How To Save Money: Learn Basic Car Maintenance

How To Save Money: Learn Basic Car Maintenance

Rockin the motor with the top down!

Rockin the motor with the top down!

One of the things that has saved us thousands of dollars over the years is learning a little bit about how to work on cars. Basic car maintenance can cost hundreds of dollars at a mechanic shop, and cause you to waste thousands on labor for simple things you could be doing yourself. I have been doing car maintenance for about 7 years now, and here’s some tips and trick on how to start learning about those money-hungry hunks of metal we call cars.

Find A Friend

When I first met Michelle, I was in the middle of my “Blow Through $100,000” tirade, and won her over with my good looks (HAH!) and sweet pickup truck. But one of the first things that made her question our relationship was the fact that I didn’t even know how to check the oil on my vehicle. She literally had to show me where the dipstick was, and how to read it. DOH! It was then that I knew I needed to learn about cars, so I could be seen as someone who could at least somewhat take care of himself.

Luckily for me, her brothers were both into cars, so I started hanging out with them and watching how they did things like tune up a car, change the oil, replace belts, etc. Also, I wanted to get in good with her family, so I was spending quality family time staring at motors with them, becoming part of the family 🙂 . And after my money had all been spent, I downgraded my sweet truck to pay some bills, and ended up with a 1994 Honda Civic. Since I still didn’t know much about cars, I overheated it several times and finally realized I needed to fix something on it, but had no money for the CRAZY mechanic labor costs.

Start With Google

Wanting to show I had actually learned something about cars, I popped the hood, looked around for a bit, said “hmmmm” a few times…..and promptly went to the internet. Because that’s what smart people do. I searched “honda civic overheating”, and got like a billion results or something. I checked out the first few results, and found some good advice. Someone said “check to see if coolant is leaking from the bottom of the radiator.” SWEET! I hopped off the couch, popped the hood and…”wait. Where’s the radiator?”

I went back to the webpage, and scrolled down a bit to see that someone had posted a picture, with annotations circling everything, and even pointing out the radiator. AMAZING! So I went back out, looked under the radiator and found that it was very wet, and had been leaking. Done! All I needed to do was get a new radiator and install it. Though I had never done that before…

Car Forums Are Magic!

I scroll up on the site I was on, and realized it was called a “car forum.” Being that the internet was still kind of young, I didn’t know what a forum was. I started clicking around and realized that it was literally a HUGE repository of people helping other people with car stuff. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?! All I had to do was go to the top in the “Search” Bar, type in my problem, and BAM! There were dozens of threads of people who had already been through my same issues, figured them out, and even wrote up step by step instructions detailing how to fix it!

There were even HUGE sections called “FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions)” that were for common issues and fixes on my car, with pictures and instructions and everything. Someone compiled a HUGE list of links to all of these threads, for a master FAQ section to save yourself time and energy looking for your exact fix. Plus, these were the best of the best how-to threads, with all the detail you could ever want.

For me, I went the easy route and typed in “replace radiator”, and got a ton of good results. I saw something like this thread, which detailed everything out. And what’s better about instructions from REAL PEOPLE vs. the repair manual, is that they know the common issues and hangups people run into. They can tell you some work-arounds that’ll save time and money, and get you back on the road quicker and cheaper! And the best part is you can just post up a question, and REAL people can answer it for you, without charging a dime! Car forums really are Magic!

Get Some Basic Tools

Now that you are hip on car forums, and can do some really basic research on car maintenance, now you can look at getting some basic tools. I suggest grabbing a good socket set, like this one from Stanley. This is mostly what you will need for any car maintenance. In addition, for the bolts you can’t get to with a socket, you’ll want a basic set of wrench’s, like this one from Stanley. You’ll also want a screw driver set, like this one from Stanley.  At this point you’re only out $57, plus you’ll get it in 2 days with free shipping from Amazon Prime…(you signed up for this after reading my article, right?). Now, most cars do come with a jack, but it is really nice to have a decent rolling floor jack. That being said, mine was given to me, and I borrow jack stands because I have access to them. But you can pick up a sweet 3-ton jack like this one, and some jack stands as well.

Do Some Basic Maintenance

Now that you have a basic set of tools, time to get out and start using them! I recommend starting with something easy, like checking the fluids. Just Google “how to check oil on (your) car”, and you should get a quick and easy video on youtube, or some step-by-step instructions on a car forum. Next, I suggest replacing a headlight, or taillight if one goes out. This will allow you to bust out the screwdrivers or maybe even the socket set. Again, just throw it into the Google machine, and you’re good to go.

