To avoid pandemic risk, many Americans choose to drive instead of fly. Cars are also sitting idler than people who work remotely.
These new habits are causing automobiles to need to be maintained. More people keep their cars to save money and avoid COVID-19 risk.
Wakefield Research for SimpleTire surveyed 1,000 adult car owners in the United States and found that 65% of those surveyed had performed their maintenance since the pandemic.
David Bennett, 52 years old, is the manager of repair systems at the American Automobile Association’s national headquarters in Heathrow. “Cars are an integral part of our life, so we must take care of them much as we take care of ourselves,” Bennett says.
This is the best time to prepare your car for safe driving. All you need to do DIY car maintenance is basic tools, knowledge, and patience. Here are some tips to help you get started.
1. Virtual classes available
Chaya Milchtein, the founder of Mechanic Shop Femme (an automotive education platform), says that many drivers need to learn how their cars work. Milchtein, who resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, offers online car maintenance and ownership classes.
Milchtein says that people were more interested in fixing up their cars during the pandemic. “I allow people to believe in themselves, and to trust their guts.”
Chaya’s class was taken by Leah Strock (62), a New York City nurse practitioner. Strock says, “I have been driving since I was 16, and I even drove a taxi. But I didn’t know anything about cars. I would look at my owner manual and feel overwhelmed.” She learned how to check her tire pressure, change her air filters and when it was time to replace her tires. It was extremely empowering.
Deb Dunn (53), recently returned from a Georgia road trip and is now living in Chilmark, Massachusetts. Dunn believes that taking a class with Andrea Dello Russo Campbell (auto technician and owner of Andrea’s Auto in Edgartown Massachusetts) before the pandemic was a good investment.
Dunn says that knowledge is power. He learned about brakes, axles, spark plugs, and how to inspect a car’s underbelly. “The most important thing was how simple it is to change oil.”
2. Technology can be used as a guide
Although you can find most things online, it’s not always wise to watch a video of someone changing their brakes outside. It’s worthwhile exploring technology that connects car owners and professionals.
“Most people just need some guidance to make sure that they’re doing what is right,” says Sean Klongerbo. He’s a diesel mechanic in Grand Marais and one of our automotive experts who are available for video chats about car maintenance and repairs. Talking on the phone requires you to be very descriptive. Sometimes people don’t understand. It can take a lot of touch and point to make video work.
SimpleTire is another online service that allows car owners to search for, order, and research the best tires for their vehicles without ever having to visit a store.
Rick Cornillie is the senior product manager at SimpleTire, Indianapolis, Indiana. He says that buying tires can be a complex and confusing process. This site gives consumers access to hundreds of independent tire distributors.
There are more than 400 brands of tires available in hundreds of sizes. The tires can then be shipped directly to your home or garage for installation.
3. Replace or check lights
Bennett suggests that you check the lights in your car every week or so.
He advises that you turn on your headlights and check the condition of your brake lights, turn signals, and turn signals.
As you inspect the taillights, someone will need to be there. You can replace the bulbs yourself. To ensure you get the correct bulb, take the old one to an auto parts store. Do not touch the bulb with your naked hands. The oils in your fingers could react with the light, causing it to go out too soon.
4. Check the tire pressure
Many cars have been left idling since the pandemic. Cornillie recommends checking your tire pressure at least once per month, especially in winter.
Cornillie says that every 10 degrees outside temperature change, tires will lose 1 pound of air pressure.
Tires that are too low can lead to excessive heat, which can cause tire damage.
5. Check the tread of your tires
Klongerbo says it is vital to inspect the tread depths of your tires, regardless if they are snow or all-weather tires.
He says that while we may not notice the tires wearing in the summer, winter will tell us.
Cornillie says you can either buy a tread depth gauge or insert a penny upside-down into the tire’s groove.
He explains that if you can see the top of Abe Lincolns head, it means that they are legally bald. Also, check for cosmetic damage, bulges, or other abnormalities to your tires.
6. Check engine fluids
Bennett advises that every month, your car should be parked on a flat surface. Make sure you have all fluids topped up.
He says, “Check your engine oil and power steering fluid, brake fluid, windshield washer fluid, and windshield washer fluid.” Your vehicle must be at its maximum operating temperature to check the transmission fluid.
Some vehicles have tanks that can be seen, while others have dipsticks or gauges that can be pulled out to check the level and color. For more information, consult your owner’s guide. Also, make sure to look under the car for fluid leaks.
7. Verify windshield wiper blades
Bennett advises that visibility is key to driving safely.
He says, “If they are laying down it means they are worn.” You can also lift them from the windshield and ensure they aren’t torn. Use windshield washer fluid or a rag to clean them. Don’t forget your back wiper!
It is easy to swap out wiper blades. Simply pull the wiper off the windshield and press the tab underneath. The blade will then slide off. Align the new wiper with your arm, and then slide it down until it clicks.
8. Replace engine and cabin filters
It’s easy to swap out engine oil filters for newer ones. Engine oil filters can get dirty over time and become clogged with debris. This will reduce your fuel economy. Milchtein shared a video showing how she changed her oil filter. It takes only a few minutes.
Milchtein says that the filter can be purchased at parts stores or online for $10-15. If you take it to an independent garage, you will likely pay $40-50 and $75 respectively.
The owner’s manual will tell you when to change the engine air filter. However, it may be more frequent depending on where you live.
“I changed my air filter every 10,000 miles when I lived in Brooklyn, New York. It was so disgusting. She says that she changed her filter at 28,000 miles in Wisconsin because there is a huge difference in air quality between the two locations.
Campbell says that when you turn on your heat/air conditioning, the air is passing through a cabin filter.
She explains that filters can be very gross and it is satisfying to change them out, knowing you are breathing fresh air.
Cabin filters can often be found behind the glovebox, which opens easily to reveal the access panel behind.
9. Battery health
Campbell suggests that you purchase a voltmeter or a tester battery before going on a road trip.
She says that battery testers can also test the alternator or the charging system. However, a simple voltmeter is less expensive than $20. Just connect one wire to the positive and one to the negative terminals and it will tell you the battery voltage.
Bennett adds that it is important to clean any mineral buildup at the battery contact terminals and ensure they are tight.
Batteries last between three and five years. You will need an adjustable wrench, or ratchet set, to remove the negative and positive battery cables as well as the clamp that holds them in place. Switch the battery to the new one, then reconnect.