100 Super-Simple Car Repairs You Don’t Need to Go to the Shop For
Vehicle repairs and maintenance tasks don’t always have to be done in the shop. You can easily do these in your own garage.
Use a Code Reader
Diagnose car problems without going to a mechanic with an auto code reader. Simply plug it into the car’s computer system, then interpret the trouble code readout to see what repairs you might need to do. See how to crack the code of a code reader here.
Replace Your Wiper Blades
It’s easy to tell when your blades need replacing. Simply press the washer button and see if your blades wipe clean. If they streak, they’re toast. The auto parts store will have lots of economy blades, but go with a name brand instead (ANCO, Trico or Bosch). They cost more than economy blades, but their higher-quality rubber wipes better, has better UV protection and lasts longer.
Follow the installation instructions on the package. Be sure you have a firm grip on the wiper arm once you remove the old blade. If it gets away from you, it can hit the windshield with enough force to crack it.
Service Your ‘Tuck-Under’ Spare Tire Lift Now!
Loosen and lubricate a corroded spare tire lift so you can get to your spare tire when you need it. See how to keep that spare tire lift loose so you can get the tire when you need it.
Solve Rough Idle by Cleaning EGR Valve
Rough idle? A good dousing with throttle body cleaner may be enough to restore your EGR valve to near-mint condition, transforming a harsh idle into a soothing hum. Clean a EGR valve with these instructions for one of those easier car repairs.
Fix a Leaking Valve Cover Gasket
Replace a leaky gasket cover on a 4-cylinder engine easily and in less than an hour for less than $25. We show you how to fix a leaky gasket here.
Replace Sway Bar End Links
Fixing a clunk when your car hits a bump is a trial and error process. Start with the stabilizer bushings and then the bar end links, using a special tool. Replacing sway bar links is way cheaper than you think, see how to replace sway bar links and how much it costs.
Repair a Dim Headlight
Simply clean the ground connection to restore the brightness of dim headlights. And apply a little dielectric grease. Or replace the bulb if you see a gray/brown film on the inside of the glass. See how to locate the ground connection and how to clean it.
The hardest part of the job is choosing a new bulb. You can spend more time shopping for the bulbs than it takes to install them. The choices are mind-boggling. Every bulb manufacturer has its own confusing names for each style, making comparisons difficult. But it boils down to four upgrade categories—brightness level, life span, light color and energy consumption. See which bulb to pick and how to install a new headlight.
Fix a Stuck Power Antenna
Fix a stuck power antenna by replacing a burned out motor or bad cable/mast. You can do both in about two hours, and you’ll avoid the $50 – $100 dealer service fee. You need only one special tool, an antenna wrench. See how to fix an antenna here.
Fix a Horn Problem
Use a simple fused jumper to pinpoint the problem with a bad horn. Often the fix is simple and cheap. Check out how to fix a car horn here.
Clear Up Cloudy Headlights
Clear your fogged or yellowed headlight lenses in 45 minutes for less than $15, rather than spending $100s to replace them. Learn the secret to cleaning headlights here.
Remove a Stuck Phillips Screw
Frustrated by a Phillips screw that’s starting to strip out? Salvage the situation with one of these tips before you go through the misery of drilling out the screw.
Replace a Thermostat
Replacing a car’s thermostat (or T-stat) is an easy and inexpensive repair, and in most cases will cure an overheating or no-heat problem, sparing the time and expense needed for expert diagnostics. Learn all the steps to replace a thermostat here.
Troubleshoot Windshield Washers
A windshield washer that doesn’t pump enough fluid is annoying and even hazardous. Find the solution to fixing a troublesome windshield washer.
Clean Your Air/Fuel Intake System
Do you get a crummy idle or poor engine response when you put the pedal to the metal? You may have soot and carbon buildup on the valves, intake manifold and throttle body assembly, as well as clogged fuel injectors. Shops charge $80 and up to perform a fuel induction cleaning service. But you can do the same thing in about 30 minutes with the 3M No. 08963 Do-It-Yourself Fuel System Tune-Up Kit; $35 from amazon. com. Watch the instructional DVD. Then grab the kit, a screwdriver, goggles and rags and you’re ready to bust crud.
