Cars may seem complex to the uninitiated, but if you dedicate some time and patience to understanding how they work, then your car doesn’t have to be a complete mystery to you anymore. While the idea of DIY auto maintenance can seem overwhelming, there are many simple jobs that any responsible car owner can perform by themselves.
Considering that the average car in use today is 10.8 years old, chances are your car could use a little TLC. To be the most responsible car owner you can be, here are some basic DIY car maintenance tips that even the most novice vehicle owner should be able to handle.
Eliminate Bad Odors
Do you have a smelly car, but can’t seem to figure out why? Or perhaps you’ve noticed passengers wrinkling their nose the second the door closes shut behind them? There are a variety of reasons cars can develop bad odors over the years. Fabrics and carpets absorb smells like a sponge, but any vehicle can offend your olfactory senses after a few years of heavy use.
To eliminate bad odors from your car, follow these simple car maintenance steps:
- Vacuum the floors, seats, and trunk of your car thoroughly. While you do, check carefully for errant french fries and other pieces of food that may have fallen into the nooks and crannies of the vehicle.
- Use baking soda on tough stains or smells. If there is a particularly nasty spill or odor in your car, then simply sprinkle a healthy amount of baking soda onto the affected area and let it sit for at least three hours. Vacuum up the powder when done.
- A great DIY trick for eliminating car smells is to use charcoal. Charcoal naturally absorbs odors from the air, so leave a cup of charcoal in the car overnight for a few consecutive days.
- Clean all hidden areas of the car. Pay close attention to cup holders, the center console, side compartments, and the pockets behind seats. In addition, if your car has mats on the floor, remove them from the car and brush them off like a rug.
- If a deep clean and vacuum still doesn’t do the trick, or if you notice bad smells coming from the vents, then you probably need a new cabin air filter, also known as an air conditioning filter. While this job can be performed on your own, it’s generally best left to car maintenance professionals. In general, cabin air filters should be changed every year or 25,000 miles (but more often if you smoke or regularly bring pets into your car).
Topping off the antifreeze
There are plenty of fluids your car relies on to run efficiently, and antifreeze (also known as coolant) is one of the most important. Antifreeze coolant liquid keeps your radiator from both overheating and freezing by altering the boiling and freezing point of water. If you’re new to DIY car maintenance, then we do not recommend attempting to replace the antifreeze on your own just yet, a complex procedure known as flush and fill service.
However, if you know what you’re doing, topping off your antifreeze is relatively straightforward, so long as you take the proper precautions. Please note that if you attempt to top off antifreeze while the engine is running — or still hot — you could seriously scald anyone in the vicinity. When in doubt, wait it out!
Check your car manual to see exactly where the radiator is located. In some cars, after you lift up the hood you should see a plastic funnel shaped container off to the side. That’s where the car antifreeze goes.
- Check the user’s manual for the optimal antifreeze level. Create a pre-mixed, 50/50 preparation of coolant and distilled water. You can also purchase pre-made 50/50 antifreeze coolant.
- On most older cars, you will need to remove the pressure cap from the radiator. On newer cars, the pressure cap may be located on the overflow reservoir.
- Add the 50/50 antifreeze mixture to the desired fill level, and then replace the pressure cap.
Replacing a flat tire
All car owners should know how to replace a flat tire, but of course not all car owners do. Because you don’t want to replace your first tire on the side of a busy highway, take the time to go through the motions of this process in your driveway one day (without actually removing the tire, of course).
- Take out your spare tire, sometimes called a “donut” tire.
- Check the affected tire. If the hubcap is blocking the lug nuts, you may need to remove the center section to expose the nuts. Place the tire iron around one of the nuts and turn counterclockwise until the nut is loose. Repeat on all of the other nuts. If you cannot get the nuts to budge, here’s a simple DIY trick: make sure the tire iron is parallel to the ground, then stand up and place your foot on the tire iron. Slowly press down with your body weight until the nut is loose.
- With the car in park on a flat surface, check the owner’s manual to see exactly where the jack should be placed. Before you start raising the car, place blocks underneath the front and back tires to stop the car from rolling. Bricks and phonebooks will usually do the trick. You don’t want to raise your car off the ground, but rather take the pressure off the side of the car with the flat tire.
- Completely remove the lug nuts by turning counterclockwise, then set aside for later.
- Once all nuts have been removed, remove the tire and set aside. Put the donut tire in its place with the valve stem facing the outside of the vehicle.
- Place all the nuts back on the car, tightening them clockwise by hand. Lower the car and remove the jack, then use the tire iron to tighten all of the nuts.
- Take your car to a mechanic to replace the donut tire.
Pro Tip: With new fuel efficiency standards, carmakers are desperate to cut weight any way they can. That means some new vehicles come without a spare tire! Do not drive anywhere without a jack, tire iron, and spare tire in the vehicle.
As you can see, there are some simple DIY car maintenance tips that will make tending to your vehicle that much easier. While you should still take your car to professionals for regular maintenance, there are many aspects of car maintenance you can perform on your own.
For more DIY car maintenance tips and step by step instructions for replacing your car fluids, visit the Peak DIY Hub.