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DIY car repairs: 5 tips to help you get started

Someone Checking Tire Pressure

Working on your car at home can help you save money on vehicle service. But before you get started, there are a few things to consider. From having the right tools to keeping detailed records, learn how to set yourself—and your vehicle—up for success.

1. Secure the necessary tools

To start servicing your own car, you’ll need the tools for the job. Whether you buy your own or borrow them from a friend, having the right tools can make the task at hand a lot easier.

  • Mechanic’s tool set: These versatile tool sets generally include socket sets, wrenches, pliers, screwdrivers, and hex keys. These will typically be the tools you use the most when servicing your car at home.
  • Oil filter wrench: When performing an oil change, the oil filter is usually threaded on too tightly to remove by hand. An oil filter wrench gives you leverage to be able to loosen the filter more easily. Consult your owner’s manual to determine the size of your oil filter so you can buy the right size and type oil filter wrench.
  • Jack and jack stands: This is an essential tool for performing tasks underneath your vehicle. The jack allows you to lift the car up, and the stands must be used to support the car if you plan to work underneath it. Be sure you have a jack and stands with high enough capacities to safely lift and hold your vehicle. Consult your owner’s manual to find the proper jacking locations on your car to avoid damage.
  • Battery charger and jumper cables: If your car’s battery dies, a battery charger and jumper cables can help you start things up again. A charger can help bring your battery up to a full charge over the course of several hours. If you need to get back on the road right away, you can jump-start your vehicle from some else’s using jumper cables. Consult your owner’s manual for safe jump-starting instructions.
  • Tire pressure gauge: This tool helps you measure the air pressure in your tires, indicating when it’s time for a fill. Maintaining the appropriate air pressure helps keep your tires in good, safe working condition. You can find the pressure your tires should be at in your owner’s manual or on the sticker located on your vehicle’s door jamb.
  • Safety gear: Safety always comes first when working on your vehicle. At a minimum, invest in:
    • Work gloves: Good quality work gloves help protect your hands from cuts, scrapes, and burns and can give you a better grip.
    • Safety glasses: Safety glasses provide eye protection from dripping fluids, as well as flying or falling dirt and debris.

2. Review your car’s owner’s manual

Your car’s owner’s manual contains information that can make your repair jobs easier. Manuals include detailed instructions on how to service various parts of your vehicle including its engine, tires, brakes, and even wiper blades.

If you can’t locate yours, you can typically find model-specific manuals for free on the vehicle manufacturer’s website.

3. Do your homework

Start every car repair by conducting some research.

There are plenty of resources available from automotive experts online through video and step-by-step guides to help you service specific parts of your vehicle.

For example, you’ll want to know how to identify leaking fluids and dashboard warning lights. That’ll help you determine if you can fix the problem yourself or if you should take it to a professional.

Skipping research when learning something new can cost you extra time and money in the long run.

4. Have a camera available

Throughout the repair process, it’s helpful take pictures of your car to document specific placement of parts. You can refer to the images to reduce errors when reassembling components and complete repairs more successfully.

5. Keep a vehicle repair maintenance log

Once you’re finished with your service, record it in a detailed maintenance log, including the date and type of work completed. This will help you keep track of recurring maintenance needs.

You can use a notebook, purchase an actual maintenance log from your local auto parts store, or use a simple spreadsheet on your computer or smartphone to track your information.

Once you’ve got the standard tools and knowledge base, you’re ready to start servicing your car at home—and potentially saving money.

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