Fix Your Power Door Locks
Repair broken power locks by replacing the actuator, which is a common problem on late-model Fords. You’ll save on the shop fee some of the new part cost. Find out how to fix power door locks, you could save up to $100.
Replace a Broken Wheel Stud
Tightening lug nuts without a torque wrench can be a recipe for disaster. If worse comes to worse and you break the wheel stud, here’s how to replace it.
Find and Replace a Blown Fuse
Cars run on electricity as well as gas, and almost all of it runs through fuses. Learn where they are, how to spot a blown fuse, and how to replace them. It takes about five minutes, costs about $1, and it’ll save you the hassle of a trip to the repair shop.
Recharge Your Car’s Air Conditioner
Improve the cooling of your car’s air conditioner with an easy-to-use A/C recharge kit. You can do it in four simple steps.
Change Your Spark Plugs
Change your spark plugs yourself to maintain peak performance and high gas mileage. In most cases it’s a simple job as long as you have the right tools. See how to replace spark plugs.
Replace a Serpentine Belt
Automatic belt tensioners, standard in most cars now, make changing a serpentine belt a simple DIY repair. Check out how to replace a serpentine belt in about 15 minutes.
Refinish Wheels and Wheel Covers
Sometimes a middle-aged car can still look fine except for wear and tear on the wheels and wheel covers. Fortunately, you can fix this yourself for very little cash. Removing the rust and painting your wheels take a full day. (Don’t panic—mostly you’re waiting for paint to dry.) Then the wheels must dry for 24 more hours after painting before you remount them. So make other arrangements for transportation for a day. The supplies cost about $50 from any auto parts store. See how to refinish wheels at home.
Replace Struts Yourself
If you’ve put 80,000 or more miles on your struts, they’re worn out and must be replaced. We know they’re expensive (about $700 for front struts replaced at a shop). But in the long run, driving on worn struts actually costs you more. You could save $300 doing struts yourself, see how to do it.
Replace a Pickup Bumper
A rusty or dented bumper can drag down the whole appearance of a pickup that’s in otherwise good shape. Having it replaced by a pro will set you back $1,000, but you can save $500 or more in labor and parts by doing the job yourself. It takes only a few hours. Get complete instructions here.
Free Up a Sticking Hood latch
If your hood doesn’t latch and unlatch easily, chances are it’s just rusty and dry. You can fix the problem in about 10 minutes with spray rust penetrant and spray lithium grease. Pop the hood and saturate the entire latch mechanism with rust penetrant. Latch and unlatch the hood several times until the mechanism works smoothly. The rust penetrant won’t last long, so you’ll have to apply a better lube. Open the hood and spray all the moving parts with white lithium grease. Latch and unlatch the hood several more times and you’re good to go. There is a difference between rust penetrant and WD-40, which is still great at scaring away spiders, believe it or not.
Free Up a Stuck Trailer Hitch
Spray the opening to the hitch receiver. This newest style of penetrating fluid chills the metal, causing it to contract to help break the rust seal. Then use an air chisel fitted with a hammer bit to knock everything loose. The air hammer will break up the rust, spread the penetrant and free up the ball mount. Once it’s free, just tap out the rusted ball mount with a regular hammer. If you plan to reuse the rusty mount, coat it with a rust converter or waterproof marine grease. Check out these great trailer upgrades!
Change Your Engine Coolant
You can change your coolant yourself in about an hour. You’ll need to invest in an air-powered refilling tool to remove air pockets from the cooling system as you fill. You’ll save about $50 on your first coolant change and about $100 on each one after that. Check out how to change your engine coolant here.
Remove a Stubborn Oil Filter
We’ve all done it—overtightened an oil filter so much that it’s a bear to remove. If you think you can remove it by jamming a long screwdriver through the can and twisting, think again. The screwdriver will just rip the can open and you’ll be drenched in oil. When you’re done dealing with that mess, the filter will still be stuck and you’ll be even more frustrated. To remove a stuck filter, use a band-type wrench that you’ve lined with coarse-grit adhesive-backed sandpaper.