Find your answers here

Find your answers here

Now that you’ve used the tools a bit, I suggest doing something even more fun, like changing your oil. Now, I will say right now that you’ll only save $15 – $20 by doing this, but it’s more learning about your car to make you a more powerful car owner in the future. The more you know about what is going on with your car, the less money you’ll waste on it. Same with the other procedures, just Google it, and find a video or step-by-step on how to change the oil. You can do this in like 15 minutes, and you’ll feel pretty AWESOME afterwards, knowing you did it yourself. And if you don’t want to be covered in gunk, I suggest some latex gloves to keep the oil and other junk off your hands.

You Are Saving Money

At labor rates over $80 – $120 an hour, taking your car to a mechanic for basic maintenance is just throwing money away. Plus, they will most likely replace a bunch of other stuff that is not necessary, but maybe they “recommend” it because it allows them to charge more in labor (not hating on mechanics, but labor is where they profit, just a fact). With less than $100 in tools, you can change your oil, replace lights, tune-up the car,  replace the battery, change your brakes, and a TON of other things that will save you THOUSANDS in the long run. Plus, you’ll will stop buying new cars because you are afraid of them. You will gain confidence in how to maintain your depreciating asset, and heck, you might even enjoy it! You are helping your bottom like while helping protect your car’s bottom end…….wow…..really bad slogan….just forget I said that.

For those that need some more convincing, here’s some basic comparisons for a brake job we did recently. I had to take it to a shop because my car is like the ONLY ONE ON THE PLANET that get rusted and stuck, so I couldn’t’ get them off. But if I was going to do the work myself, here’s the cost:

Brake Rotors – $50
Brake Pads – $40
Brake Fluid – $7
Total – $97

Same parts replaced at a shop – $360

If I could have gotten my rotors off (haven’t had a problem on any other car), I would have saved $263! And that’s just the minimum. I went to Les Schwab and they quoted me OVER $500, because they said they’d have to service the calipers, and do the other brakes as well so they could “guarantee” their service, or some junk. Either way, a 2-hour (max) brake job can save hundreds right away.


...but it shouldn't take all night...

…but it shouldn’t take all night…

The point is, you can do more than you think. You CAN maintain your car, and actually ENJOY it! You can STOP OUTSOURCING everything and be proud of the fact that you took care of it yourself. And you WILL become a more confident person in general, because you will have gained some new skills. I say if you love your car, it will love you back.

Comments: Do you own a car? Have you ever replaced a light bulb? How many out there make it a habit to do your own car maintenance? Do you find yourself caring about and enjoying your vehicles more when you do the work yourself?

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  1. I’ve recently started to get a little more knowledgeable about cars and a little more comfortable with poking around under the hood.
    Money Beagle recently posted..When Other People Make It Look EasyMy Profile

    • It makes you feel safer driving around, doesn’t it? Knowing what is going on under the hood helps put your mind at ease, especially on longer trips.

  2. I always worry I will make things worse, but this post is encouraging. Video instructions of how to do anything are on youtube, which eases my mind a bit.
    Kurt @ Money Counselor recently posted..Wary of Stocks? Try Slow Money.My Profile

    • Definitely start small, on stuff that can’t really hurt (like changing a light). As always, use discretion, and if you’re not comfortable, watch a ton of videos, and I bet you will be 🙂

  3. I always try to convince myself that my time is worth more than what it would take to pay someone to maintain my car.

    I think I may have an inflated view of what my time is worth.

    But when I’m filling up the tank, I definitely take that squeegee to my windshield with a ferocious intensity, let me tell you.

    That glass is MAINTAINED!
    No Waste recently posted..Waste Of The Week AwardMy Profile

    • Cleanest glass on the BLOCK! BALLER!

      But for real, time spent fixing a car is not worthless. Heck, you might enjoy it, and take pride in your accomplishments. Nevermind the money saved, I think it’s a good use of time as well. Hard to convince people of this, though…

  4. I stopped changing the oil in my cars when I found a place that only charges $5 more than what I can buy the materials for myself. Since I have to put my car on jack stands to get to the oil filter, the time saved and hassle is worth $5 to me. They also don’t try to sell me any of that other crap like air filters (probably the easiest thing to change on a car) and the like.

