When the economy took a downturn a few years ago, a few car owners neglected maintenance while other owners began wondering if they could handle their own auto maintenance instead of letting a certified mechanic do the job. Now that things are looking up again, handling your own auto maintenance isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you have the right skills and know-how. So, here is some auto maintenance advice to get you started.

Where should I start?

As with most questions about your vehicle, start with your owner’s manual. It has specific recommendations and maintenance schedules. Surprisingly, we sometimes find drivers who think changing their oil, either by themselves or by an oil change specialist, is the only thing they have to do to maintain their cars. There is more to maintenance than changing your motor oil.

Good maintenance means following your manufacturer’s recommendations. So, if you’re a new driver or a auto maintenance beginner, you could start by taking on small jobs like replacing your worn wiper blades, changing a dirty air filter, replacing a blown bulb, inspecting your tires, handling a coolant flush, or changing your oil. This way, you leave the big jobs to your mechanic. Otherwise, if you don’t want to bother with it, you could let a professional take care of everything for you and be done with it.

I buy new cars all the time, why should I bother with maintenance?

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with owning a new car, however don’t let the lack of maintenance on your current one be the reason for needing a newer one. With proper maintenance, there is no reason a why a modern vehicle can’t give you trouble-free ownership long after it’s paid off. When you think of it this way, the cost of regular vehicle maintenance is a lot less than making monthly new car payments year after year.

Some basic things you should have before starting a new maintenance project:

  • Shop manual
  • Replacement parts or fluids
  • Mechanic’s gloves
  • Box wrench set
  • Socket wrench set
  • Good assortment of pliers and screwdrivers
  • Specialty tool(s) for the task at hand if necessary
  • Alternate transportation (to make a last minute run to the auto parts store if necessary)
  • Time (preferably daylight hours)

No matter your skill level, it’s a good idea to read the manufacturer’s shop manual before you turn a wrench. So, do your homework ahead of time to avoid frustration later.

If you’re not sure about your project, ask for help. Many of us have a friend or neighbor who is a “car guy” and they might be able to lend you a hand. If you get stuck or make a mistake, take your vehicle to a mechanic and be sure to tell the shop everything you did so they can diagnose the situation properly and finish the job.

Generally speaking, if you know what you are doing, performing your own vehicle maintenance can save money. However it’s a good idea to avoid doing something that could cause an accident or damage your car if you botch the job.

Here are five things you can do to save a few dollars:

Tire maintenance

Tire service is important. Improperly inflated tires make the engine work harder and uses more fuel. So, invest a few bucks and buy a high-quality tire pressure gauge and check your tire pressures regularly. Keeping your tires properly inflated will extend tread life, maintain a comfortable ride, and ensure good fuel economy. Certainly, big things like tire balancing or wheel alignments should be left to the pros.

Windshield wipers

Good visibility is the key to automobile safety, don’t wait until they are worn out, replace the blades at least twice a year. To find the right size, check the owner’s manual or the store’s wiper blade replacement chart for details.

Walk around the car

Turn on your headlights and walk around your car monthly and inspect the bulbs. Also have a partner activate your turn signals and step on the brake pedal so you can make sure the those lights are working too. If a bulb needs replacing, the owners manual will give you the bulb’s specs and describe how to access it.

Replace the cabin air filter

Most owners remember to change the air filter in the engine but many forget the about the one in the cabin. This is the auto air conditioning system’s filter and it needs regular replacement. It’s job is to keep pollutants like dust and pollen from entering the interior. Some cabin filters are easy to access, while others are hard to reach and make you feel like you have to be a contortionist with small hands to replace them. It just depends on the manufacturer.

Check your fluids

To do this, open the hood once a month and checking these fluid levels: motor oil, brake fluid, power steering fluid, engine coolant, windshield washer fluid, and (automatic) transmission fluid.

If a level is low or needs replacing, follow your manufacturer’s recommendation. Make sure you buy the right type of oil or fluid. Always pay for quality and avoid the no name ones sometimes sold by some express oil change shops. If you handle this task yourself, remember the job isn’t done until you dispose of the used oil or fluids correctly. Not sure of where to take it? Here is the city of Sugar Land’s waste disposal directory.

Some final thoughts

Doing small things like replacing your wiper blades or changing your own oil can add up, save you money, and maintain your car’s value. However, don’t forget the three rules of do-it-yourself projects: know your limitations, don’t take on more responsibility than your skills can handle, and don’t take apart stuff you can’t put back together. Do you have any other auto repairs that you complete on your own? Let us know your tips and favorite tasks in the comments below.

Do you still have question about vehicle maintenance? We can help. First Tire & Automotive has been serving the Fort Bend County area since 1988. Our knowledgeable service team will help keep your vehicle running great for years to come. Give us a call or stop by one of our three convenient locations today.