The Lifestyle Digs

Simple Maintenance for Frugal Car Owners

I’m always watching my money, so I’m a big fan of simple maintenance for frugal car owners. I don’t need a mechanic take care of every little thing on my car.

There are quite a few things you can do yourself and save some bucks. However, you want to be careful you’re not tackling major fix it projects on your car if you’re not experienced at DIY repairs. Don’t touch that fuel filter! You might make the problem worse, and the next thing you know you have to spend money to have a tow truck driver take your vehicle to a garage so that a qualified mechanic can repair it correctly.

Ka ching times two!

Ladies, we’re not always going to have a man around who’s handy at fixing a car. There are a few things we should all know how to do.

CHANGING A TIRE

When I was 15 years old, before I even knew how to drive a car, my father taught me how to change a tire. I practiced on out boat trailer.

Use a star wrench to loosen the nuts, jack it up, use fingers to remove nuts, tire off, tire on, tighten the bolts, jack it back down again. And then really give ‘er to tighten the nuts when the car’s back on the ground!

I can’t tell you how many times in my life, especially in my twenties, how glad I was that I knew how to change a tire!

One car I had, the tires just seemed to go flat for no reason. I’d be driving along, minding my own business, and then all of a sudden, thump, thump, thump, that tire is flat!

You can find YouTube videos for just about everything these days. Here’s a fellow who gives a few tips and a quick demonstration of how to change a flat tire.

A couple of things this guy doesn’t mention is that most tires are usually mounted by someone using power tools. Which means we practically break our wrists trying to loosen up the darned nut!

I’ve had to stand on the wrench, with one hand on the car to balance myself, and jump up and down on it! So there’s a free tip for you!

Who remembers I Love Lucy and the road trip Lucy and Ethel took to Florida? Well they had to change a flat tire. Here’s a few laughs and good advice on how not to change a tire!

CHECKING TIRE PRESSURE

It’s a good idea to check your tire pressure regularly. To do that, you’ll need a tire pressure gauge. (Disclosure: I’m an Amazon associate. If you click the link and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.)

They’re about the size of a pen, and it’s a good idea to keep a tire pressure gauge in each vehicle you own. You can buy one at Walmart, Canadian Tire, gas station, and many other stores.

Remove the tire stem cap, push the pressure gauge into the stem. A little stick like thing with numbers on it pops up. That’s the tire pressure reading. To find out what pressure your tires should be at, check inside your driver’s side door. There should be a sticker. Most cars I’ve owned, the tire pressure is between 30 and 38 psi.

I keep a tire pressure pump inside my car just in case of an emergency. It plugs into the cigarette lighter and takes a few minutes to fill up the tire.

It’s also pretty handy for filling my bike tires!

When I was a kid we used to ride our bikes to the gas station and use the air pump to fill up the tires. As an adult, I did the same thing with the car – check the air pressure and put more air in at gas stations. If you haven’t done this in awhile, most gas stations charge you now for the air.

Wow! Really? We have to pay money for air?

Frugal time! That’s why I own a portable air compressor and so should you. You can buy one at Walmart and any store that sells car parts and accessories like Canadian Tire.

LEAKY HOSE

When I was about 24 years old, I moved up to Kamloops in British Columbia’s interior for two years. That’s where I dated a hillbilly!

He was a decent mechanic, so obviously this incident happened before I met him.

The radiator gauge on my car was running hot so I pulled over to check out what was happening. I popped the hood and scanned the innards of the engine compartment.

I noticed a leaking hose.

Hmm, what should I do?

This was back in the days when I used to keep an emergency tool kit in my car, and luckily I had duct tape! I wrapped the tape around the hole in the hose. That slowed down the leak.

I drove to a garage and saw a mechanic. He was quite impressed with my patch and said: “Most women would have kept driving on it and destroyed the engine.” Then he quickly added, “And a lot of men would have too!”

He replaced the hose, and I don’t recall how much that cost. The repair bill would have been much higher if I’d kept driving until the radiator blew.

THE BURNT FUSE

A car has a bunch of fuses that control electrical components.

If your radio or windshield wiper stops working, check the fuse box first. It’ll be located somewhere under the dashboard, usually on the driver’s side foot well. You might have to crack open the owner’s manual to find where it’s hiding.

You’ll know the fuse is blown because the filament wire inside the glass will be broken. Fuses come in different voltages. Make sure you’re replacing the same type of fuse. The diagram on the fuse box will help you figure out what each fuse belongs to and the amp.

Fuses are usually inexpensive and easy to replace. The thing is most people don’t keep a supply of fuses at home and it means running to a store that sells car parts to buy a fuse.

When I was twenty-seven I was on a road trip to California for a few weeks, mostly staying with my aunt in Del Mar.

I was in Anaheim for a night and something went wrong with my car. I don’t even remember now what it was, but I took it into a garage and had a mechanic look at it. It turned out to be a burned out fuse that he replaced and it was pretty pricey for 30 years ago. About $15. For a fuse that cost about a dollar that I could have changed had I been able to diagnose the problem.