    • Oil is one of those that competition has brought the price to a minimum, and changing doesn’t save much. But most everything else is worth it 🙂

  5. So I have a Honda and want to register for that sight. They’d like to know who recommended me. What is your user name?

  6. I have been getting my hands dirty recently and believe me the internet has been the source of my confidence to work on some things I would have paid someone else to do.
    Demaish recently posted..Optional premium costs that I keep in my budgetMy Profile

  7. I sent this to my husband to encourage him to learn about the cars a bit, and he replied “We’re not allowed to work on our cars in the parking lot.” Stupid HOA!
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..Edging toward Quality Food: ProposalMy Profile

    • Hah! Bummer about the rules. Either way, knowing a bit about cars helps provide some confidence and a sense of safety on road trips. Good to know what’s going on under the hood 🙂

  8. My dad used to do all the work on my car (as much as he could), but since he moved I need to start learning! My boyfriend did the same thing with my dad that you did with Michelle’s family. Any time one of our cars needed fixing, he would watch my dad do it and now he feels a bit better about navigation around the hood. They changed one of his belts together.

    When he had to put a new battery in his car last week, he watched a Youtube video on it and figured it out. You really do get to feel self-sufficient fixing things on your own. I did have the same issue when trying to change my brakes though (I have a Civic) – darn rust!
    E.M. recently posted..A Generous Family vs PrideMy Profile

  9. Haha, you’re good looks. I do all my own work on my vehicle if I can. I can do all the basics and change my own oil, brakes, winter tires, bla bla. There are lots of tutorials online but if you are still not sure don’t put your life on the line for something a professional should do. No amount of money can replace a human. I think keeping to the basics is a good start. great post.
    Canadian Budget Binder recently posted..Reader question: A man’s ego and his budgetMy Profile

    • Exercising discretion is always advised before jumping into anything dangerous, that’s for sure. I always disconnect the battery when working on anything in the car.

  10. I don’t have the confidence to do too much work on my car. A few years ago I did change the brake pads on my car because it was the only way I could afford them and they really needed to be changed. It took me probably 5x as long to do the job as it would have taken a pro but I did get it done. Now, that I have money I generally just default to having the shop do it unless it is really simple like replacing the air filter or a bulb.
    Andy Hough recently posted..Change of Plans – Back from HikeMy Profile

    • Definitely consult the internet before taking it to a shop. A quick video might show you the tricks to fix your car quickly 🙂

  11. This is something I’ve resolved to do just recently. My car’s been having a lot of trouble and I couldn’t agree more that I’m wasting money, and earning frustration, by not knowing more about how to fix things myself. First job: replace the battery. Second job: change the oil. Youtube has been a great resource for seeing how to do these things. And they’re really not that bad.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Guest Posting at Stacking BenjaminsMy Profile

    • YOU CAN DO IT!! I’ve been doing more and more, and feel pretty confident in doing most anything on a car now, maybe with the exception of ripping into the transmission. But I’m sure a video tutorial would make it easy enough 🙂

  12. This is one area of my life I regret not learning more about while growing up. I’ve done some basic oil changes before but nothing else.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted..“I’m Rich!” – How to Handle a Lump Sum of MoneyMy Profile

    • I didn’t learn this stuff growing up either, but started when I was 20. Never too late to start, and the internet is ready for your research 🙂

  13. I find that if you pay attention to the basics, you ultimately save a lot. Simple things like an oil change will save you a lot of money in the long run.
    krantcents recently posted..Some Things Get Better with Age!My Profile

    • Yup, basic maintenance on the recommended schedule will save a LOT of money and headaches down the road. You’ll add years to you car’s life 🙂

  14. Yes! And if you’re on the fence, the most important thing here is to just try it once. You’ll see just how easy it is and wonder why you haven’t tried sooner.

    I will say one thing though — some warranties can be very particular about what voids them, so I’d look into that before doing anything too serious.

    Great post! 🙂
    Debt Blag recently posted..In fulfilling the American Dream, location matters (as does city layout)My Profile

    • Yeah, if you have a warranty, then be careful, but hopefully you don’t buy a car with a warranty, because that is also a waste of money 😉

  15. I started working on cars after my brother (a mechanic) taught me some things. Now I have a project vehicle that I have brought back to life from nothing. I learned by doing, searching forums for answers, and youtube. You can only learn by doing and most of the work is super easy. Most people don’t do it because they are afraid they might break it or make it worse. That doesn’t happen often, unless you don’t follow instructions well.
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted..5 Rules For Using Credit Cards And Not Getting Into DebtMy Profile

    • May I ask what your project car is? My next car will be a 1992-1995 Civic EX 4 door, which I am going to turbo. Should be fun 🙂

      It really isn’t that tough, and videos make it a heckuva lot easier!

