Everyone who drives a car knows that it takes way more than a tank of gas to keep it on the road. Perhaps more than any other consumer product, you must perform regular car maintenance if you want to keep your vehicle running in good condition.
Additionally, cars have become increasingly more advanced, and most major work requires the services of a trained mechanic, which quickly adds up. Still, there are many DIY car maintenance jobs that you can do to save money and keep your vehicle in top shape.
A vehicle will keep running as long as you keep repairing it, and a well-maintained vehicle will last you hundreds of thousands of miles and many years, saving you thousands by not having to regularly replace them with new cars or nice used cars. Remember, a car is a depreciating asset, which means it loses its value over time, and rather quickly at that.
Maintaining your vehicle and making it last as long as you can is one of the best ways to get the most out of this depreciating asset and save yourself some money.
You can increase your savings even further by performing as many car maintenance jobs as you can yourself. DIY car maintenance can seem daunting, but with a few tools and some YouTube videos on hand, you can save money and time by doing the maintenance on your own.
The list below covers how much time and effort each job will take, as well as how much money you should save. If you’re a handy person or know someone who is, doing these jobs yourself will be a breeze and will save you thousands of dollars over the vehicle’s life.
For specific instructions on how to perform each of these tasks, read your owner’s manual and consult YouTube videos and forums specifically for your vehicle.
7 DIY Car Maintenance Jobs That Will Save You Money
1. Change Your Air Filters
Tools Needed: Air filter
Time: 5 minutes-20 minutes
Average Money Saved: $50
Swapping your air filter is one of the easiest jobs you can do yourself. Both your air filters are likely just two tabs and 5 minutes away from being replaced.
Checking if your filter needs to be replaced is just as easy: pull out your old filter and if it looks dirty, replace it! Chances are you’ve had more difficulty opening some packages than you’ll have with this job.
Look at your owner’s manual for the location of both your air filters. But in general, your cabin air filter will probably be well hidden in your glove box, and your engine filter will be at the beginning of your intake (probably in a big plastic box).
When you pull out the engine filter, ensure no debris slips into your intake while you are doing the job. If you find many leaves or dirt next to your air filter, clean it out the best you can.
Both should be easy to replace, but the keyword is “should.” Some air filters require tools and disassembling to get to. Even with the extra steps, this should still be an easy DIY car maintenance job for 95% of vehicles.
An air filter costs around $15, so if your mechanic is charging much more than that, buy a filter yourself and save on the labor charges.
2. Replace Your Brake Pads
Tools needed: Car Jack, Jack Stands, Brake Pads, C Clamp, Bungee Cord, Torque Wrench
Time: 1-2 Hours
Average Money Saved: $100-$150
Messing with your brakes sounds scary, but this is a straightforward job and can be done in an afternoon. Chances are you won’t need to replace both sets at the same time either. Your front brakes take the lion’s share of the work and will wear faster. When you start hearing squealing from your brakes, that’s a sign they may need to be replaced.
The two most important pieces of advice for changing your brakes are not to let your calipers hang by their brake lines (that’s what the bungee cord is for) and ensure your pads are inserted in the right direction.
Putting them in backward is a rookie mistake that’s easily avoided. Most brake pads have a slot going down the middle of the friction material — make sure that’s the part that’s touching your rotors.
Letting your calipers hang from their brake lines can damage them, potentially adding some more work (and expenses) to the originally fairly simple job.
Shops tend to charge around $150 per axle when most brake pads are $25-$50 range per set. So, if you do all 4 corners, you’re looking at saving hundreds of dollars!
If you’re looking to save money, this is one of the best bang-for-buck DIY car maintenance jobs, no matter your skill level.
3. Change Spark Plugs
Tools Needed: Torque Wrench, Spark Plug Socket, Pliers, Anti Seize, Vacuum or Compressed Air, Spark Plug Gap Tool
Time: 1 Hour
Average Money Saved: $100-$150
Like replacing your brake pads, changing out your spark plugs is a great way to save some serious money by spending an hour in the driveway; best of all, you don’t need to jack up your car!
For the most part, swapping out your spark plugs is the same on every vehicle except Subarus and other cars that use boxer engines.
Spark plugs are on top of each piston, making them easy to get to on most engines. A boxer engine by design has the top of each piston facing sideways, so getting to the spark plugs becomes much more complicated.
As always, do some research to find out how difficult the job is, but this may be a job to leave to the professionals for boxer-engine cars.
If you’re going ahead with the job, you might be confused why I’m recommending compressed air or a vacuum. The reason is when you remove the wires from your spark plugs, you may see some debris sitting on top of your plugs. If you remove your plugs, all that stuff can potentially go inside your combustion chamber, potentially damaging the inside of your engine. That’s where the vacuum or compressed air comes in; try to remove as much of the debris as possible before removing your spark plug.
While replacing your spark plugs, be careful not to mix up your ignition coils. If you do, your engine may start to misfire. Part of working on your own vehicle is making mistakes, so only replacing one plug at a time avoids even the possibility of mixing them up.
Some spark plugs — especially OEM examples — are “pre-gapped,” meaning they are already within spec for your vehicle, but you should still check yourself. A spark plug gap tool is cheap and easy to use, so there’s no reason not to check the measurements.
4. Rotate Your Tires
Tools Needed: Car Jack, jack stands, torque wrench
Time: 30 minutes
Average Money Saved: $35-$45
Rotating your tires is an easy job, but it is a pain. Many dealerships or tire shops will throw in a free tire rotation as the job is very quick with a lift and professional tools.
