April is National Car Care Month, so whether you own a broken-down beater or just bought a new car, now’s the time to make sure everything’s running smoothly.
The non-profit CCC (Car Car Council) recently announced that, after doing vehicle inspections at car care events across the country, they’ve found that 84 percent of vehicles need servicing or parts, which is up 5 percent from last year.
“Neglected vehicle care almost always means much higher costs down the line in the form of more extensive repairs or lost resale value,” explained Rich White, executive director of Car Care Council in a statement.
Some of the most common needed car repairs included:
- Low washer fluid — 27 percent
- Low or dirty motor oil — 25 percent
- Needing a new air filter — 18 percent
- Low, leaky, or dirty coolant — 17 percent
- Needing headlights or brake lights replaced — 11 percent
Fortunately, you can do all of these car repairs yourself — for free, besides the cost of materials. Here are some of the most common repairs needed, how much they cost, and how to do them at home…
1. Change your air filter.
A clogged air filter affects your car’s gas mileage, slows down your car, and may cause strange noises when your car is idling. Fortunately, changing the filter yourself is easy to do. Experts recommend changing the filter every 10 to 15,000 miles.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Time required: 10 minutes
Cost: $15-$20 for a new air filter
Instructions: Open up the black plastic case with metal clips on the sides underneath your car’s hood. Flip the clips downward. Pop out the filter, which is a rubber ring surrounding a bunch of folded-up paper. Make sure you take note of how the filter is sitting in the housing, and put the new, clean one in its place.
2. Fill up your windshield wiper fluid.
Everyone hates that annoying moment when you’re driving through a dust cloud and reach for the windshield wipers to clear the dirt away, only to find that you’re fluid is either low or gone.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Time required: 5-10 minutes
Cost: Less than $5
Instructions: Lift the hood of your car and look for a cap that displays a windshield wiper near the front of the engine. Take the cap off and pour the windshield fluid into the container, using a funnel if need be. Fill the container to the line and you’re all done.
3. Change your oil.
One of the most fundamental car service checkups is changing your car’s motor oil. Check if your oil is low by pulling out the dipstick, wiping it clean, dipping it back into the container, and checking whether it’s between the two markers on the dipstick, which may or may not be labelled.
Level of difficulty: Moderate
Time required: 1 hour
Cost: $13-$18 for a 5-quart container of motor oil, $5 for a new oil filter
Instructions: Open the hood and pull the dipstick out. This helps the oil drain better. Crawl underneath your car. Locate the engine’s oil pan and the oil drain plug, which is a long bolt head at the bottom of the pan. Get a container large enough to hold the old oil and place it under the drain plug. Loosen the drain plug using a wrench (remember: righty-tighty, lefty-loosey), making sure the container is placed directly underneath the plug. Let it drain for an hour or until you’re confident most of the oil has drained out.
Once the oil has finished draining, fasten the drain plug back on. Then locate the oil filter (check your owner’s manual if you aren’t sure what it looks like, since the location varies with the make and model of the car.) Remove the oil filter, carefully draining out any old oil still there in the process. Take out your new oil filter, and lubricate the rubber seal with fresh oil before screwing it on by hand. Then pour in the new oil, making sure you don’t overfill it. Run the engine when you’re finished to make sure everything is running smoothly.
4. Add coolant.
This can be easy to overlook, but it’s important — your car can drastically overheat and cause a mechanical breakdown or engine failure if your coolant levels are low.
Level of difficulty: Easy
Time required: 10 minutes or less
Cost: Anywhere from $10 to $30 for one gallon, depending on which brand you buy
Instructions: Raise the hood and locate the radiator overflow tank. It will be right next to the radiator with a cap labeled “coolant” at the top. Pour in the coolant until it reaches the “line,” indicating it’s full enough.
5. Put in a new headlight.
Level of difficulty: Hard
Time required: 30 minutes
Cost: The cost of headlights varies greatly depending on what kind of car you have, and even which state you live in.
Instructions: Lift the hood and locate the back of the headlight to find out what type of bulb you’ll need to buy. Once you have the right light bulb, reach inside the hood behind the lamp and remove the wire harness. The harness could be a wire, a metal clip, or a screw cap. With the wiring out of the way, grab the old bulb and pull it out. Then take the new bulb out and, holding onto it with a tissue or a rag, stick the plug end of the bulb into the back of the headlight. Re-fasten the wire harness to lock it into place. And remember to check whether the new lights work before you drive on the road at night.