DIY Car Care Tips

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Got car issues that pop up out of nowhere? See if you can fix them on your own.

You don’t have to be a car geek to perform basic car maintenance and repair because there are fixes that easy to do, helping you avoid costly trips to the mechanic shop while extending your car’s life.

Here are some of the most common car issues that you can DIY:

1. Air Filter Replacement

Cabin air filters need to be replaced at least once a year to avoid being clogged, which causes heating and cooling system problems.

Generally, this procedure takes less than 30 minutes to do and only requires a Phillips screwdriver. Also, your car owner’s manual usually comes with an instruction on air filter replacement, but if it’s nowhere to be found, you can use the following guide:

  1. Unscrew the glove box hinges. Tilt it down by pressing in on both sides of the glove box then pull it free to access the filter tray.
  2. Slide the filter tray and the old filter out. Take note of the orientation of the pleats.
  3. Install the new filter in the same direction.
  4. Slide the filter tray back into place.
  5. Reassemble the glove box.

2. Headlights Cleaning

Cloudy headlights do not need to be replaced if the cloudiness is on the outside of the lens. You just need to sand and buff it with a headlight restoration kit that you can easily buy at any auto parts store.

To clean cloudy headlights:

  1. Mask off the areas around the headlight to prevent paint damage.
  2. Soften the remaining clear coat by applying an activator solution from the kit.
  3. Wipe the lens clean.
  4. Wet-sand the lend in a circular pattern with medium pressure starting with the coarsest sandpaper towards the finest grit.
  5. Re-wet the lens often with clear water.
  6. Wipe off the polishing compound and ensure that the headlight lens is dry.
  7. Apply the new clear coat. Let it dry for four to six hours before using.

Pro Tip:

If the headlights’ cloudiness is on the inside of the lens and if you see moisture droplets or hairline cracks, the headlights can’t be restored and need to be replaced.

3. Cleaning or Replacing Corroded Battery Terminals

Corroded battery terminals mess up your car’s charging system and computer-controlled systems. To avoid electrical problems, clean your battery terminals regularly or replaced it with a new one.

These procedures usually take about an hour and require a set of wrenches and a hacksaw to perform.

Cleaning

If the battery terminals have minor corrosion, you don’t need to replace it. Simply remove them and clean with a wire brush.

  1. Neutralize the battery acid by applying a baking soda/water solution with a wire brush or using a battery terminal spray cleaner.
  2. Wipe off the battery dry with paper towels.
  3. Apply acid-neutralizing felt pads to the posts.
  4. Connect the cleaned terminals.
  5. Coat each terminal with an anti-corrosive spray as a finishing touch.

Replacement

You need to install new plastic guards if the old ones are damaged. However, if both terminals don’t clamp tight or the corrosion is eating away at the metal, replacement is necessary.

  1. Disconnect both battery terminals.
  2. Hacksaw it from the cable using slip-joint pliers to hold the terminal.
  3. Cut off about 1.25 cm of insulation from each cable.
  4. Clean the copper strands with a baking soda/water solution using a wire brush.
  5. Dry the cable with compressed air.
  6. Keep the heat-shrink tubing over the cable out of the way by sliding it down.
  7. Insert the main cable and smaller cables into the compression nut.
  8. Screw on the battery terminal and tighten until snug.
  9. Slide the heat-shrink tubing over the connection.
  10. Use a heat gun to shrink it.

Safety Reminders:

  • Never forget to disconnect the battery terminals before sawing them.
  • Do not smoke when working on car batteries.
  • Always wear eye protection.

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4. Draining and Refilling Coolant

Coolant needs to be changed every 40,000 kilometres if it’s a green coolant or 160,000 kilometres if it’s an extended-life model. A worn coolant can damage your radiator, heater core, and water pump.

Changing the coolant usually takes about an hour and requires an air-powered refilling tool. Before doing the procedure, check your car owner’s manual for the instructions and the recommended coolant for your vehicle.

Older Cars

  1. Open the drain cock. Depending on the type of drain cock, you can unscrew it, twist a quarter turn, or twist and pull.
  2. Use slip-joint pliers to push together the clamp spring and slip the clamp away from the neck.
  3. Pull the hose free and drain the remaining coolant. Use a hose clamp pliers if it is difficult to access.
  4. Mix a gallon of full-strength coolant with a gallon of distilled water and it to the radiator.

New Cars

Let your car’s engine cool down to check the condition of your coolant. Proceed to DIY if the cooling system is not contaminated with rust or oil. If it looks rusty, has crude or oil floating on the top, or looks like chocolate milk, call a professional.

To DIY, prepare:

  • Wrenches and screwdrivers
  • 2 gallons of new coolant
  • Air-powered refill tool
  • Hose removal tool
  • Air compressor
  • Drain pan
  • Absorbent paper towels
  • Shop manual to locate block drain plugs
  1. Check the coolant colour by removing the radiator or coolant reservoir cap. If it’s clean, proceed to DIY by jacking up the vehicle and supporting it with jack stands.
  2. Place a large drain pan under the radiator.
  3. Use pliers or screwdrivers to loosen the lower radiator hose clamp and remove the hose. You may need a hose removal tool to break it loose.
  4. Drain the radiator and water pump completely.
  5. Reattach the lower radiator hose and clamp.
  6. Locate and remove the block drain plugs.
  7. Reinstall the block drain plugs.
  8. Refill the coolant.

To refill a fresh coolant:

  1. Insert the air tool into the radiator neck or overflow bottle.
  2. Connect the exhaust hose and compressed airline.
  3. Route the open end of the tool’s exhaust hose into an empty gallon jug or pail.
  4. Open the valve and let the vacuum rise until the needle reaches the edge of the red zone on the gauge.
  5. Fill it with coolant. As it refills the system, the vacuum sucks out any air pockets.
  6. Once full, reinstall the radiator or overflow tank caps and remove the jack stands.

5. Fixing a Malfunctioning Defogger Grid

This DIY car maintenance job requires a Rear Window Defogger Repair Kit Set that you can easily find at any auto parts store. It usually comes with instructions that help you complete the task in just about half an hour.

To repair the tab:

  1. Use the sandpaper to smoothen the rough solder surface on the loose tab.
  2. Clean the tab and the grid area where the tab broke off with alcohol.
  3. Apply the activator to both areas. Let it dry for two minutes.
  4. Apply the mixture of glue and electrically conductive silver particles to the tab.
  5. Press the tab onto the contact area for two minutes or until the adhesive sets up.
  6. Wait 24 hours to use the defogger.

To repair the broken grid line:

  1. Clean the area around the break with alcohol and let it dry.
  2. Apply the sticky side of the wax paper to the glass, making sure to align the stencil to the grid line.
  3. Brush on the conductive paint. Let it dry for 24 hours before using the defogger.

To repair the grid line on your defogger:

  1. Attach the stencil from the kit to the broken grid section.
  2. Brush on the electrically conductive paint.
  3. Let it dry and then remove the stencil.
  4. Use a single-edge razor blade for finishing touches but be careful not to damage other grid lines.


These are just some of the many car repair and maintenance procedures that you can perform on your own. If you need more DIY tips, you can search through countless sources online, including YouTube videos that let you watch the actual procedures.

However, always remember that there is a limit to what you can DIY. If you are unsure of how to go about a car issue, let a professional car mechanic check it. Their years of training and expertise allow them to efficiently assess car problems, as well as recommend and perform the best possible fixes.

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