Blast Off Seized Bolts
This tool and a can of rust penetrant are the secret to removing stubborn rusty seized bolts. Load the driver tool into your air hammer and slide on a socket and wrench. When you hit the trigger, the driver applies the impacts to the center of the bolt head, demolishing the rusty buildup. Turn the wrench and socket during the impacts and you’ll loosen the bolt or nut in no time.
Lubricate Window Tracks
Swap Out Brake Fluid
Some carmakers recommend replacing brake fluid every two years or 24,000 miles. Others don’t mention it at all. But it’s easy to test your brake fluid. Just dip a test strip into the fluid and compare the color to the chart on the packaging.
You can’t do a complete brake fluid flush yourself, but you can do the next best thing—a fluid swap. This procedure won’t replace all the old fluid with fresh, but you’ll introduce enough new fluid to make a difference.
Use a baster to suck out the dark brown brake fluid (brake and power steering fluids are incompatible, so use a different baster for each). Squirt it into a recycling bottle. Refill the reservoir with fresh brake fluid as shown. Then drive the vehicle for a week to mix the new fluid with the old. Repeat the procedure several times over the next few weeks until the fluid in the reservoir retains its light honey color.
Note: The brake fluid may damage the baster’s rubber bulb, so don’t suck the fluid all the way into the bulb.
Change Power Steering Fluid
There aren’t any test strips for power steering fluid, so you’ll have to rely on the manufacturer’s service recommendations or general rule-of-thumb (two years or 24,000 miles). Use the turkey baster method to remove the old power steering fluid. Suck out all the fluid (engine off) as shown. Then refill the reservoir with fresh fluid. Start the engine and let it run for about 15 seconds. Repeat the fluid swap procedure until you’ve used up the full quart.
Note: Never substitute a “universal” power steering fluid for the recommended type, and never add “miracle” additives or stop-leak products. They can clog the fine mesh filter screens in your steering system and cause expensive failures.
Replace Your Cabin Air Filter
Fix Tears in Leather and Vinyl
Fix That Leaky Sunroof
Replace That Broken Antenna
Replace Non-Headlight Bulbs
Replace Engine Air Filter
Repack Trailer Wheel Bearings
Repack trailer wheel bearings to prevent the most common breakdown. It’s an easy and cheap maintenance chore. Check out how to repack trailer wheel bearings here.
Replace your car’s badly corroded battery cable terminals with new ones in about an hour. New terminals cost less than $20. It’s easier than you think.
Clean Corrosion From the Battery
Clean corrosion from the top of the auto battery first and then clean corrosion from around the battery cables with a post cleaner.
Check the Level of the Electrolyte
Gently pry off the covers of the battery cells. The water and acid mixture in the battery (electrolyte) should be about 1/2 in. deep or to the bottom of the fill hole. If it needs water, use clean distilled water, being careful not to overfill the cells, and then inspect the battery case for cracks. If you find a crack, replace the battery. If you added water, let the water mix with the electrolyte for a few hours before the next step. (You may need to reconnect the battery to maintain your memory functions.) Check out more battery care tips here.
Replace Windshield Wipers
Do your windshield wipers leave unwiped spots for no apparent reason, even after you replaced the blades? Chances are the hinge is binding from corrosion. We’ll show you how to replace the wiper arm and fix this problem.
Change Your Transmission Fluid
Extend the life of your engine by changing transmission fluid. It’s much easier by using a special transmission fluid pump, and you’ll save $100 in shop costs when you do it yourself. We show you what you need and how to do it.
Check the Blend Door Actuator
Does your car heater just blow cold air when you turn on the fan? It might be as simple as recalibrating the heating system or replacing the actuator. We’ll show you how.
Clean a Throttle Body
Try this 10-minute throttle cleaning fix to solve a rough idle problem and save the cost of taking your car into the shop.
Fix a Dirty Mass Air Flow Sensor
Clean your MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor when it’s dirty rather than replace this $300 part. It’s quick and easy.
Repair Rust on a Car
Sure, you can lower your risk of rust by applying paint protection film to chip-prone areas like the front edge of the hood, and by frequently washing off road salt and waxing your vehicle regularly. But even then, you’re still going to get rust spots. If you ignore them, they’ll spread and turn your sheet metal into Swiss cheese in no time. However, if you deal with rust early, you can stop it from spreading and squeeze a few extra years out of your vehicle.
