With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in June 2020.
This guest article was written by Tony Galloway.
There was a time when nearly every man knew how to fiddle around and fix things on his car. Today, with automobiles having become more complex and technologized, the idea of working on your vehicle seems more intimidating, and most guys bring their ride into the shop whenever it has a problem or simply needs maintenance.
While major auto repairs may be something many modern folks don’t have the time, patience, and skill to tackle (though with attention to proper preparation and process such projects could be more accessible than you think), there are still plenty of basic maintenance jobs that any man, regardless of experience or inherent handiness, can do himself.
DIY auto maintenance has much to recommend it: Each job is an opportunity to develop new skills, as well as a deeper understanding of how your car works; things that once mystified you become simple. Along with this increase in capability and competence, comes a confidence in knowing you can take care of things that go wrong, no matter the time or place. As a practical matter, handling maintenance jobs yourself can save you significant amounts of money over outsourcing the work to an auto shop. Plus, while it may not seem like it, DIY maintenance can even be more convenient too; when you factor in the drive to the shop, the time you’ll wait while your car is being serviced, and the drive home, you can oftentimes have done the job yourself in as much or less time — and again, for cheaper.
If you’d like to start working on your car yourself, below you’ll find 11 jobs that even a real automotive neophyte can tackle. Not only do they not require any experience, they don’t require anything beyond basic hand tools, and in some cases, any tools at all.
1. Engine Air Filter Replacement
Maintenance interval: Once a year or every 15,000 to 20,000 milesShop cost: $30-$60DIY cost: $5-$15
From the 1950s right up through the late 80s, a typical automotive tune-up consisted of changing the spark plugs, spark plug wires, and the air filter. There have been major advances in spark plug and ignition technology over the last 20 years that, along with computer-controlled fuel injection, have eliminated the need for an “annual tune-up” where those components are concerned. That just leaves the humble air filter, a technology which has remained essentially unchanged for half a century or more. It’s just a paper, cardboard, or foam insert that keeps all the pollen, dirt, and bugs from getting sucked into your engine. Over time it gets dirty and clogged up with debris and the engine has to pull air through all that muck. The end result is a loss of power and decreased fuel economy.
It’s almost as fast and easy to change the air filter in your car as it is to change the filter in a coffeemaker. While the exact process will vary by make and model, there’s usually a how-to illustration in the owner’s manual, or online. On most modern vehicles the filter is housed in a plastic box under the hood that is easily accessible and usually held closed by a clip or latch. It is just too easy a job to justify paying a mechanic $30+ to do it for you.
2. Cabin Air Filter Replacement
Maintenance interval: Once a year or every 15,000 to 20,000 milesShop cost: $30-$50DIY cost: $7-$18
The cabin filter is a relatively new development in automobiles, having become standard equipment shortly after the turn of the century. It is exactly what it sounds like: a filter that cleans the air entering your vehicle cabin through the vents. The concept is the same as the filters you change monthly in your home heating and air system. It keeps leaves, bugs, and debris from getting inside the vehicle’s vent system which might cause damage, strange rattles, or bad smells.
This is a job as easy as the engine air filter. The location of this filter will vary depending on the type of vehicle. It’s often accessed behind a plastic door under the hood, just below the passenger side windshield wiper, or behind the glovebox. You’ll have to