It’s been a long, hot summer… but with fall coming soon, now is the perfect time to get your car or truck ready for the upcoming driving season. Most seasonal car maintenance requires the help of a professional mechanic, but we’re going to give you five do-it-yourself tips to help get your vehicle ready for the fall (and save you the cost of getting them done by a professional).
1. Change your wiper blades
According to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, wiper blades should be replaced annually. Most people go several years without changing out their blades, so it’s likely that your blades are due for replacement. Wipers are used more often in the fall and winter, so it’s best to have a fresh set before the weather changes.
This is an easy DIY tip. Not only are wiper blades cheap (usually in the $10 to $20 range), they’re extremely easy to change. Make sure you know what size to get – many cars use a longer wiper blade on the driver side. Check your owner manual or the in-store sizing guide to be sure you get the right blades. Finally, make sure you remember to get a third blade for your rear window if you own a hatchback or SUV.
2. Replace the Air Filter
Like the wiper blades, this is a maintenance task that most people let slide. You might be surprised to learn that you should change your engine air filter at LEAST twice a year. Depending on which brand you use, you’ll spend somewhere between $12 and $55. It’s an easy job that anyone can do – and it doesn’t even require tools.
When your filter becomes so dirty that it causes restricted airflow, the reduced pressure causes deterioration in fuel economy, emissions, and overall performance. They’ll continue to get progressively worse until you install a fresh filter.
3. Check your spare tire
If you get a flat tire and your spare ends up being flat, you’re going to have to resort to calling a tow truck. Grab a tire pressure gauge (around $10) and check the pressure in your spare. Check the side of the tire to see what the inflation pressure should be. Also, if you’ve got a pickup or SUV, your spare tire will usually be suspended below the vehicle on a cable. Check to be sure that the mechanism is working properly and hasn’t seized up.
Tire pressure will drop one pound per square inch (PSI) for every 10 degree drop in the temperature, so when it gets colder, you’ll need to check all of your tires on a weekly basis.
4. Check your fluids
You’re probably not really thinking about windshield-washer fluid right now, considering the lack of rain. Check your levels, and make sure that your washer fluid is full. If you live further north, make sure that your fluid is suited for cold weather so you’ll be ready for winter. Washer fluid will run you anywhere from $2 to $4.
It’s a good idea to check your antifreeze level too. If you’re low, fill it up so you’ll be ready for fall and winter. Antifreeze will run in the neighborhood of $10 to $16 per gallon.
Finally, check your brake fluid reservoir. According to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, it’s normal for the fluid to go down a bit as your breaks wear. Depending on the type of brake fluid you use, you’ll spend anywhere from $3.50 to $18 per bottle. If you notice a large decrease in fluid level, you should get it checked out by a mechanic, it could signal a leak or another issue with the brakes.
5. Check your battery and external lights
Most electrical problems and issues with ignition are the result of corroded or loose battery connections. If you’ve got some corrosion on your terminals, you can get a bush for about $4 at any auto parts store. Remove the cables and clean the terminals completely, then reconnect the cables.
One of the most important DIY maintenance tasks you can do is to check your car’s lights. Fall and winter nights are longer, so you want to be sure you can see and be seen when you’re out driving. Replacement bulbs (other than headlights) are cheap, and in most cars, can be changed out easily. Headlights can run from $15 to $30 for a single bulb, and might be a bit more difficult to change out, but in most cars, you can do it yourself and save the money you’d spend on labor if you went to a professional mechanic.