Change a Flat Tire
Knowing how to change a flat tire on a car is an essential life skill. Flat tires usually come with little or no warning and they often happen at the worst possible time. This video gives you tips and tricks for fixing a flat tire that make the job safer and easier on your knees. Watch the video and next time you have a flat tire, you’ll know what to do.
Fix a Leaky Tire Valve
Fix a leaky tire valve in five minutes using an inexpensive valve core tool and replacement cores.
Fix a Short Circuit
Automotive electrical problems might seem insurmountable, but they’re not. All you have to do is locate where the current stops flowing. It’s easy with today’s tools. Here’s how to fix automotive electrical short circuits.
Replace an Alternator
If your car or truck won’t hold a charge, you probably need a new alternator. Learn how to test it, how to replace it, and where to find the best deal on a new one.
Fix a Bad Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor
See the crack? This sensor didn’t set off a trouble code or “check engine” light. But the owner had to pump the pedal to keep the engine running.
The computer in every fuel-injected car must know two things before it can figure out the correct cold-start air/fuel mixture: the engine coolant temperature and the outside air temperature. Your symptoms are a dead ringer for a bad engine coolant temperature sensor (ECT). The computer is calculating an air/fuel mixture that is too lean. That’s why pumping the gas pedal keeps your engine running. You can have a bad sensor even without a “check engine” light or trouble code. They’re so cheap (about $15) and easy to replace, that it makes more sense to just replace it. Ask the auto parts store clerk to find the right sensor for you (you may have two—one for the computer and one for the temp gauge on your dash) and to show you where it installs on your engine.
Clean the Ground Cables
Ground cables tend to corrode and cause various electrical malfunctions. A simple cleaning will clear up many problems. Here’s how.
Replace Dashboard Lights
Replace dashboard lights by removing the trim panel and instrument cluster. It sounds intimidating, but it’s simpler than you might think with an online factory manual.
Repair Damaged Nuts and Bolts
A rethreading kit is an important part of any automotive toolbox. Use it to restore stripped threads on old, rusty nuts and bolts when you don’t have time to search the stores for a replacement.
Repair a Car Heater Hose
A leaking heater hose will stop your car dead in it’s tracks, but with a basic repair kit you can fix the hose yourself, even out in the middle of nowhere, and be driving again in an hour.
Repair an Intermittent Wiper and Turn Signal
Turn signals and intermittent wiper controls are the most common failures on the multifunction switch in late-model cars. Save money by doing the repair yourself—it’s not as complicated as it looks.
Replace a Transfer Case Shift Motor
Diagnosing a shift motor problem is easy. Refer to a shop manual wiring diagram and follow the procedure for checking for power at the motor. If the motor is getting power but not responding, replace it. It takes less than an hour, and if you use an after-market replacement motor, you can save almost $200 by doing the job yourself. Check with an auto parts store, dealer or online for replacement motors.
Change Transfer Case Oil (four-wheel drive only)
The transfer case is located at the rear of the transmission, and its job is to “transfer” power to the front and rear drive axles when you shift into four-wheel drive. But the gears inside the transfer case spin even when you’re in two-wheel drive. So it’s important to change the oil on schedule, even if you don’t use four-wheel drive very often. Here’s how to do it.
Change Differential Oil
If you have a pickup or an SUV, here are a few maintenance tasks you can do yourself to prevent expensive repairs. We’ll show you how to change the oil in two often-neglected members of your power train. Do it yourself on a Saturday morning and save $150 in shop charges.
Fix a Blower Motor
Restore multiple speeds to your auto heater/air conditioner blower by replacing a resistor module. It’s a simple, quick change-out.
Fix Bad Boat and Utility Trailer Light Wiring
Be a safe driver. We show you how to diagnose and fix trailer lights that are dim or don’t work. Most fixes are quick and easy.
Install New Car Carpet
Replace the old dirty carpeting in your car with new pre-formed car carpet. It’ll only cost about $200 and take 3 to 4 hours to do a first-rate job.
Repair a Broken Car Window
A broken power window can be an expensive repair, but if you have basic auto repair tools and access to an online service manual you can fix it yourself and save big bucks.
