Handy Car Tips: Quick Fixes for Small Automotive Problems Handy Car Tips: Quick Fixes for Small Automotive Problems

Car repairs are costly. Parts and hourly labor can drive a small car repair right through the roof. Use this handy guide to make small repairs to your car or truck, and pick up a few tips and tricks that will make car maintenance and driving life a little easier.

Sticky Locks

For a lock that sticks, you might immediately think lubrication, but it is actually best not to spray oil inside a sticky lock. Oily lubricants only collect more gunk that gums up the locks even more. To free locks, ground up bits of powdery graphite (pencil lead) is what you need. Graphite powder is sold commercially in aerosol cans, but if you don’t have a can on hand, try this quick home fix: color the end of your key with a soft lead pencil, then insert it and turn the lock a couple of times to free it up.

Body Rust

If a patch of rust on your vehicle is small and only on the surface, you can save yourself a costly trip to the body shop with this tid-bit of handy automotive information. Rub away small rust patches by dipping a piece of steel wool in kerosene and buffing out the spot. Balling up aluminum foil and dipping it in water is another reported method for rubbing rust away.


Here’s something to try before you pay the body shop big bucks for a fast fix on a dented car or truck body. Get the toilet plunger (clean if necessary) and place it over the dent. Pump the plunger to create suction, and pull. The dent should pop out when you pull away the plunger. For a large dented area, you might try to pop most (or all) of the dent out by carefully banging on the dent from the back of the panel using a rubber mallet.

Sticker removal

Old parking stickers or permits clouding your view? Try these tips for getting off stickers and the residue they leave behind.

Rub stickers and left over glue with nail-polish remover or lighter fluid and scrape away with a flat razor blade.

Rub salad or cooking oil onto the sticker and let it penetrate the old decal. Scrape with a razor or similar flat edge. Flat nylon pan scrapers are harmless scraping tools, too.

For a gentle scrubber to loosen remaining glue goo, ball up a plastic net bag (the kind onions come in). Scrub the goo with soap and water or one of the products mentioned above.

Tar and Bugs

Two of the most plaguing nemeses on the road: tar and insects. Follow these tips for removal.

Soak caked on tar in linseed oil. Leave the oil to soak until the hardened tar softens, then rub it away with a cloth.

The plastic net onion bag you used to scrub away the sticker glue makes a great scrubber for removing dead bugs, too. Use it to rub insect carcasses from the windshield.

Here’s a bonus: sap drips from trees can be rubbed away with a little turpentine on a cloth. It is supposed to be safe for your paint if you wash the turpentine thoroughly immediately afterwards, but turpentine is a paint thinner, so it is probably best to save this tip for windshields and windows only. Still be sure to thoroughly wash the turpentine from your windows, to be safe.

Extra Shine

Want a super-gleaming shine on your car? After you wax it, sprinkle a littlr cornstarch onto a buffing cloth and buff. Cornstarch is known to remove built-up polish and will give your car an extra shiny coat.

Foggy Windows

If you hate looking at your smeared handprint left from when you weren’t patient enough to wait for the defroster to clear the windshield, keep a chalkboard eraser in the glove compartment and use it to wipe the windshield down. Better yet, prevent fogging by coating your window with shaving cream. Apply the cream to a damp sponge and buff the window clear with paper towels. Repeat whenever the windows begin to collect fog again, or after washing your windows with window cleaner.

Air Fresheners

Keep your car smelling great by filling the ashtray with potpourri. Potpourri has a stronger scent and lasts longer than cardboard air fresheners.

Another option- tuck fabric softener sheets into seat and door pockets.

Ash Trays

Are you a non-smoker and you want to discourage others from smoking in your car? Fill a clean ash tray with pieces of hard candy or gum. Your guests won’t be able to put their cigarettes out in it, and the candy might just give them an alternative oral fixation to focus on for a little while. By the way, gum is also recommended as an on-hand emergency quick fix for patching up small leaks, like covering up a hole in a leaky fuel tank until your can get to a repair shop.

If you do smoke or allow others to smoke in your vehicle, make sure the butts go out and aren’t left to smolder in the ashtray by pouring baking soda in bottom of the ashtray. The baking soda will smother the burning cigarette and help absorb the odors, too.

Corroded Terminals

Corroded battery terminals that are losing their connectivity can be cleaned with a solution of baking soda and water. Prevent corrosion by covering the terminals with petroleum jelly, but make sure the connection points are clean and secure.

Spark Plug Cleaner

Dirty spark plugs that aren’t firing correctly are fairly easily cleaned with commercial oven cleaner. Soak the spark plug tips in the oven cleaner for two hours. Scrape away hard to remove or left over grime with an emery board (fingernail file) or sand paper.

Leaky Radiator

Until you can get it fixed, try dumping a little black pepper into the radiator to seal a small leak. The pepper travels and collects to stop up the hole.


Is your car or truck impossible to find in a crowd? Try topping the antenna with a bright colored ribbon, a hollow rubber ball, or one of those funny antenna ornaments. Focus on looking for your decoration rather than just your vehicle in a crowded lot.

Don’t sweat it in the summertime, try this tip to keep your seats cool in the sun. Put an open umbrella upside down on the seat to avoid burning yourself when you get in.

These are some fast and fun tips and tricks to keep your car or truck running, clean it up nicely and save yourself some hassle. Think about them the next time you have a tough to clean car project or if you need a fast, cheap fix.

*Many of these tips and more great home tricks can be found in Haley’s Hints by Graham and Rosemary Haley (1999, 3H Productions).

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