Texas Living

Basic Car Maintenance You Can Do Yourself

By Mitch Gruen 8.6.20

Cars are an essential part of life in Texas. We depend on them for work as much as for play, and many of us drive thousands of miles per year. With the rigorous demands we place on our vehicles, regular maintenance is an essential practice — without it, preventable breakdowns can turn into thousand-dollar problems.

While bigger issues are best left to the pros, there’s also plenty of basic car maintenance that you can tackle on your own — and much of it is easier than you might think. Here are a few basic car maintenance tricks you can use to avoid a trip to the shop.

Add Washer Fluid

For the greenhorns out there, this is a great place to start. Adding windshield-washing fluid is super easy.

What you need: windshield washing fluid, funnel

What to do: Open your hood and look for a cap with a symbol of a windshield being sprayed. If you’re not positive you’ve found the right cap, double-check your car’s manual — pouring any fluid down the wrong pipe will negate your efforts to get things done cheaply and on your own. Uncap the washer-fluid reservoir and funnel in the washer fluid, pouring until you reach the fill line. If there’s no fill line, leave an inch or so at the top. Replace the cap.

Restore Your Headlights

As cars age, headlights can become cloudy or yellowed. This doesn’t just ruin your aesthetic — it can lower the amount of light coming out of your headlights, which obviously isn’t safe. Thankfully, removing this cloudy buildup and restoring your headlight lenses isn’t too tough.

What you need: microfiber cloth, baking soda, toothbrush

What to do: Hose down your headlights and wipe them with a microfiber cloth. Apply toothpaste with baking soda and rub it in a circular motion with a cloth; the abrasion should help to break down the buildup. If this doesn’t work, you may need special abrasives from your local auto-supply store.

Change Your Air Filters

Your car’s air filter should be replaced at least annually. Performing this operation is not much different than changing an air filter at home.

What you need: a new air filter

What to do: In many cars, the cabin air filter is located somewhere underneath the glove compartment or the dashboard — your car’s manual should have instructions for reaching it. Just pop the old filter out, slide a new one in, and enjoy breathing crisp, clean air.

Add Oil

This is another one some motorists may not know they can do themselves.

What you need: paper towel, engine oil as specified for your car, funnel

What to do: Open your hood and look for some variation of a yellow handle that says “engine oil.” This is your dipstick. Pull out the dipstick, wipe it clean with a paper towel, then put it all the way back in and wait a few seconds before pulling it out again. The end of the dipstick will show you your current oil level. If the level is below the “add” or “full” line, you’ll need to add oil. (Make sure you use the right oil.) Unscrew the engine cap, insert a funnel, pour in some oil, and then recheck your dipstick. Continue adding oil and checking bit by bit until the oil level on your dipstick reaches “full.” You want to do this somewhat carefully, as overfilling can be a problem. When you’re all done, screw the cap back on and close your hood. The road is yours.

When this list of basic car maintenance tasks has been checked off, double-check that you’re familiar with even the most obscure Texas road rules.

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