Replace a Broken Side Mirror
Replacing a broken side view mirror is easier and cheaper than you might think. Once you have the right tools, the hardest part is just finding the hidden fasteners. Here’s how to do it.
Replace a Broken Taillight Assembly
Replace a broken taillight assembly by ordering a new one online and installing it using two ordinary hand tools. Check out how to replace a broken taillight assembly here.
Diagnose and Repair a Broken Auto Light Socket
Replace a Broken or Missing Spoiler
The plastic air dam (aka “spoiler”) that’s broken or missing wasn’t just for a sporty look. If your car had an air dam, driving without it or with a damaged one can reduce your gas mileage. The air dam literally “dams off” airflow to the undercarriage of your car, forcing the air up and over the hood. That helps your car cut through the air with less drag. It also increases airflow to the A/C condenser and radiator, reducing the load on your car’s electrical system. Contact a junkyard or visit certifit.com to get a replacement air dam. Here are some other tips on how to save money on gas.
Replace Your Oxygen Sensor(s) Before the Light Goes On
Oxygen sensors monitor the efficiency of combustion by tracking the amount of oxygen remaining in the exhaust. But they degrade over time and that can cost you up to 15 percent in gas mileage. When they fail, the computer lights up your “service engine soon” light, forcing you to incur an $80 diagnostic fee. On pre-1996 vehicles, replace your oxygen sensor every 60,000 miles to keep your mileage at its peak. On 1996 and newer vehicles, replace the sensors every 100,000 miles. Oxygen sensors cost about $60 each. Some vehicles have as many as four, but the sensors installed behind the catalytic converter rarely fail.
Repair Weather Stripping
Repair torn weather stripping on car doors quickly and easily, and treat it with silicone spray to prevent winter freeze-up and further weather stripping damage.
Add a Window Coating
Research has proven that glass treatment products can improve your view through your windshield in rainy weather by as much as 34 percent. The improved vision can increase your response rate by up to 25 percent. That could mean the difference between avoiding an accident or being part of one. Here’s how to add a window coating.
Replace Worn Spark Plug Wires
Worn spark plug wires and boots can start to leak voltage to nearby engine parts, causing arcing and creating performance problems. Replace them before that happens in a few steps by following these steps.
Fix Up a Rear Window Defogger
Fix your rear auto window defogger quickly and easily with an inexpensive repair kit. No special skills needed, we’ll show you how to do it.
Refurbish Auto Body Sid Molding
Reattach rubber or vinyl side molding on your car before it comes loose. Auto trim on late model cars is notorious for peeling off—here’s how to reattach it before it ends up on the highway.
Touch up Chipped Auto Paint
Fix Small Dents and Door Dings
Remove Minor Paint Scratches
Eliminate squeaky doors
Change Your Oil
One of the most critical maintenance chores for cars is changing the oil regularly. Learn how to change your own oil quickly and without getting too dirty. You’ll save money and extend the life of your car by thousands of miles. Here’s are the things you do to get an oil change done.
Change a Car Battery
Avoid an expensive service or tow charge (and the worry of being stranded!) by keeping your car battery working at peak performance. This article will show you how to perform a simple step-by-step 10-minute seasonal battery check-up so you know whether your battery is performing well. This article will also explain how to replace your battery if it’s failing, so you’re not left stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a car that won’t start.
Loose Exhaust Pipes
The classic DIY fix for loose tailpipes has always sort of seemed to be wrapping a coat hanger around the pipe. But these car repairs can be fast.
Rear View Mirror
Sometimes the adhesive from a rear view mirror will lose its grip and that’s when it’s time to pick up a kit at an auto parts store. It’s a straight forward DIY job. One less of those car repairs to have to pay shop labor costs for.
Souping up the sound system of your vehicle is something that can be done relatively easily on your own if you know how to disassemble a door panel and reassemble it. Just do a little research prior to starting the job.
Dead or weak battery? Jump-starting a vehicle is easy and safe if you follow these four simple steps.
l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock
Tire rotation is one of those car repairs that can be pretty routine work but it’s important work to keep your tires lasting as long as other components of your vehicle. Here’s how often you need to rotate your tires and some general tire info.
Depending on the location of your fuel filter, changing it can be one of the eaiser car repairs you can do.
