Cars can be expensive to fix and maintain, but there are some repairs nearly anyone can do at home to save money.
Depending on the model, a lot of the maintenance and beginner repairs on this list can be done with basic hand tools, and they won’t cost a lot to fix. Some repairs listed here may call for special tools, and these can be worth owning if you plan to use them regularly. Others may call for no tools, taking up very little of your time. Doing some of these repairs yourself can help you save money in the long run and improve the life and performance of your vehicle.
1. Air Filters
Common tools required: None (usually)
Although you might want to have on hand a flat blade screwdriver, ratchet, and sockets.
Unless your air filter housing is held together by screws or bolts, changing the engine air filter is a simple process that doesn’t require any tools. In most cases, you’ll just have to undo the clips on the housing, lift the housing cover, and remove the air filter. The install is just as easy, requiring you to align the new filter according to the directional arrows if it has them, close the cover, and latch the clips that secure the cover in place.
Changing the cabin air filter is similar, but depending on your model, you may have to open the hood or remove the glove box to reach it.
2. Wiper Blades
Common tools required: None
Changing the wiper blades is so common that your manual might have tips to guide you. You just need to find and press the clip on the wiper blade, slide it off the hook, and carefully lower the wiper arm down. To install, simply raise the wiper arm, and pull the wiper blade up onto the hook until it clicks into place.
3. Headlights, Tail Lights, and Bulbs
Common tools required: Gloves, flat head screwdriver, ratchet, and sockets
If you’re just changing the bulbs and your headlight is easy to access, all you’ll need is a pair of gloves. Some headlight bulbs and turn signal bulbs come with wire clips that can be tricky to reinstall, but usually it’s as easy as turning the socket counterclockwise, removing the bulb, inserting the new one, and turning the socket clockwise to lock it in.
Pro Tip: Be sure not the touch the bulb with your bare hands, as this will lower the lifespan of the bulb.
To change the tail light bulb, you’ll need to remove the tail light housing.
Sometimes headlights can be hard to reach and require the removal of other parts, but it can be the same as changing some tail light housings. In simple cases, you just need to remove the bolts from the light, pull the light out, and disconnect the wiring harnesses. Then turn the sockets counterclockwise to remove them, transfer them over, and reverse the procedure.
Common tools required: 10mm wrench, ratchet, socket, socket extension
It will be hard to start your car without a working battery. These powerhouses start our cars and store the electrical power needed to keep our amenities and electrical car parts running, and they’re also easy to replace. If your car won’t start and you suspect it’s the battery, you can test the voltage with a volt meter and swap it out with a new one in little time.
You just need to loosen the negative battery terminal and then the positive battery terminal, typically with a 10mm wrench. Then, if there’s a hold down bolt, remove that. The battery will usually come out after that.
Always remember to remove the negative cable first, and when you reinstall, attach the negative cable last.
5. Brake Pads
Common tools required: Sockets, ratchet, socket extension, breaker bar, torque wrench, brake grease, wire brush, bungee cord, flat blade screwdriver, jack and jack stand, anti-seize grease
Brake pads are the most cost-effective repair on the list. The difference you’ll save in doing this repair yourself can be in the hundreds. Mechanics can charge anywhere from $500 to $800 for an entire brake job, when you can buy a full brake pad kit from 1A Auto for much less.
You may have to spend extra on special tools, but if you plan on doing this repair regularly, it may be worth it.
The process can vary depending on the model, but to remove the brake pads, an easy repair involves loosening the lug nuts on the wheel and then securing the vehicle on jack stands. Then remove the bolts the rest of the way, and remove the wheel and tire. From there, if you’re just changing the pads, the process can be as easy as removing a few bolts on the brake caliper and sticking new pads to the caliper bracket and rotor. Then you’ll need to torque the caliper bolts, reinstall the wheel and lug nuts, lower the vehicle, and torque the lug nuts on the wheel.
If you’re looking to do a full brake job, you’ll need to remove the caliper bracket and rotors too.
