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5 Basic Car Maintenance Procedures for Beginners

Posted by MoneyKey on May 1, 2019
Basic car maintenance being performed

Whether you need your car for your daily commute, to drive your kids around, or for any number of other reasons, your car may be an essential part of your daily schedule. But that doesn’t mean it comes cheap. Trying to keep up with your regular car expenses can be hard enough without factoring in the possibility to have to pay for an unexpected repair. While you may want to do some research to see if an online loan could help the next time you get saddled with an unexpected bill from the mechanic you can’t afford, there are other ways to help mitigate the cost of basic car maintenance. Namely, doing some of the work yourself!

Here are five basic car maintenance procedures you may be able to do on your own.

Changing your own oil

Regularly changing your car’s oil is an essential piece of basic car maintenance that will keep your engine chugging along smoothly and can lengthen the lifespan of your car. But the cost of oil changes can start to add up if you’re keeping up with them regularly. That’s why knowing how to do an oil change on your own can be a great way to save a few dollars!

A person changing the oil of his car to save money

The basic procedure starts with draining the oil that’s currently in your car by removing the drain plug, unscrewing the oil filter, and letting the oil drain out. You’ll then put the filter and plug back in and pour fresh oil in. With the guidance of a good tutorial, you can be changing your own oil without a hitch!

Changing a flat tire

If you’ve ever been driving down the highway and start to feel your steering wheel rattle and your car groan, you may have experienced the feeling of dread that comes along with having to suddenly deal with a flat tire. But this moment won’t be nearly as much of a headache (or as expensive) if you know how to change a tire yourself. Let’s take a look at why you’ll want to know how to change a flat tire.

Why it’s bad to drive on a flat tire

Driving on flat tire puts more than just the tire at risk. Once it degrades to a certain point, other important components of the car can start to break down. When your tire starts to aggressively rattle around in the tire well, things like your rotors, brake lines, and parts of your suspension can start to take some serious damage. An issue that can be solved by a simple patch job might devolve into a fix that could cost you thousands of dollars if you continue to ignore the problem.

Not only will be putting your wallet at risk, you’ll also be risking the lives of the occupants of the car. If you do end up severely damaging your brakes or suspension, there’s a significant chance that your car will start to behave unexpectedly, and this could result in disaster. Why put finances – and more importantly your life – at risk just to avoid taking care of some basic car maintenance for a little while longer?

How to know when you’re driving on a flat tire

If you want to make sure that the cost to fix a flat tire stays as low as possible, you’ll need to be able to recognize when you have a flat tire in the first place. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Your steering feels off – You may start to feel your car drift to one side, forcing you to firmly hold the wheel to the other side. Your steering wheel may start shaking or pulsating more than normal. Your car may not be as responsive to your movements. Basically, if you experience anything unusual in your steering, it’s probably a good idea to pull over and do a quick spot check on your tires.
  • Your car is making unfamiliar noises – This sound could take a few different forms. You might here a grinding sound, or an uncomfortable groan. You’ll likely hear the sound of metal meeting concrete as the wheel rim repeatedly hits the road. And you’ll also want to keep an ear out for a distinct rhythmic chugging sound that indicates your tire is void of air. Again, hearing any of these unfamiliar noises might warrant a quick spot check.
  • Your car is inadvertently slowing down – If you’re driving on a flat, your car is going to have a tough time keeping up it’s normal pace without you having to lean on the gas. If you notice that your car is having a tough time maintaining its speed, pull over and investigate.

How to change a flat tire

Changing a flat tire using a jack

A simple way to minimize the cost to fix a flat tire is to learn how to change it yourself. Here are the basic steps involved:

  1. Use a lug wrench to loosen the lug nuts.
  2. Place your jack under your car, usually underneath the frame that’s alongside the flat tire. You’ll then use the jack to raise the car.
  3. Completely unscrew the lug nuts and removed the tire.
  4. Place your spare tire on the lug bolts and push until the bolts are visible through the rim.
  5. Tighten the lug nuts as much as you can by hand, lower the car so that the tire is touching the ground but isn’t taking the full weight of the car, and then tighten the lug nuts again with your wrench as much as possible.
  6. Lower your car completely, remove the jack, and see if you can tighten the lug nuts one last time.

If you want a more detailed guide with visual instructions, take a look at this tutorial. You may want to go through this process in a non-emergency situation just to get the hang of it. It may seem daunting, but changing a tire may be easier than you think and is a basic car maintenance procedure that could save you the cost of a tow.

Changing spark plugs

If you have no idea what a spark plug is, its function is in the name. It’s essentially a small plug that sparks your engine to life. Without this, your car won’t be going anywhere. Not only is the concept relatively simple, but the process of changing one is a bit of basic car maintenance that you may be able to take care of yourself.

A man holding a spark plug to replace it

The process involves finding the spark plugs on your car, removing the wire, taking out the old plug, replacing it with a new plug, and then re-inserting the wire. While this sounds fairly simple and can save you hundreds of dollars, it may be safer to take your care to a professional depending on your car’s engine. Do some research and check your car’s manual to figure out if this is basic car maintenance you feel comfortable doing yourself.  

Replacing your wipers

You may not think of your windshield wipers as a focal point of your car’s safety system, but if you were in a torrential downpour and your wipers suddenly snapped off, you’d be in trouble. Fortunately, changing the windshield wipers on your car may be easier than you think!

All you need to do is lift the wiper arm off of your windshield, depress the little tab that meets the wiper arm, and take the blade off the arm by pulling it downwards. Next, pull the new wiper blade onto the arm until you hear a click, which indicates that the new blade is in place.

Following a tutorial will have you completing this basic car maintenance in no time.

Changing a car battery

Someone jump starting a car with jumper cables

If you’re on the road far from home and your car battery starts to fizzle out, you may have no choice but to call a tow truck to get you back home or to the nearest auto shop. But if you’re starting to see the signs that it’s time to swap your battery out for a new one, you may want to save yourself a trip to the mechanic and do it yourself at home.

Start by removing the covers on your old battery and take off the negative cable (this will be black), making sure to move the clamp away from the post. Repeat this for the positive cable (the red one), then take out the screws, put your new battery in, and put the cables back into place. Again, following a thorough guide will help.

Learn basic car maintenance to start saving on car expenses

While taking care of the basic car maintenance you’d normally leave to the mechanic may seem daunting, a lot of these skills and procedures may be easier than you think. If you’re leaving paycheck to paycheck, every little bit of extra savings counts! As long you do your research, have the right tools, and keep up with the relevant safety procedures, you could start to cut down on some of your car expenses.

If you’re looking for more ways to save on car repairs, check out this guide for more tips.

Do you have any other  items on your basic car maintenance checklist? Share below!

Posted in: Lifestyle

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