Inflating your tires is one of those simple car repairs but just be sure to follow the right inflation levels.
If your vehicle has a distributor cap it’s possible to replace one on your own. It’s not one of the things you do to a car that qualifies as a complicated car repair.
Just as chips in your paint can cause rust, chips in your windshield can spread out into annoying damage, so it’s best to fix them right away. The good news is that you can order or pick up windshield repair kits that use resins to block the crack or chip before it causes more damage. With the right tools, you can also replace side power windows!
Plug A Flat
If you’re not confident that you or the driver can change a flat tire, one of the things you do is buy two cans of aerosol tire sealer from any auto parts store (Fix-a-Flat is one well-known brand) and keep them in the vehicle. The cans are sold in several sizes for compact, standard and truck-size tires. Tire sealants work on tread punctures 3/16 in. or less in diameter for fast car repairs. They won’t work on sidewall punctures, blowouts or any other catastrophic failures. You’ve got little to lose by trying sealant as one of your car repairs.
Install a Remote Starter
Install a remote starter for your car yourself. It’s one of the things you do that works as a great, inexpensive upgrade and a project you can do yourself with simple tools and the supplied wiring diagram.
Spiff Up Your Ride With 3M Car Wrap
If you’re just itching to airbrush flames, stripes or logos on your car or truck, put the brakes on the paint and check out “car wrap.” 3M vehicle graphics dealers now offer custom design services for 3M’s Scotchprint Wrap Films. The dealers will take your design (or help you create one) and fabricate it out of pressure-sensitive film that applies right over your paint. So you can get the look you want without destroying the paint finish. Change your mind and want to go with a different look down the road? Just peel off the old design. Go to 3mgraphics.com/1080 to see all the colors and finishes. Then click on “locate an installer” to find a dealer near you
Set a Spark Plug Gap
Spark plugs don’t come gapped for your particular engine. For the best performance, you must gap the plug to the engine manufacturer’s specs. If you’re buying a plug for a small engine, one of the things you do is ask the parts store to look up the gap size info for you. If the plugs are for your vehicle, find the info in the owner’s manual to figure out one of the more important car repairs you can do.. Then adjust the gap as shown in this story.
Silence a Squealing Belt
A squealing belt is a sign of improper belt tension, a misaligned or worn pulley, a worn belt or a sluggish idler roller bearing. Since most late-model vehicles use a spring-loaded self-tensioning mechanism, check that first. Attach a socket or ratchet to the tensioner and rotate it. It should turn smoothly and return to its original position on its own. If you feel any binding or have to manually move it back into position, replace it. If the tensioner checks out, use an automotive stethoscope to identify the source of the squeal. Remove the probe from the end of the stethoscope and hold it next to each belt-driven component while you run the engine. Then listen for the squealing sound. Replace the noisy component.
Never use “belt dressing” to silence a squealing belt. The sticky spray never fixes the root cause of the squeal. Worse yet, the sticky goo collects road dust and sand and grinds up the belt and pulleys. That’ll cost you far more when the squeal returns
DIY Paintless Dent Repair
Have you seen those paintless dent repair tools advertised on TV? Do you know anyone who’s actually pulled a dent with one? We didn’t think so. If you really want to try pulling your own dents for car repairs, consider buying this reasonably priced professional-grade paintless dent removal kit. The Lock Technologies LT-820 ($209 from tooldiscounter.com) comes with two adjustable pry rods, 13 interchangeable tips, a magnetic reflector board and a training DVD. We won’t kid you—paintless dent repair is an art. Practice on your kid’s junker before tackling the dent on your Cayenne. Body-shop friends tell me that once you’ve popped about six dents, you’ll get the hang of one of the more frustrating car repairs. — Rick Muscoplat
Rescue Those Hoses
After years of being clamped in place, most radiator and heater hoses are usually welded to the pipe. If you want to reuse the hose, you can easily spend 30 minutes finessing the hose off so it’s still in good enough condition to reinstall. That’s where this cool hose remover tool pays off in car repairs. Just slip the pointed end into the lip of the hose and pull the tool around the pipe. The rounded edge breaks the hose free. Then use the tool to pull the hose off. This baby will save you a lot of time and at least 25 good curse words for later use on a different one of your car repairs.