WIPER BLADES

Changing the wiper blades on your car should be another easy task that you can do instead of paying a mechanic.

You’ll know you need new wiper blades if the ones on your car are streaking your windows or if you see separation of the rubber blade from the arm.

It’s a good idea to change both the front wiper blades at the same time. If only one appears to be failing, the other one’s probably not too far behind.

Use a measuring tape so you know what size of wiper blades to buy. If you forget, just about every place selling auto parts has a book or digital device where you can look up the year and make of your car and get a list of suitable wipers.

You can also Google it!

If your car has a back wiper blade, it will be a smaller wiper blade size than your windshield wiper blades. And sometimes all three blades are different sizes! On my Mazda 3, the blade size for the wiper on the driver’s side is 24″, the passenger side wiper is a 19″ blade, and the back window’s blade is 14″. Yikes!

Usually wiper blades snap in and out and are easy enough to replace yourself. Sometimes the wiper blade has a protective cover over it, so don’t forget to remove it. I couldn’t figure out why my new back wiper blade wasn’t really doing a much better job than the blade I removed. I’m embarrassed to say it took me a few months to realize there was a protective guard over the blade! I slid it off and the back window cleaning is much better now.

Your mechanic will be happy to charge you for a windshield wiper install, and put a mark up on the price of the blades he’s selling to you.

WINDOW WASHER FLUID

You can add windshield washer fluid to your car and avoid paying your mechanic to do it.

Washer fluid costs less than $5 for a jug that should last you a long time. I used to buy a jug whenever I saw it on sale. I haven’t bought any in years, but I’m down to my last jug now.

Pop your engine hood and look for a reservoir with a cap that says “windshield washer”. It’s probably closer to the back of the engine, near the windshield.

You might need a funnel to add the windshield washer fluid, or if you have a steady hand, just unscrew the lid on the jug and pour it in.

Pink windshield washer fluid is good for summer temperatures. If you live in Florida or Hawaii you can buy the pink washer fluid year round. The blue windshield washer is for winter temperatures, and doesn’t freeze. I use it year round because I don’t go through washer fluid fast enough that I need to swap it out for summer and winter windshield washing.

Make sure you’re pouring the windshield washer into the correct reservoir. There are various other places in your engine that accept liquids like oil, brake, radiator, and power steering.

Keeping in the same theme, you can check the fluid levels in all of those yourself, and top up as needed.

OIL CHANGE

You might know how to pull the oil dipstick and check if you need to add more oil to your car’s engine, but do you know how to do an oil change?

I learned how to change oil in the car when I was a teenager.

Back in the olden days when cars were higher off the ground and it was easier to slide underneath them.

My father stood beside the car and gave me instructions on how to change the oil. I had a pan to catch the oil and I used a socket wrench to get the oil plug off. Then I was always butterfingers, losing the plug into the oil pan every time! Then I got oily fingers retrieving it.

These days cars are built closer to the ground and have to be jacked up a bit before sliding under.

Older cars used to take a pretty basic oil, 10W30. These days cars take a different formula. My Mazda 3 takes a synthetic oil 0W20.

Yeah try finding that one at the store!

As I got older, it became tougher to crawl under the car to change the oil. Especially when I started buying newer cars built closer to the ground. These days I take my car into a mechanic for the oil change.

It also eliminates the hassle of trying to find a recycle place that accepts used oil.

BURNT OUT HEADLIGHT OR TAIL LIGHT

If you have a screw driver, you can replace a head light or tail light on your car.

A YouTube video on how to change your car’s lights will be your new friend.

Years ago I owned a Honda Accord, and had to practically take the entire paneling off the back of that car to change a tail light!

And what’s with car manufacturers making headlights tough to access unless you have little hands? Which fortunately I do, but I still end up scraping my knuckles when changing a headlight.

Do the frugal thing and change your own headlight instead of paying your mechanic half an hour’s labor to do it. Plus the cost of the light.

AUTO CLUB MEMBERSHIP

Since 1982 I’ve been a member of BCAA (British Columbia Automobile Association). This is the regional equivalent of the AAA or CAA.

I’ve been lucky for many years and haven’t had to deal with a flat tire while I’ve been out driving. If it happens, I’m more inclined to call BCAA to send a tow truck to change my tire.

I’m getting older, my fingers are getting arthritic, and lifting heavy things is difficult. Not to mention getting dirty. I pay for an auto club membership, so I’m happy having someone else take care of changing tires.

If I really had to, I know I can still change a tire.

Over the years I’ve had a couple of break downs where I needed a tow, a jump start, or a jerry can of gas.

Oops on that last one!

I really urge everyone to get an auto club membership. It’s peace of mind if you have a break down. I think my membership gives me a free tow for 150 miles – for six tows a year. That beats paying the tow truck company directly per mile. Even a short tow if your car is stuck in the mud will probably cost around $75. Around the same price as an annual membership to an auto club like CAA or AAA.

Are you willing to try some DIY car maintenance to save a few bucks?

Posted on April 18, 2021 by Cheryl @ The Lifestyle Digs.

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