Guest Post: Save Money with DIY Maintenance

Owning and operating a vehicle can be an expensive responsibility, requiring a lot of our hard earned money for maintenance to ensure it stays up and running. According to AAA, the annual cost to own and operate a vehicle is $8,698, $900 of which is spent on maintenance alone. The upside? A good amount of that general maintenance can actually be done ourselves for a much lower cost than taking it to the shop, which can put a nice chunk of cash back in our pockets.

Here are some of the most basic DIY tune-ups to bring out your inner mechanic and save you a pretty penny.

Changing your battery

This might be the easiest of all DIY repairs, but it’s really important that you do not wait until you start having problems with your battery to change it. As preventative maintenance, replace your battery yourself every four years. You can buy car batteries at a local “buyer’s club” such as Costco or Sam’s Club to save money and replace it yourself with a basic wrench set, but it’s crucial to pay attention to the order in which you remove the cables.

Remove the NEGATIVE (black) cable FIRST, and when you have installed the new battery, replace the NEGATIVE cable LAST. If you don’t do it this way, you could short circuit the positive (red) terminal to a grounded part of the car.

Cost savings: AVG. dealer price- $200; DIY price- $80, total savings of $120.

Changing your brake pads

The industry wants you to think it’s hard, because they make a lot of profit from a very simple procedure, as mechanics and specialty brake shops will often charge hundreds of dollars. However, pads are way easier to replace than old fashioned drum brake “shoes.” The average lifespan of front brakes is 30k-50k miles, and varies widely due to driving conditions and style. You should check pad thickness every 10k miles.

Make sure to change pads before they go ‘metal to metal’ and cause damage to rotors– pad thickness should not drop below 2-3mm (for reference, new pads are about 10mm thick). A set of brake pads costs $20-40 depending on car and pad material. All you need to change them is a wheel lug wrench, some basic wrenches, pliers, a jack and a set of jack stands.

Cost savings: AVG. dealer price $250 per axle; DIY cost $40, total savings of $210.

Oil changes

The days of the every-3,000-miles oil change are long gone. Vehicles today can often go 10,000 miles between oil changes. When it is time to change your oil, it’s best to DIY and is very easy. Chain-store oil changes may be using the same oil for different cars, which is often low-grade, and may not include the correct amount of oil required for your engine.

If you buy the oil yourself, you are certain that you are using a high quality oil of the correct viscosity, and are using enough. In addition to a jack, jack stand, and basic hand tools, all you need to change your oil is an oil filter and a drain pan. While you’re under the hood, you can check the brake/steering/washer fluids as well and top off as necessary.

Cost savings: AVG. dealer price- $60; DIY price- $25, total savings of $35.

Basic auto tune-up

The “old-fashioned” tune-up is passé since today’s engines are full of electronic controls that need little adjustment. Don’t be taken by repair shops that offer “full tune-up” on your modern car! In addition to an oil and filter change, a “tune-up” consists of changing the air filter, fuel filter, spark plugs (today, spark plugs are designed to last 100,000 miles on average) and a check of all fluids. In years past, a tune-up was done once per year, but today’s “tune-up” should be based on mileage, and should follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Many dealers want to service cars more frequently than the manufacturer recommends, performing work that is not needed and costing you money. All you need to do it yourself is a spark plug socket and a basic wrench set. Just take caution when replacing the fuel filter since fuel will spill.

Cost savings: AVG. dealer price- $350; DIY price- $100, total savings of $250.

While most things can be DIY except major installations, comfort level is key when performing DIY maintenance.

Compare it to cooking – you start out boiling water for pasta or heating frozen dinners until you gain confidence to try more involved recipes. To get more comfortable, watch how-to videos and enlist the help of a friend to learn over time, and always remember to take the utmost caution!