Every car owner knows how expensive vehicle maintenance can be. And if you’re like me—a person who until very recently didn’t know anything about the mechanics of a car before doing the research and trying it out herself—then you know the trepidation that is felt each time you bring your car into an auto shop. Instead of blindly allowing a random auto-repair person to charge you whatever amount they see fit, put matters into your own hands, do it yourself, and save money. This post concludes our two-part series on how to save on parts and labor for minor vehicle maintenance and repairs. To see part one, click here. Hopefully these tips will build your confidence in vehicle knowledge as well as save you as many dollars as they have saved me!

Replace your own wiper blades

If you get your wiper blades replaced at a mechanic or dealership, expect to pay between double and triple what you would pay to do it yourself.

  • Example: You can get great replacement wipers for $20 or less at Auto Zone (or like discount retailer) depending on your vehicle make and model.
  • Potential cost savings: The average labor rate for a skilled auto mechanic is $100 per hour. So if it takes your mechanic 15 minutes to install your parts, you will pay $20 + $40 for blades = $60. You save $20 in labor by doing this minor repair yourself.

DIY Wiper Blade Change How-To Guide

This guide should work well so long as your vehicle does not require replacement of the full arm with each blade change.

What you’ll need: Cover for your hood (to avoid scratches), wiper blades, screwdriver.

  1. Pull up the wiper blade to a vertical position.
  2. Find the clip (usually about mid-way down on the blade) and press to release it.
  3. Slide the new wiper blade over the clip to install (wait for a "click" sound).
  4. Lay the blade flat against the windshield and replace the opposite wiper.
  5. Test them out to be sure they’re wiping properly—if they are, you’re done!

Note: For more help, view this helpful YouTube video, "How to Replace Wiper Blades."

Replace your own air filters

If you let a mechanic (or worse, your dealership) replace your air filters, you’ll overpay for the part plus pay for the mechanic's time–every time.

  • Example: Air filters typically cost $15 or less at Auto Zone (or like discount retailer) depending on your vehicle make and model.
  • Potential cost savings: The average labor rate for a skilled auto mechanic is $100 per hour. So if it takes your mechanic 15 minutes to install your parts, you’ll pay $20 + 30 for each filter = $50. You save $20 in labor by doing this minor repair yourself.

DIY Air Filter Replacement How-To Guide

This guide should work well so long as your vehicle's air filters are easily accessible.

What you’ll need: Gloves, protective eyewear, a new air filter.

  1. Be sure your car engine is warm or cool before you begin.
  2. Put on gloves and protective eyewear.
  3. Open your hood and locate the airbox (look for a broad hose connected to a rectangular box).
  4. Snap open the clips holding the top of the airbox in place (usually on the corners of the airbox), then shake the top a bit and gently lift it away.
  5. You will see the old air filter. Remove it. Examine it to be sure it needs changing (if it does, it will be full of dust and/or debris and no longer light in color – a good rule of thumb is to change your air filter every 6,000 miles).
  6. Take your new air filter and place it in position, taking care that it lines up properly edge to edge.
  7. Replace the box top and snap the clips back into place, making sure none of the air filter's edges are still visible.
  8. Clean away any remaining dust or debris—you’re done!

Note: For more help, view this helpful YouTube video, "How to Change Your Car Air Filter."

Replace your own spark plugs

A "spark plug" does exactly what it sounds like—it helps to provide the "spark" of ignition that helps your vehicle use fuel and air as power. When the spark plugs wear out, you may have trouble starting your engine or notice a rough idle, your gas consumption may rise (as mileage per gallon decreases), and you may lose pickup and acceleration capabilities.

  • Potential cost savings: Even high-end luxury model spark plugs will only run you about $20, and most economy vehicle spark plugs cost between $3-$4. But at $100 per hour in labor, the installation is what costs you. So, if necessary, pay for a single replacement, but be sure to ask lots of questions and learn where the plugs and wires are located and how to pop them out and back in. Then do future replacements yourself—and save $50-$100 or more on each replacement.

DIY Spark Plugs Replacement How-To Guide

This guide should work well so long as your vehicle's spark plugs are easily accessible.

What you’ll need: Gloves, protective eyewear, new spark plugs, perhaps spark plug wires, spark plug socket tool, torque wrench, anti-seize gel, boot protector grease, rags for cleaning.

  1. You may need to consult your owner's manual to discover where the spark plugs are placed (often in newer vehicles they’re under an engine cover of some kind).
  2. Put on gloves and protective eye gear.
  3. Depending on how many cylinders your car has, you’ll look for that many spark plugs.
  4. Use the socket tool and torque wrench to loosen and remove the old spark plugs one by one (depending on your car's make and model, replace these every 10,000 – 30,000 miles).
  5. Dab on just a bit of anti-seize gel around the threads (the screw-like indentations along the top sides of the spark plug)—don’t get any on the actual point of the spark plug.
  6. Then use the socket tool and torque wrench to insert and tighten the new spark plugs.
  7. Dab a bit of boot protector grease into the part of the wire (the "terminal") that will reattach to the spark plug.
  8. Loosen and remove each wire cap with wires, match up the length with a new wire cap with wires, then snap the new wire cap into place (listen for a "click") and reattach it to the base.
  9. Do this for each set of wires until all are replaced.
  10. Start up the engine and listen to make sure the start-up and idling is quick and quiet.

Note: For more help, view this helpful YouTube video, "Changing Spark Plugs & Replacing Plug Wires."

Tips to Save on Pricey Summer Car Maintenance and Repairs, Part 2