  16. I admit that I am a car maintenance outsourcer, but I feel like finding a great mechanic that I really trust means that I feel like a winner anyway. 🙂 Yeah, having all of my brake pads changed cost me $200, but that was worth it to me and $100 less than what other mechanics around here were charging. 🙂
    Crystal @ Prairie Ecothrifter recently posted..3 Moves that Can Hurt Your CareerMy Profile

  17. LOL, love that movie!!! Rick is a fanatic about doing YouTube and google searches to learn how to fix anything and everything, from cars to household repairs. I know we’ve saved thousands of dollars this way.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..The Most Dangerous Roadblock to Your Debt FreedomMy Profile

  18. This is great post as it is inspiring to know how simple it would be to operate if you have know-how about cars. I like the video. Thanks for sharing
    Sam Gill @ Digital Spikes recently posted..How to write and what to write when short of ideasMy Profile

  19. I wish we knew more about cars. We can do lawn mower maintenance. Does that count?
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Obamacare: Should I Take the Penalty Instead of Purchasing Health Insurance?My Profile

  20. “Car forums really are Magic!” – You’re telling me. I’ve been a Saab driver for a while, and driving a rare (and now, bankrupt) car has been a lesson in patience and knowing more than the mechanic.

    On this – “Now, most cars do come with a jack”. I wouldn’t use that for anything more than a tire change. I mean, it is nicknamed “The Widowmaker”, haha. If you’ve got to go under the car, grab a hydraulic jack and jack stands (for the children!).
    PK recently posted..What Motivates You?My Profile

  21. Performing preventative maintenance on a vehicle is of the utmost importance. The simple oil change is one of the easiest things that can be done to a car to keep it running good for a long time. Without doing oil changes, the engine could get a buildup of old smudgy oil that tends to slow things down a bit. This thick old smudgy oil can clog the ports of an engine which in turn reduces the amount of oil getting to the places that it needs to get to.

  22. I think for a responsible car user it is very important to keep taking care of the car at right time. One should take his/her car to any of the recognized auto repair centers to replace very old or damaged parts. It certainly will help to get the best performance from a car. This way you can save some unnecessary car expenses as well.

  23. Doing several maintenance tasks can increase your fuel economy. Your tires should be checked every month. If they are not properly inflated, or have the wrong tire pressure, you can be losing fuel economy.

    • Having your car go in for its normal check up is just like what we do when we have our yearly physicals. It makes sure that nothing is wrong, and if there are issues, you can then proceed to get them fixed. It will make your car reliable over the long haul because the maintenance will help diagnose any problems your car may have.

  24. Great mention of oil changes. Learning to do those yourself is the easiest way you can save money. Really anybody can learn to change their own oil. Thanks for the advice.

  25. Laurel Larsen says:

    My husband has made a goal to start learning how to take care of our cars on his own. One of the most helpful resources for him has been, like you say, to have a friend to work on projects with. Besides utilizing his friend’s expertise, he can have a little bit of fun while being productive! Also, I don’t think he would have been able to accomplish anything without Google and Youtube. You have lots of great tips here!

    • brake repair NJ says:

      A properly maintained car will run better and thus be more fuel-efficient. With today’s fluctuating gas prices, regular car inspections will save you money spent on fuel.

  26. Cindy Hoffman says:

    Hallo there Jacob, thanks a lot for sharing the amazing money saving tips on repairs and maintenance. I used to leave everything to my mechanic until that day when he gave me a surprise bill of $850 for fixing some few things, its as if he was asking me to learn some DIYs and sart fixing them on my own, and yes i did. Youtube has been a very good resource for me and I have learned a lot, from oil changing, to overheating 🙂 Thanks a lot for sharing the guide. It is such guides that make people’s lives easier.


  27. It’s amazing that you could have saved so much money by fixing your car’s brakes by yourself! It’s too bad that your brakes were too rusted to get off without taking it to a shop. I’d probably have taken the car to the shop anyway, since I don’t want to mess my car up more by trying to fix it myself, but it’s a great thing to do DIY car repairs if you’re able to. Thanks for the article!


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