The small things that go wrong with our cars can end up costing a lot to fix in the long run, or even leave us stranded on the side of the road. But you can save money and keep your car working reliably by doing your own basic maintenance and touch-ups.
Replace a windshield wiper blade
Restore your headlights
Change a flat tire
Repair paint chips and scratches
Replace a taillight
Jumpstart a dead battery
Change a spark plug
Remove tint from a car window
Wax your car
Change a car battery
Unclip your old windshield wipers by placing pressure downwards from the top of the blade until it comes loose. Refer to your car’s owner’s manual to make sure your new blades are the right size, or measure the size of your old blades. Slide your new blade into the clips, applying pressure until you hear a clicking sound. Test out your new blades to make sure they’re fastened tightly in place.
You’ll need a headlight restoration kit with a buffer head that can be attached as a power drill accessory. Before beginning, use masking tape to protect the area around your headlight lens. Set your drill to clockwise direction and set speed to high. Attach the buffer ball to your drill and add a coin-sized dollop of polish to the centre of it. Start the motor slowly to avoid spraying the polish, and apply the polish evenly to your headlight lens. Add small amounts of polish as needed, and overlap your motions until the entire lens looks clear. Finish by buffing with a terry cloth towel. Watch more on headlight restoration here.
Your car must be parked on a flat, level surface to begin. Use bricks or rocks to lock off the tires that are not being changed and ensure your car stays put. Use your lug wrench to loosen the nuts by turning them counter-clockwise, but do not remove the nuts yet. Use a jack to raise your car, placing the jack under the frame near the flat tire. Place an axle stand underneath the frame, and lower the jack until the frame rests on the stand. Remove the lug nuts and stow them in a safe place. Remove the tire. Place your spare tire on to the wheel base, and put the lug nuts back in place and tighten by hand. Lower your jack so the car is on the ground, and then tighten the nuts by turning them clockwise with the lug wrench. Stow your flat tire and equipment in the trunk and drive to the nearest service station.
Clean the surface of the chipped area with rubbing alcohol and paper towel. If the surface is rough, you may sand it down with fine grain sandpaper. Wearing latex or rubber gloves to protect your hands, open your bottle of touch-up paint. Use the brush attached to the cap to dab a small amount of paint over the scratched area and ensure the colour matches your car. Paint the rest of the scratch by holding the brush between your index finger and thumb, with your pinkie finger of the same hand firmly placed on the car’s surface to give you control. You’ll want to keep the paint dry for at least 24 hours, then return with a fine-grit sandpaper to smooth the surface. Wipe with a terry cloth, apply a coat of wax, and wipe again.
Open your trunk to access the screws of your taillight assembly. You may have to lift the carpet of your trunk. Remove the screws with a screwdriver and stow them somewhere for safekeeping. Pop out the light assembly, and twist the socket to remove it. Swap out the bulb and insert the new bulb, and make sure the electrical contacts are not burnt. Screw the socket back into place, and then reinstall the assembly with the screws. Have a friend confirm your taillights are turning on when your car is running and you apply pressure to the brake pedal.
Park two cars so they are facing each other, hood to hood, but not touching. Confirm the battery voltages match. Turn off the booster car, and attach the red jumper cable to the positive terminal on the battery (it is slightly larger than the negative terminal). Clip the other end to the positive terminal on the battery of the car being boosted. Place the black jumper cable on the negative terminal of the booster car, and clamp the ground end to any solid metal part on the boosted car’s engine or frame. Turn on the booster car and rev the engine. A few minutes later, start the boosted car. If it doesn’t start, try to reconnect the cables and attempt again.
Open your hood and look at your car’s engine, locate the spark plugs screwed directly into the engine, in a row, one per cylinder. (These may be hard to find, and very difficult to replace, on some modern cars.) Each wire goes to a specific spark plug, so change one by one. Remove the L-shaped rubber boot that is attached to the plug wire and reveal the spark plug’s terminal. Remove dirt around the plug and use a ratchet to remove the spark plug, turning counter-clockwise to loosen. Gap your new spark plug, referring to your car’s owner’s manual to get the right gap size information. Use a gapping tool to change the size of the spark plug’s electrical connection. Insert the new spark plug into the cylinder and tighten with a ratchet, without locking the plug. Replace the rubber cover and reconnect the wire firmly. Turn on your engine and listen to esnure it sounds like it’s running smoothly.
Use a shaving razor, scrape at the edge of the film until you can get a finger hold on the tint. Peel off the film. Spray cleaner on to your window with a spray bottle, and stick the film back to your window. Wait a few minutes, then remove the film again — this will peel off more of the tint sticking to your window. Use the razor to remove the remaining tint.
Pick a cool, shady spot so the wax won’t bake onto your car. Make sure your car is clean and dry before beginning. Dab a wax sponge in your wax, picking up about two tablespoons of wax. Rub the wax on the car with a small circular motion, moving in a line. Wax small sections at a time and note the route you’re taking. Remove the wax in the same path you took to apply the wax. Use a soft, terry cloth towel to remove all the wax residue. Polish your car with a cheesecloth.
Remove your old battery by using a socket and ratchet to loosen the bolts holding the negative cable clamp connected to the negative terminal. Loosen the nut, twist, and pull up on the black cable to remove it. Repeat for the positive terminal. Grip your battery on both sides and remove it from the tray. Clean your tray, terminal connectors, and hold-down clamp of any corrosion using water and a wire brush. Place the new battery in the tray and reconnect the terminals using your socket and ratchet to tighten them until they can no longer be moved. Test-start your car to make sure everything’s in place.