been done using decent quality components including decent oil, etc.

Thirdly, if you do it yourself, you'll know it's been done right and won't have any nagging worries about whether the garage drained the oil properly, etc.

Fourthly, it's a satisfying feeling doing it yourself and will make you feel like a real man (or woman!).

So with all that said, how do you service your own car or van? My friend needed their car servicing, so I decided to take some photos as I did it so that I could write this article. So follow the guide if you need a bit of advice. It's easy, just do the following and get the right kit before you start.

This Is What You'll Need to Service Your Car


The first thing you're going to need to do is to make sure you've got the right tools. To perform a basic service, you're going to ideally need a socket set, an oil drain tray, possibly screwdrivers and Allen keys, ramps, an old rag, and a cup of tea. You'll also need an oil filter remover and a sparkplug removal socket.

You can get a decent socket set without spending too much money, and if you get a good one, you can keep it forever practically, so get a decent set. In the UK, you can get a good one (not the very best, but perfectly useable for home mechanics) for about £100 or so. You'll be able to use it for all your servicing forever, so it's worth it in my opinion!

The picture shows my setup just before servicing my friend's car. All the essentials are on there.

To perform a basic service, as well as tools, you'll need oil and oil filter, spark plugs and air filter. Most car parts shops will supply the right ones if you give them your registration number as they can identify the car from that.

If fully synthetic oil is recommended, then you might as well go for it in my opinion, the price difference between that and part synthetic is so small then you're not really saving anything worth saving.

This Type of Sump Plug Needs an Allen Key to Fasten it

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The first thing to do is to get the car warmed up. This will help the oil to flow out of the engine a bit easier and makes the job a bit faster. Several minutes idling or a quick drive around the block should do it. You don't want the engine to burn you, so don't overdo it, but if the sump is warm, then that's fine.

After that, then you might need to get the car up on ramps. I always do this as it makes things a lot easier, getting underneath without ramps on most cars is difficult. There isn't much to it, just kick the ramps into place in front of the front wheels, then drive up them. As you get to the end of the ramp, you'll hit the bump stop. Just don't go flying over the end!

After this, then get some cardboard or similar under the car to stop any drips hitting the drive, get your oil drain tray underneath the car, then undo the sump plug. This is the bolt that's attached to the lowest part of the sump. They are usually either an Allen bolt or a 14mm bolt, which you can undo with your socket wrench.

This Is the Sump Plug on the Car I Serviced for This Article


Here is a nice action shot of the dirty brown oil draining into the oil drain tray. It is a good idea to wear gloves while taking the sump plug out; otherwise, hot dirty engine oil goes all over you. Of course, as well as undoing the sump plug, you need to take off the oil filler cap from the top of the engine and also undo the oil filter. You might as well let the oil start draining out of the sump first though.

Oil Draining Into Tray


This Is the Sort of Oil Filter Remover I Use


There are different types of oil filter remover.

The one I use is the sort that has three arms, this automatically adjusts to the size of the filter and grabs it as you turn.

It's a sight easier to use than the chain type and also allows you to grab the filter if you don't have much room as you can use a socket set extender bar.

The chain or band type works a bit differently as you need a bit more room for it. I've had cars in the past that simply haven't had room for the other type of remover, which is why I now use this for everything.

Unfortunately, I didn't have room to get the camera in to get a shot of the tool in action, but simply grab the oil filter with the tool and undo it in an anticlockwise direction.

It shouldn't take much force as they're usually not fastened on too tightly. Some oil will spill out so be ready for that.

The Next Step Is to Drink One of These


After this, it's time for a cup of tea.

Aaah. Ready for the next part? Hold on a minute.

Take another sip. Mmm. Ok. Let's go on.

You'll need to remove the spark plugs. Now to do this varies on different cars. The car in this article has the spark plug leads fastened to the plugs with individual bolts. Some have a pack that attaches all of the plugs in one go. Some have individual leads that aren't bolted.

It's usually very easy to see exactly what you have to do to remove the leads though. In the case of this car, it was just a case of undoing the small bolt that attached each lead to the head, then pulling the lead off the top of the sparkplug. As you can see, there is an airbox that covers three of the four leads this car has, so I needed to take that off. Not to worry, the air filter needed changing anyway, so that was taken off.


Can You Imagine Trying to Breath Through This Thing?


This is the view I had when removing the airbox and taking a good look at the filter inside.

