The Best Ways to Become Your Own Auto Mechanic

A pair of hands replacing an air filter in a car.

Paying for car repairs is one of the worst parts about owning a vehicle—but you don't have to pay a third party for every necessary repair. While tackling a mechanical problem on your own may seem intimidating, there are certain projects that even the most novice mechanic can handle. From diagnosing car issues to replacing a dirty air filter, here are a few ways you can become your own mechanic.

Diagnosing Car Problems

Diagnosing auto trouble seems like a daunting task, but there are basic methods you can use to help narrow down the problem. The most important step is to always be aware of your car’s health. This includes listening for strange noises or picking up on odd smells. Tracking down these symptoms can help you identity the problem. You should also keep an eye on your vehicle’s dashboard for warning signals. These codes will often direct you to the source of the issue, especially when it comes to the engine.

Replace a Dirty Air Filter

You should replace your air filter once a year or every 12,000 miles. A mechanic will usually charge you extra for this simple job, which takes less than 10 minutes to complete. Simply locate the air filter under the hood, which is typically housed in a rectangular plastic box. Remember how the old one is situated and place the new one the same way. Close the box firmly and throw away the old filter.

Replace a Broken Headlight

A headlight on a blue car.

A broken headlight is easy to identify and doesn’t take a lot of mechanical experience to fix. Simply pop the hood and ensure that you can see the rear of the headlight assembly. If the assembly is hidden from view, you might need to jack up that side of the car to access the fixture. With the headlight assembly in sight, remove the bad bulb by unfastening the screw cap and pulling it out. Avoid touching the replacement bulb with your fingers and hold it from the plastic housing when installing.

Diagnose Water Leaks

Water leaks are often easy to diagnose—they are either caused by a crack in the glass, an obstruction in the drain tracks, or a broken weatherstrip. An air compressor equipped with a wand attachment is great for unplugging drain holes, especially when it comes to a leaky sunroof. Weatherstripping is a little more time consuming to replace, but is necessary if the leak is happening around a door or trunk.

Replace Windshield Wipers

A windshield wiper on a car.

Worn out windshield wipers are a hazard when driving in the rain. Fortunately, replacing them is an easy process that takes less than an hour to complete. Start by lifting the blades away from the vehicle and removing the old ones. Make a note of how they attach to the metal arm and install the new blades in a similar manner. Ensure the blades are tight and secure before returning them to their original position.

Install a New Alternator

Sometimes cleaning or replacing an old battery doesn’t solve your car starting woes. If your vehicle fails to start after installing a new battery, you may have a faulty alternator. Luckily, replacing an alternator isn’t difficult for most vehicles. All you need is a good socket wrench and a crowbar. After loosening the tension on the belt, simply unbolt the old alternator and take a note of its position. Install the new alternator in its place, using the crowbar to get the right amount of tension on the belt.

Clean a Dirty Battery

A corroded car battery.

Your vehicle needs a good connection on the battery to run smoothly. A little bit of grime on the terminals, however, can prevent a clean start. You can fix this problem with a wire brush and some corrosion-removal cleaner. Begin by unplugging the negative and positive terminals from their posts. Use the cleaner and wire brush to clean off any dirt and grime and rinse with water. Dry the battery before attaching the terminals. If the battery still doesn’t work, then it might need to be replaced.