If you’re like me, you’ve scrambled for cash more than once when life graced you with some surprise car trouble. I finally realized that I needed to incorporate car maintenance into my budget, and calculated that it costs me a little over $1,200 per year. Ouch.
Even though I didn’t have any relevant training or experience (I wasn’t even mechanically literate!), I became determined to cut down on my vehicle expenses by, gulp, popping the hood on DIY car maintenance.
I was thrilled and surprised to discover that I could save $400 per year just handling totally simple car maintenance tasks. I even found some freebies along the way!
1. Replace your own windshield wiper blades and save $15-$120.
Your wiper blades should cost $7-$20 apiece, and you should change them every year. Keep in mind, they don’t come in packs, and you’ll need two different sizes! (And that was when it hit me that one wiper is way longer than the other.)
Like everything on this list, google your make and model plus the car part you’re looking for before you purchase anything or attempt a DIY fix! There’s a seemingly endless array of sizes, styles, and brands, and not all of them will work for your car.
This usually takes me less than five minutes.
My cost is $20 for both blades, and the average shop cost is $15-$40 for parts, $20-$100 for labor, so $35-$140 total. (For real!) That brings our potential savings to $15-$120.
2. Clean your battery connections and potentially save $100-$260.
Cleaning the connections will greatly extend the life of your battery if corrosion has begun. Corrosion doesn’t happen to every battery, but when it does, it spreads like a plague and will destroy your entire battery. Eventually, this can harm all your car’s electronics!
Pop the hood every few months and examine your battery connections. If there is any gunk (usually hard, white stuff that looks kind of foamy), you should clean your battery.
You’ll potentially save $100-$260 by not having to replace your battery so soon, or more by not ruining your car!
3. Replace your battery and save $20-$60.
A lot of places will do this for free with purchase, so depending on where you buy your battery, you may not need to do this. Regardless of where you get the battery, you should pay less than $200. You don’t need anything crazy. The lower-end price point for new batteries is about $70-$100.
I usually spend $100 for a battery, and the average cost for parts and labor is $120-$200, making my potential savings $20-$60.
4. Change your own air filter and save $42-$52.
Normally, you should change your air filter after driving 15,000-30,000 miles. If you drive in a lot of dusty or polluted conditions, err on the side of caution and do this more often.
If your air filter stays pretty clean, just make sure to change it out once every three years.
I drive a lot and air filters are super cheap ($5–$15), so I change mine out every year.
I spent $18 total on this project, $8 for a hex screw set, and $10 for an air filter. Parts and labor usually cost $60-$70 at a shop, so I’m saving $42-$52.
5. Fix a wheel scratch and save at least $80 per wheel.
Okay, so this is just aesthetic, but I think the knowledge that I can do this myself keeps me from swearing in front of my kids when I curb my wheels.
You’ll need to buy painter’s tape, two different grades of sandpaper, and a spray-on wheel coating that matches your car’s wheels. You’ll also need some trash bags or a tarp to protect the surrounding areas of your car.
My supplies cost $20 total and will last for at least three to four repairs. I paid $2 for painter’s tape, $5 for sandpaper, and $13 for paint. Repair shops charge anywhere from $100-$1,000 per wheel, so I save $380+ after four fixes!
[TIP: If you have a knack for this, consider adding it to your side-hustle repertoire. I’ve fixed wheels for friends at $70 apiece!]
6. Save a few bucks by never paying for air in your tires.
You’ve probably used air pumps at gas stations that charge $0.25 to $2 for timed access to an air compressor, and that may only be enough for one tire. The good news is, not everyone charges for air.
I’ve noticed some Chevrons and Shells offer free air, whether or not the pump is marked to accept payment. Even more common than at gas stations, auto body shops will often fill your tires for free, regardless of if you’re paying for an additional service.
In a pinch (or if you’re super committed to that trim budget!), you can actually use a bike pump to re-inflate your tires. One of the nozzles on the pump should be the right size for your car, but be warned, you’re in for a vigorous workout!
I probably only save about $10 per year, but every little bit helps!
7. Track down free top-offs, or fill car fluids yourself and save on untold future repairs.
Who knew there were so many different types of fluids? Motor oil, windshield wiper fluid, brake fluid, transmission fluid, transaxle fluid, power-steering fluid, differential fluid, battery water — wait, are we talking about cars, or the beverage aisle at Whole Foods? Oh, still cars.
For all of the mentioned fluids, it is super important not to overfill! There should be fill lines indicating the appropriate amount.
If you’re really feeling these DIY jobs, you can invest less than $150 in the equipment needed to change your own motor oil, but I’m keeping it really cheap and simple.
8. Take advantage of free inspection promotions to catch problems early and compare prices.
Of course, this raises concerns about shops trying to sell you repairs that you don’t need. Take your car to several different businesses to track down legit problems and price points.
I typically save around 40% by shopping around for prices!