It always amazes me just how much crap the air filter picks up, even if it's only been on the car for a few thousand miles.

The more muck there is on the filter, the harder the car is going to find it to suck in air for combustion so over time you lose power. Easily solved though!

Air filters are very easy to replace, just open the airbox, which is usually done with clips that you can undo with your fingers, pull the old air filter out and replace with the new one.


This shows how dirty the old one had got. Air can't be flowing through something like this properly.


After removing the airbox and filter on this car, then the spark plugs were easy to get to. I left the filter til after the plugs had been changed as obviously, I couldn't put the airbox back on and still do the plugs.

This is the view after removing the spark plug lead.


Remove the spark plugs. Easy enough, you just need to make sure you put the spark plug removal tool firmly onto the spark plug.

They have a rubber part on the end, which grips the sparkplug tightly. This is so you can lift sparkplug out of the engine, without it dropping back down off the end of the tool repeatedly, while you swear loudly.


The photo shows an old versus new sparkplug. It isn't too clear in the photo, but the old one has a tip that is blackened, with a far larger gap than the new plug. It was still working, but the new one should get the engine running more sweetly.


Make sure you put the spark plug in centrally. If you cross thread it, this will not be a good thing. I usually take off the extender bar from the socket wrench and put the sparkplug in with my fingers at first to make sure it goes in properly, before using the wrench to tighten it up.

Don't do it up too tight; there is no need. A little nip at the end is all I use, although technically you should use a torque wrench. I have never bothered personally, but if you are ham-fisted, then get out the torque wrench!

A Bit of Oil on Your Finger Rubbed Around the Rubber Seal Will Do the Trick


Once you have the spark plugs in, the leads back on and the air filter changed, then it's time to fasten the oil filter back on and refill the engine with oil. I always wait until the engine has stopped dripping oil completely, which takes about an hour. Not strictly necessary, but you might as well let all of the old gunk out.

This is one of the things that servicing your car at home gives you over a garage. You can leave the car for an hour, or overnight to drain if you really want. A garage will let the old out, then put the plug straight back on and refill it without letting it drain over time. You tend to find quite a lot more oil drips out, so taking more time makes sense to me.

Get the new filter, wet your finger with the new oil and run it round the rubber seal to give it a nice seal and enable you to tighten it properly. Now when you fit it, the usual advice is to fit it hand tight only. I have never been comfortable doing this, a little nip with the removal tool reversed so it is on firmly is what I'd recommend. You don't want the thing coming off, or not being sealed properly and leaking oil.

As an aside, I once knocked the oil filter off a van by accident by reversing off a curb a little too fast. It was a very poorly designed engine in my opinion as the filter was at the very bottom and very easy to knock off; I didn't even know I'd done it, until half a mile down the road when the engine seized. After that, I've always made sure my oil filter is on securely!

Yum Yum, Delicious New Golden Oil!


Anyway, after you're happy the oil has drained out properly, then you can pour a bit of new oil through the engine to flush it out a little. Not necessary, but you might as well swill it through a little is what I tend to think. A good glug of oil through, then the sump plug goes back in.

After that, then push the car back off the ramps ( be ready on the brakes as you won't have power assisted brakes without the engine running so you'll have to push them harder than normal!) then you're ready to top up the engine with fresh oil.

Add a little at a time, while checking the dipstick after you've let the oil settle into the engine. Fill to the top of the dipstick. It's worth checking the car manual to see how much oil it will take, so you know how much roughly you're going to need to pour in as you don't want to overfill the engine.

I have a friend who is utterly clueless about engines, cars and most things practical. He bought a car which broke down on the test drive, then filled it to the brim with oil to the point where he couldn't fit any more in the engine. Unsurprisingly the engine blew its guts out the next time he drove it. Don't do this.

Ok then, you've changed the oil, oil filter, spark plugs, and air filter. You've just performed a basic service on your car. Something else that you need to keep an eye on is the fuel filter, which is very easy to replace and usually a matter of a couple of bolts and also draining and refilling other fluids, such as brake fluid, steering fluid and engine coolant.

Keep an eye on your service manual to see how frequently you need to do these things. I will be covering both at a later date, when I have a bit more light and time.

If you've just finished servicing your car, then I think you know what to do next.

That's Right, Another of These!


I hope this article helped, if you have any comments, then please leave them below.

If you want to read any of my other articles, then please click on my profile at the top right of the page and have a browse.


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.

© 2012 Rain Defence

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