Basic Car Maintenance

Starting to do basic auto repairs and maintenance tasks can be exciting. However, when you’re starting out, you’ll find some tasks that will make you feel confident; others will just scare you. It all depends on your previous experience, skills, and available information on those tasks you want to do. Still, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t start now. Begin working on some basic repairs and maintenance jobs to expand on your skills to do more complex jobs.


Use your car owner’s manual and get a copy of the repair manual for your particular vehicle make and model. The repair manual comes with lots of information on your different car’s systems and step-by-step procedures to service, diagnose, repair and replace many parts and components in your particular vehicle. This should be your main tool, if you want to learn how to repair and maintain your own vehicle.

Basic repairs you can do yourself

~ Replacing hoses: From time to time, you’ll need to repair a leaking or damaged hose. Unless you need to remove components to gain access, you can use a few simple tools to replace or fix them.

~ Adjusting and replacing belts: Some systems in your vehicle-charging, steering, cooling-make use of a drive belt or serpentine belt to operate the alternator, steering and water pumps. You’ll need to adjust or replace these belts after several miles of service.

~ Repairing electrical circuits: Even if you don’t know much about electricity, your vehicle repair manual can help you do simple voltage drop tests, troubleshoot relays, locate and check fuses, lamps, connections and other simple parts that often cause trouble in many electrical systems. For this, you’ll need a simple test light and a digital multimeter.

~ Repairing cooling system problems: Frequently, you can trace an engine overheating or overcooling problem to some failed part in the cooling system. Sometimes, you’ll need to deal with a radiator hose leak or a thermostat stuck in the close or open position. Following the procedure described in your repair manual can help you fix the system.

~ Cleaning battery connections: Using a simple procedure, you can clean dirty and corroded battery connections, another common and simple repair job. This task will help you restore starting and charging system performance without the use of special tools.

~ Suspension and steering system issues: Some problems affecting these systems fall within the scope of the average car owner to diagnose and possibly repair at home. For instance, incorrect tire pressure can cause the vehicle to pull to one side, cause the steering system to become stiff and the tire themselves to wear prematurely. Checking and adjusting tire inflation pressure may correct many of these problems. Other times, it’s a matter of checking power steering fluid level, looking for potential leaks, or adjusting the pump’s belt.

~ Replacing components: Often, you’ll find yourself dealing with a broken starter motor, alternator or sensor. Your vehicle repair manual will guide you through the procedure.

Basic maintenance you can do yourself

~ Changing the engine oil and filter: This is perhaps one of the most simple and most important maintenance tasks you can do on your car. This job doesn’t require special tools or technical knowledge, and you can find the correct procedure for your model in your vehicle repair manual.

~ Replacing air, fuel and crankcase ventilation filters: Just like an oil filter, you’ll need to replace other filters at regular intervals. Maintaining filters take just a few minutes. Sometimes, though, you may need to remove a few components to gain access to a filter.

~ Ignition system maintenance: These system also requires regular maintenance. Your service manual lists the service interval to replace spark plugs, spark plug wires, and distributor cap and rotor, if your vehicle has them. The manual will tell you how to calibrate your spark plugs using a simple gauge and the torque specification for the installation procedure.

~ Other simple maintenance tasks: You might want to try changing the automatic transaxle fluid and filter, water pump and brake pads once you’ve gained some confidence working on your vehicle. Although not difficult, these tasks require attention to detail.

You can do many repairs and maintenance tasks with the help of your car owner’s and repair manuals. Following closely the advice and instructions in these resources, you can start with the most simple tasks or the ones you feel more comfortable. But don’t limit yourself to these resources. Visit online forums dedicated to vehicle maintenance-and those specific to your vehicle model-and recruit the help of friends with more experience. And most importantly, be patient as you learn and add to your car repair and maintenance skills set. Before long, you’ll find yourself doing more challenging jobs on your car.

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