How To

Seven Car Maintenance Tasks You Can Totally Handle Yourself

Car repair and maintenance can seem like something you have to leave to a professional—an untouchable good that you feel like you aren’t able to open up. It’s how a lot of people feel about their electronics. But time and time again we hear countless stories about successful laptop and smartphone repairs, and your car is no different. In fact, a lot of your car’s regular maintenance tasks are easy, and some don’t even require tools. Here are seven jobs you can definitely do yourself, each with step-by-step iFixit instructions.

Note that the guides we link to below are written for specific car models. While most of the steps can easily be translated to most other makes and models, be aware that some steps may be different depending on your specific vehicle. You can check out our Car and Truck category to find guides on your specific model, and consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual for more information as well.

Also, please use personal protective equipment like gloves and safety glasses whenever you’re working on your vehicle. It’s important to know how to do something, but it’s even more important that you know how to do it safely!

Change the Air Filters

Car maintenance: changing the air filter

We’ll start off with a really easy one. Changing the engine air filter in your car (and the cabin air filter, if it has one) is pretty much the easiest piece of maintenance you can perform on a vehicle. Depending on the car, you may not even need any tools.

Changing out the engine air filter simply requires popping the hood, taking off the airbox cover (usually held in place by clips or screws), pulling out the old filter and sliding in the new one. Place the cover back on and you’re back in business.

As for the cabin air filter, it’s usually located behind the glove box, which may require removal first (held in place by clips or screws). After that, you can slide out the old cabin air filter and slide the new one in. Be sure to check that your car has a cabin air filter in the first place by referring to the owner’s manual, as not all vehicles have them.

Replace the Headlight and Taillight Bulbs

Car maintenance: replacing a headlight bulb

Here’s another easy task that, in some cases, doesn’t require any tools at all. Burned out headlight and taillight bulbs are incredibly common and are usually easy to replace. Buy a few spares for your car and—once you know the procedure—you’ll never have to drive around fearing a ticket or inviting accidents again.

On most vehicles, replacing a headlight bulb merely consists of popping the hood, reaching around behind the headlight, and pulling out the bulb socket. From there, you can unclip the bulb from the plug and snap in the new bulb—it’s almost as easy as changing a bulb in a household light fixture. Some cars require dislodging a whole headlight assembly in order to get at the bulb, but this usually means removing a few screws and unlocking some plastic clips.

As for taillight bulbs, it’s usually not quite as simple, as there’s likely a panel you need to remove from inside first. Still, that just requires a screwdriver or a firm yank, and from there you can pull out the bulb socket and replace the bulb.

Replace the Battery

car maintenance: battery replacement

If you’ve been following iFixit for a while, then you know that battery replacements are really popular. And guess what? Your car also has a battery that needs to be replaced every few years.

Luckily, it’s a pretty easy task. The actual work involves disconnecting a couple of terminals and removing a hold-down bracket with a socket wrench or screwdriver. From there, you can lift the battery out of its compartment and drop the new one in its place.

Change the Oil

car maintenance: changing the oil

If there’s one maintenance task you’re most familiar with, it’s probably changing the oil. It wouldn’t be surprising, given the huge number of shops that market their oil-changing services, and some cultural mystique around the job. But it’s something you can do, and will get easier every time you do it.

Changing your car’s oil is very simple. The real work is safely raising your car enough to get underneath it. Our guide to lifting your car with a jack details the many safety precautions and checks you must make to safely get under your vehicle. But following directions, checking your owner’s manual, and having someone nearby while you do it is the hardest part, and you can do those things.

Once your car is up, you just unscrew a bolt to drain out the old oil, screw the bolt back in, replace the old oil filter (which is also just screwed on), and pour some new oil into the oil reservoir from the top of the engine—your car’s owner manual will tell you what kind of oil and how much. After the first couple times you do this, it becomes old hat, and you’ll be able to do it easily in 10-15 minutes.

Change the Brake Pads

car maintenance: changing the break pads

Lights, filters, oil, and batteries are great to keep fresh, but brakes? Brakes are important. Really important. Brake pads are the point of contact with a wheel’s rotor that brings your car to a stop. But you can replace your brake pads yourself, especially if you’ve already learned how to get your car up on a jack.

After lifting up the car and taking the wheels off—the hardest part involving the most elbow grease—there are just a couple of bolts and one clip that hold the brake caliper in place. Unscrew them, remove the caliper, and slide the old brake pads out of their slots. After some cleaning, fluid adjustment, prepping, and clamping, you slide in the new brake pads and reinstall the caliper.

As stated in the guide, it’s best to finish the job on one side before starting on the other, so you always have a fully assembled side to use for reference if you get lost—but don’t drive until both sides are complete, as having uneven brake pressure can cause your car to pull toward one side, and that’s dangerous.

Rotate Your Tires

car maintenance: tire rotation

Because your car distributes weight differently across the vehicle, some tires will wear quicker than others, especially when you factor in your driving habits. To combat that, tire rotations are done every few thousand miles to even out the wear. If you’ve already raised your car and removed the tires for brake pad replacements, then you can easily rotate your own tires.

However, you can’t just switch wheels all willy nilly. Depending on the type of tires you have and their tread pattern, you need to follow a certain rotation pattern. Unidirectional tires (tread patterns that only roll in one direction) can be swapped front to back on the same side of the car, and vice versa. If you have asymmetrical tires (tread pattern that can roll in either direction), you can use the X pattern to rotate the wheels not only from front to back, but also left to right.

Change the Spark Plugs

car maintenance: changing the spark plugs

As the name suggests, spark plugs provide the spark necessary to ignite the fuel-and-air mixture that enters the engine. This creates a miniature explosion, which pushes the pistons down and turns the crankshaft—which then spins the gears in the transmission and turns the wheels.

Spark plugs don’t need to be replaced until much later in a car’s life (typically from 60,000-120,000 miles—check your owner’s manual), but it’ll get there at some point. And you can celebrate this milestone of longevity by swapping out the spark plugs yourself.

This project can be as simple as pulling out the spark plug connectors with your hands (which are located right on top of the engine) and then using a socket wrench to unscrew the spark plugs themselves. Screw in the new spark plugs (making sure not to overtighten them), reinstall the connectors, and you’re off to the races.

This task gets tedious only because there could be as many as eight spark plugs you’ll need to replace on a standard vehicle (larger vehicles and many supercars have up to 12 spark plugs!), but that number depends on how many cylinders your car’s engine has—most compact cars will only have four spark plugs.

Once you have all these maintenance tasks and repairs under your belt, you’ll easily be able to tackle more complicated repairs down the road. Things like suspension, various fluids, and other engine components are also user-serviceable with enough experience.