Owning a car means at some point you’ll need to do some maintenance. But it isn’t always necessary to go to the garage.
Fixing problems yourself can save you lots of hassle, but trying to fix something beyond your skill can leave you with no car at all. Learn what you could tackle and what to leave to a mechanic.
DIY car maintenance
When you don’t have much time or money, knowing how to fix a problem yourself can be a lifesaver, especially for smaller jobs that won’t take long to sort.
You need to know what you’re doing though. If you have any doubts at all about a problem with your car, you should take it to a professional.
Things you can do yourself
- Your air filter prevents dirt and other harsh particles from entering the engine. Due to a build-up of matter, the filter can become clogged after time and may need changing.
- Old windscreen wipers can leave marks and streaks, which can affect visibility while you’re driving. When this happens it’s time to replace them.
- Spark plugs are responsible for igniting the fuel and air in your car’s internal combustion chamber, but over time they can wear out. Learn the signs for when and how you should change a spark plug.
- Engine oil protects your engine against wear, corrosion, and contaminants. Carry out an oil check at least every 2 weeks and before long journeys. You should change the oil every 5,000 miles and the oil filter whenever the oil begins leaking.
- Coolant prevents the engine from overheating. Check the levels once a week. Only do this when the engine is off and has been cold for a while. You can easily replace the coolant when the level gets too low.
- Flat tyres can happen anywhere and at any time. If you can’t wait for a mechanic or if you’re in a rural area, it may be trickier to get help – so knowing how to replace a flat tyre can be a handy skill. Just don’t forget to replace the spare tyre (as it’s just for temporary use) with a new standard one.
- Wheel balance makes sure the weight of the wheel and tyre is even when it turns. Out of balance wheels can cause your car to drive unsteadily and vibrate at high speeds, which can also cause quicker wearing of tyres and suspension.
- Your tyre pressure is important as tyres at the wrong pressure can reduce car safety and make fuel consumption inefficient. Check your car manual for the correct pressure level, but here’s how you know if they’re wrong. Check your tyre pressure, the tread and overall condition every two weeks.
The instructions provided are just a guideline for cars in general and aren’t specific to your vehicle.
Tips for DIY car repair
- Read your car manual.
- Buy a Haynes manual for your car make and model.
- Check all the lights are working every week.
- Make sure you have a well-equipped tool kit, including:
- An adjustable wrench
- torque wrench
- socket and ratchet set
- set of pliers
- Phillips and flat-head screwdriver
- A jack
- Make a record of everything you do, with pictures, notes and diagrams.
Professional car maintenance
Sometimes the problem can be too complex or dangerous to do yourself. If you need specialist tools, you’re somewhere new or if there are issues with the warranty, it may be better to leave it to someone with experience.
Things you should leave to the mechanic
- Changing the clutch is fiddly, so it's both complex and dangerous – leave it to the experts.
- Your car’s air conditioning has a number of components and generally requires some know-how with regards to thermodynamics and pressure.
- Air bags contain small explosives. These can be very dangerous, so should be left to trained professionals.
- The car battery is one of the most common causes of breakdowns in the UK, with 16.8% of them related to battery problems, more than any other cause. Sometimes the battery just needs a jumpstart, but they can be complicated, so only attempt this if you feel confident.
- Replacing a windscreen is risky as you could drop it or misapply the glue.
- Whether it’s an automatic or manual, the gears can be incredibly complicated and they generally require precision. They should be left to the experts.
- Modern cars feature lots of electrics. Not only can wiring be frustrating to deal with, but the computers often have complex software. Interfering with the systems could void your warranty.
Even the most reliable machines break down. Knowing what regular maintenance your car needs, how to fix the basics and knowing when to leave to the mechanic could save you cash and a lot of stress.
Whether you’re car maintenance savvy or not, don’t get stranded on the roadside. Breakdown cover can lend a helping hand when you need it most.
Published: 18 October 2016 | Updated: 12 November 2020 | Author: The AA