As a long-time automotive writer and enthusiast, I am often amazed at the prices mechanics charge for simple repair work that most anybody could do themselves. For instance, I was recently at the Ford shop with a friend who was getting some routine maintenance done, and the Ford mechanic wanted over $400 to change the fuel filter, flush the transmission, and replace the power steering fluid. These are three fairly simple jobs that can be done for much less than half that cost with just a few hours’ time. When you do them yourself, you can control the relative eco-friendliness of the products you use. You also (affordably) keep your vehicle on the road, lowering demand for the manufacturing of new ones and maintaining your vehicle’s maximum fuel efficiency.
Now I realize that not everybody is an armchair mechanic, so I have included the skill level necessary for each of these projects. Skill levels 1-3 need only your very basic tools and time to finish, levels 4-6 will need moderate tools and time, while 7-10 are more for the advanced tinkerer. We’ll be linking to the technical advice of Matthew Wright from About.com: Auto Repair and the Discovery networks’ very own Turbo, to give you the complete steps on how to get each of these projects accomplished. Let’s get started:
1: Replace Fuel Filter
Skill Level: 3
Cost: $10 to $30
Fuel filters are recommended to be replaced at regular intervals, which generally can range anywhere from 10,000 miles and up. A dirty filter leftover time will reduce your vehicle’s reliability and efficiency, so it is important to try to keep up with this maintenance schedule as much as possible. The steps are as simple as disconnecting the battery, releasing the fuel line pressure (especially important for fuel injected vehicles), disconnecting the fuel line from the filter, removing the old filter, replacing washers, installing a new filter, double-check previous steps, then starting the vehicle and look for any leaks. Check with your local government to see if they have a fuel filter recycling program available, so you can properly dispose of your old filter.
2: Replace Brakes Pads
Skill Level: 6
Cost: Typically under $25 for each brake pad
Changing brake pads is one of the most common and important maintenance servicing schedules you should adhere to. Worn brakes can get very costly when you allow them to become so thin, they damage other parts of the system. Your stopping ability will be compromised, which not only compromises the safety of your own vehicle but the safety of others around you. What you will need in tools is a car jack, lug nut wrench, socket set, and a c-clamp. In case you wondering, there is a green option for brake pads, although it may not be available just yet. Check with your local government pages to see if they have a used brake pad recycling program available for disposal of your old.
3: Replace Spark Plugs
Skill Level: 2
Cost: $15 and up
Another important maintenance job to keep your vehicle running mean and green is to change your spark plugs regularly. What happens over time is the metal on the electrodes can wear away and become coated with carbon deposits. This will affect the ability of the plug to ignite the fuel/air mixture and therefore reduce the efficiency of your overall vehicle. In general, most experts will tell you that most specialty plugs are not worth their price as far as fulfilling their promised power increase and/or fuel savings. There are a number of them out there, such as the E3 and Halo plug. If in doubt, just use the same plugs that originally came with the vehicle. Installation is as simple as removing the ignition wires from the old spark plugs, removing plugs with a socket wrench, installing new plugs, then coating the inside of the ignition wire boots with a little dielectric grease for a good seal before snapping them onto the new plugs.
4: Windshield Repair
Skill Level: 1
Not that I want to put all those windshield replacement or repair shops out of business, but repairing a windshield with a do-it-yourself home kit can be a very easy and effective process. It is important to note that star chips with minimal to no cracks are the best candidate for this repair. To accomplish this project, all you need is a do-it-yourself windshield repair kit from an auto parts store or equivalent. Clean a 12-inch square area around the damage with a glass cleaner, then take a razor blade and smooth out the surface of all defects, making sure to pick out any loose pieces of glass found inside the chip. Most kits will have a plunger apparatus to inject the adhesive into the windshield, then all you have to do is allow the tool to do the rest of the work. One bit of advice is not to perform this project in the hot sun, as the adhesive will try too quickly to leave a clear finish.
5: Power Steering Flush
Skill Level: 2
Cost: $5 and up
A mechanic can do this job for you for upwards of $30 to $100, but you can do this in the convenience of your own garage with a turkey baster. Yes, I said a turkey baster. The idea behind this is to work as much of the old oil power steering fluid out of the system and replace it with new stuff. The process should replace 90 percent of the old fluid and you won’t have to detach one hose or crawl around on the ground. What you do is take the turkey baster and siphon as much of the old fluid as you can from the fill canister located inside the engine compartment. Place the old fluid in a plastic container that can be safely transported to an oil recycling facility. Pour in the new fluid, start the vehicle, and work the steering wheel back and forth. Turn the ignition off, let the engine cool a bit, then do the entire process over again. Follow these steps three or four times, or until the fluid appears clear.
6: Transmission Fluid Replacement
Skill Level: 7
Cost: $30 and up
This project often goes by another name at the mechanic’s shop, Transmission flush. A flush is a new method of taking clean fluid and flushing it through the automatic transmission, thereby effectively pushing out all the old contaminated oil from the system. However, many mechanics say that this is not always a good thing and can lead to transmission problems. The old way to replace transmission fluid is effective, fairly straightforward, and a heck of a lot less expensive. You’ll need to get your vehicle in the air using a jack and a couple of jack stands, then climb under the vehicle and remove the pan bolts to the transmission. Use a large plastic container with a lid to dump the old fluid in, so you can easily transport it to your local oil recycling facility. Don’t forget to replace the transmission fluid filter while you are inside the transmission and clean the inside of the transmission pan. It is also important not to over-tighten the bolts when reinstalling the pan or it will cause leaks.