Learn the Basics of Auto Mechanics

Save Money by Doing Your Own Car Repairs

Woman checking oil in car

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It can be difficult to make your own auto repairs if you don't know the basics. Mechanics have their own lingo, tools, and specifications that anyone can learn. Whether it's an emergency or routine maintenance, let's explore some of the car repairs you can easily do at home with a few tips.

Auto Repair Essentials

Mechanics require tools and there are a few essentials that you'll need to make most car repairs. A beginner's set of tools can include screwdrivers, a few wrenches, pliers, and a good pair of channel locks. Add a jack, penetrating oil, and a little safety gear and you're good to go. What you don't have means a trip to the parts store, but eventually you'll have a garage full after enough repairs, so don't worry about that.

You will also want to get your hands on a good car repair manual. A manual that's specific to your model of car can give you great insight into where parts are located and any special functions or techniques you need to use. Remember, while cars are essentially the same, different makes and models do have subtle differences that can lead to a lot of frustration if you're using generic tips.

The other thing to consider is when it's okay to buy used auto parts. Yes, you can save some cash at the junkyard, but you're also taking a risk that the part won't work. In the end, a bad choice can end up costing you more money.

In an Emergency

You're driving down the road and a tire blows out. Or, your car won't start in the morning and you need to get to work. Do you know what to do in these emergencies?

It's a good idea for every driver to know how to jump-start a dead battery because calling a tow truck in to do it can waste both time and money. Also, this can be especially tricky on some newer cars. Do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the procedures on your car before it happens.

In case you can't get your car started, you might be able to get a friend or family member to tow you instead of calling the truck. Learning how to properly use tow straps is key to making this happen without damaging either car and to keep everyone safe.

Diagnosing Common Problems

What's leaking under my car? Is the color of my exhaust okay? Should my engine sound like that? We've all asked these questions and you can get a pretty good idea of what's causing many problems without going to the mechanic.

When it comes to fluids, you can usually identify them by color. Grab a paper towel and dab it in the leak. If it's green or pink, you're probably looking at coolant. Power steering fluid is yellowish and transmission fluid is a redder color. Every fluid has a distinct color, so this is a pretty easy one to diagnose.

Your exhaust can also lead you to necessary repairs. White, blue, or black smoke coming out of your exhaust will each point you in a different direction. It may be a problem with engine valves or your head gasket and it's best not to delay when you see these problems because they can get worse.

In addition, you should be listening for unusual sounds and which part of the car they're coming from. There are also common signs that you're low on power steering fluid and when something may be wrong with your brakes. Other common car problems include overheating and that unbearable moment when your car simply won't turn over.

The good news is that there is a reason for everything in auto mechanics. It's just a matter of narrowing it down to the real problem. That is why mechanics—pros and amateurs alike—use onboard diagnostics (OBD) to help them find these problems quickly.

Basic DIY Car Repairs

For some car repairs, you may be better off getting it to the mechanic, However, there are a number of things that you can do in your own garage. Some tasks like changing your oil or flushing the coolant are good DIY projects that can save a lot of money each year.

Beyond regular maintenance, almost anyone can change a headlight bulb or any of your rear lights. For these jobs, it's a good idea to have that repair manual so you don't turn a small issue into a big problem.

Many home mechanics can also tackle things like plugging a tire, replacing spark plugs, and even changing a turn signal relay. However, we don't suggest taking on those projects unless you know how to check your oil or top off your windshield washer fluid first.