6. Changing the Oil and Other Fluids
Tools required: Ratchet, sockets, torque wrench, oil filter, oil
Oil changes are so common, especially if you have a long commute, that doing them yourself can help you save big in some cases. The steps involve jacking up the vehicle, loosening the oil pan bolt, draining the oil into a drain pan, and tightening the oil pan bolt. Then with a drain pan ready, loosen the oil filter and let any excess oil drain. Then place some oil around the ring of the new filter and twist it into place. Simply pour in the new and appropriate oil and check the levels.
It’s important to check other fluids, such as the coolant, power steering, windshield washer, and transmission fluid. Each should have certain traits, and if you suspect a leak, you can follow our infographic.
To check the fluids, look to see if there’s a fill line on the bottle. Check for any debris or discoloring. If you need to replace or bleed any fluid, each process is different, and you can find some of our How-To videos here.
Common tools needed: None (usually)
Usually no tools are needed to replace your sensors but you may want to make sure you have a flat blade screwdriver, ratchet, or sockets around, just in case.
There are many sensors on our cars that constantly communicate updates to the computer to assure that everything is running smoothly. Mass air flow (MAF) sensors, manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensors, coolant temperature sensors, camshaft position sensors and more can be removed fairly easily. Of course it depends on the model, but many of these sensors are in plain sight and only require the remove of a bolt and the disconnection of the wiring harness to remove them.
Sensors serve many different purposes, but their main purpose is to communicate measurements to the computer or electronic control unit (ECU) to assure that all is running efficiently. Failing to change a sensor can leave your vehicle with a rough idle, loss of power, and in some cases inoperable. For example, your computer needs to know how much air to let in to keep a consistent fuel-to-air ratio. Without a functioning mass air flow sensor or oxygen sensor, your vehicle will have a hard time creating a smooth combustion in the engine.
8. Blower Motor
Common tools needed: Ratchet, socket, socket extension, Phillips screwdriver
Not enough air running out the vents when you want A/C? It could be the blower motor. Removing the blower motor in most cars is a simple process. You just need to reach under the glove box, and in some cases remove the glove box, and remove a few screws or bolts from the motor. Then disconnect the wiring harness and lower it down and out.
The blower motor pushes hot or cold air into the cabin and is controlled by the HVAC system buttons. Without a working blower motor, you’ll have a hard time getting the interior temperature you want.
9. Hood Struts and Tailgate Cables
Common tools needed: Flat blade screwdriver, assistant
You’ll probably need a helper to remove hood or hatch struts, but the process can be quick and easy. Once you have your assistant holding the hood up, you can pry a clip out on the strut with a flat head screwdriver and pull the end off of the stud. Repeat the process for the other end. Then to replace, press both ends onto the stud until it clips. Repeat the process on the other side.
To remove tail gate cables, it can be as straightforward as lowering your tailgate and sliding the clip off of its stud. You may have to remove a bolt from one end, but they will come out fairly easily. Simply reverse the process to reinstall.
Hood struts can help support the weight of your trunk lid, hatch, cargo door, or hood, and they also allow you to open and close the hood safely. A worn out hood strut can lead to a trunk lid or hood that won’t stay open and offers little resistance to help open and close the hood safely.
10. Ignition Coils, Spark Plug Wires, and Spark Plugs
Common tools needed: Ratchet, sockets, socket extension, 5/8 spark plug socket, torque wrench
This repair isn’t always simple and easy, but it can be depending on your engine. If you have a six or eight cylinder engine, you may have to remove other components to reach the spark plugs, but the repair can be easy for simpler engines.
Steps can include the disconnection of the ignition coils and the removal of a bolt from the coil. Then slide the coil up and out. Spark plug wires can also be as easy, and they need to be disconnected from both ends and reconnected with the new wire.
To remove the typical spark plug, it’s always best to have a 5/8” spark plug socket, an extension, and a torque wrench. You’ll want to torque the spark plugs to the appropriate spec when you reinstall to keep from stripping the spark plug splines.
Ignition coils, spark plug wires, and spark plugs all help with the combustion process inside the engine. Ignition coils convert 12 volts to thousands of volts to allow the spark plug to create a spark, which ignites the fuel and gives your car the power needed to move forward. Spark plug wires are the main channel used to transfer the needed electricity to the ignition coils. Without any of these working, your engine will not have enough electricity to create a spark in one of your engine cylinders, leading to a misfire and possibly throwing off the timing of your engine.