Auto Repair Tips

Oil Changing

Don't Do This: Change your own oil

It's a messy job that often requires raising the car off the ground and leaves you with five quarts of dirty oil to dispose of in an environmentally friendly manner. You can get your oil changed anywhere for around $25. That's a bargain.

Do This

Get your oil changed on schedule per the owner's manual and make sure the shop uses a quality oil filter and the correct type of oil, also per the manual. The viscosity rating (5W-20, for example) will often be printed right on the oil filler cap on the engine.

Timing Belts

Don't do This: Ignore the timing belt

This rubber belt on the engine drives the camshafts and often the water pump and is usually covered so you can't easily eyeball it. Check your manual and have it replaced on time, usually at 70,000- 100,000-mile intervals. Changing the timing belt is a labor-intensive job that can cost $500 to $750, which is why many owners ignore this service. A failed belt can result in serious engine damage that could cost more than $2,500 to repair. When appropriate, have the water pump replaced with the timing belt, since you're already paying for most of the labor due to the belt change. Who knows, maybe you have a timing chain and you won't have to worry about it. Consult your owner's manual also.

Cabin Filter

Do This: Replace the cabin air filter on schedule

Many drivers don't realize their car has a filter on the heating / ventilation / air conditioning (HVAC) system to screen out dust, smoke, and pollen. Some technicians have seen this often-neglected filter so dirty the car owner thought the heater fan was broken because nothing came out of the vents. A clean cabin air filter allows the HVAC system to work efficiently and keeps the car interior smelling fresh. Some of these cabin filters can be found in the glove box and are easily changed.

Symptoms of a dirty cabin air filter are unpleasant odor and decreased heating and air conditioning performance caused by restricted airflow through the filter. Again, consult your owner's manual, but a rule of thumb is between 12,000 to 15,000 miles or once a year.

Vehicle Lights

Don't do this: Replace the serpentine belt

When you inspect under the hood, take a look at this belt, located on the end of the engine opposite the transmission. If it looks frayed or cracked it should be replaced. This single belt has replaced the separate belts that used to drive the alternator, air conditioner, power steering, water pump and fan. Its route around these components is often convoluted, so if you don't have a good diagram to follow- and thus put it on wrong- you'll have things spinning backwards.

Windshield Wiper Blades

Do This: Replace the windshield wiper blades twice a year before they get worn and ineffective. Worn wiper blades can even scratch your windshield

On most cars, this is a job you can do without tools. Know that your left and right wipers may be different lengths. There's usually an index at the parts store you can use to determine the correct size for your vehicle.

Vehicle Lights

Do This: Inspect your lights

Once a month, turn on the lights and walk around the vehicle to make sure that all are working, including the turn signals. Have someone press the pedal while you check the brake lights. If there's a light out, the owner's manual will likely show you hot to reach it and replace it. This is not just a safety issue. It could save you a visit with the police, who see that burned-out bulb over the rear license plate as convenient probable cause for a late-night traffic stop, which is probably trouble you don't need.