If you are doing it yourself, jack up your car, remove all your tires and swap them according to the tire rotation pattern in your owner’s manual.
But just because the job is easy doesn’t mean there aren’t some tricks to make it easier.
Tires are heavy, dirty, and in a prime location for busting up your knuckles. Throw on a pair of gloves, and your hands will thank you.
Before you start jacking your car up, loosen the lug nuts just a bit while your tires are still on the ground. If your tire is completely in the air, you will likely spin it without getting those pecky lug nuts off.
My final tip is more of a reminder: when you put your tires back on, first get them finger tight, then lower your car and tighten them in a star pattern, so after each one is screwed on, you tighten the nut across from it.
If you tighten your bolts going around instead of across, your tire won’t be securely on your vehicle. Also, use a torque wrench to tighten your lug nuts to the manufacturer’s specifications. If you don’t have a torque wrench, use some muscle with the tire iron that came with your car. You shouldn’t be trying to set a new PR for lug nut tightness, but you should feel confident they won’t come loose.
After a day of regular driving, recheck your lug nuts to ensure your tires are on safely.
5. Change Your Oil
Tools Needed: Jack stands, Car Jack, Oil of your choice (check your owner’s manual), Oil Filter, Oil Drain Pan, Funnel
Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Average Money Saved: $30
“Change your own oil” is one of the most common recommendations for new DIY mechanics as the job is relatively simple and easy, but this is one job where the saving/work ratio isn’t always in the home mechanic’s favor.
The cost of your oil change will depend on whether you use conventional or synthetic oil, as well as your car’s oil capacity.
An oil filter and 5 quarts of full synthetic are about $40. In general, at a dealership or mechanic, if you go with synthetic oil (which you probably should), your oil change will hover around the $70 range.
While you will save money doing the work yourself, often taking your car to a dealership or trusted mechanic isn’t a bad option. It’ll save you time, a set of dirty clothes, and a gallon or two of old oil you now need to deal with.
For some, saving the money and allowing yourself to inspect the undercarriage of your car is worth it — it sure is for this writer. But if you have an oil change coupon or consider that some dealers will clean your car if you pay for an oil change, the money saved doing it yourself might not be worth it.
If you want to go ahead and change the oil yourself, first figure out what you’re going to do with the old oil. Skipping this step in my experience often leads to a full oil drain pan taking up a corner of your garage and a spot on your to-do list that never gets addressed.
Some cities will pick up used oil on trash day. If your county doesn’t offer this service, most auto-part stores have a dumping vat in the back that is free to use — go up to the counter and ask. Dealerships or mechanics will probably let you dump your oil there as well.
However, if you combine changing your oil with the next job, it is certainly worth the effort.
6. Coolant Replacement
Tools Needed: Jack stands, Car Jack, Drain Pan, Coolant, Funnel
Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour
Average Money Saved: $80
Replacing your coolant (and most car fluids) is essentially the same as replacing your oil. In fact, try to replace your oil and coolant at the same time if you’re already crawling underneath your car. If you’re trying to save money and time, doing multiple jobs with the same steps is the best way to do it.
Modern cars can have their coolant last anywhere from 50k to 100k miles, so check your service intervals in your owner’s manual. While you’re in there, see if you need to stick to the OEM coolant as different types of antifreeze will have different chemicals and the manufacturer might want you to stick to the house blend.
If you notice the radiator fluid coming out is dirty, you might consider flushing your system as well. But if your temperatures are stable and the fluid looks fine, you can probably stick to replacing the coolant.
If your fluid is a concentrate, you’ll need to add distilled water at the ratio the instructions indicate. Make sure you’re using distilled and not just tap water from the sink. The minerals in tap water can cause corrosion and wear down your radiator, so grab some distilled water for a few bucks from the store.
When you are draining your coolant, don’t mix it with any other fluid! Use a clean drain pan, and with a funnel, put it into a gallon milk jug. Like used oil, you can take it to an auto parts store or a local recycler, don’t pour it out into the street!
7. Change Your Car Battery
Tools Needed: Battery, Wrench
Time: 5 minutes-20 minutes
Average Money Saved: $50-$100
Batteries are the heart of your vehicle’s electrical system, and they must be in good working order. If your battery is bad and your car won’t start, then you’re not going anywhere.
Most car batteries are straightforward to change and are a great way to begin dabbling in DIY car maintenance. Occasionally, a battery will be in a less accessible location and may be more complicated to remove.
If you have the time and tools, you can still go ahead with the job yourself, but like others on this list, it may be worth a little extra money to have a mechanic do it for you in these cases.
To change the battery, first, loosen the nuts with a wrench or battery pliers. Next, disconnect the negative and then the positive cables. Be sure the battery terminals don’t touch any metal surface.
Then, remove the battery hold-downs, bars, or fasteners with a wrench and lift the battery out. Insert the new battery and secure it with the appropriate fasteners, connect the cables, and make sure they are attached to the correct positive and negative sides.
Remember to connect and disconnect positive first and then negative, as this pattern will help you avoid sparks.
That’s all there is to it!
The 7 easy DIY car maintenance jobs shared above will help you save a good chunk of money and help your car continue to perform at its best. Even better, extend your DIY jobs to items that don’t affect the vehicle’s performance, and you can save even more!
Occasionally glance over the parts on this list to keep your maintenance to a minimum, but have the confidence that you can tackle your car’s basic upkeep. The first time you tackle these jobs, you’ll take longer than you thought and probably have to buy some new tools, but with the new skills you’ll develop, you can potentially save thousands of dollars over the years.