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5 auto fixes you can do (and 5 you shouldn't)

A few simple fixes can save you money. Don’t get carried away, though.

By Donna_Freedman Jan 9, 2013 12:34PM
Logo: Man changing oil (Ron Chapple, Getty Images)Can you hang up a picture or drive a nail? If so, then you can do certain automobile fixes yourself -- and if you want to save money, you should do them.

Think of it as one more way to deal with the 2% you'll miss from your paycheck now that the Social Security tax has reverted to its old rate.

Seriously, the fewer things you hire someone else to do, the more money you keep in your pocket. The DIY route may also save time. You can drive to a shop and wait for someone to do a simple repair, or you can do it yourself in five to 30 minutes.

True, you may have to factor in buying parts. To save money, use a price comparison website to find the best price and have them shipped to your home.

According to AutoMD and, the average car owner should be able to handle one or more of the following chores.  

1. Replace wiper blades.
Watch for sales at auto parts stores, then read the instructions on the package. If you've never done this before, check out the how-to video below. It's a fairly simple process.

2. Change the air filter.

This is a common upsell at quick-lube places, according to Philip Reed of, but it takes only five minutes to change at home, he says.

3. Change oil and filter.
Don't want to crawl under the car? You might not have to -- see "How to do a top-down oil change."


4. Replace bulbs/fuses. Depending on the vehicle, you can save $17 to $132, Reed says. Make sure you can easily get your hand into the headlight or taillight access area; if not, bite the bullet and hire a pro. Replacing a fuse is pretty simple; some vehicles include a removal tool and a spare.

5. Inflate tires. Proper inflation increases fuel economy, improves handling during emergency braking and cornering and increases the life of your tires. Get a tire gauge (they're cheap) and check pressure once a month.

Don't try these at home
What about more complicated auto repairs? The electronics in today's cars can confound most shade-tree mechanics, and some repairs need specialized equipment. The following five jobs are generally best left to the pros, according to AutoMD:

1. Replace engine. "Today's engines have more and more electronic controls, and it's easy to lose track of all the parts."

2. Replace a transmission.
It's heavy and tough to remove, even with an engine hoist and vehicle lift.

3. Align wheels.
Special equipment is required -- so special, in fact, some repair shops don't even have it. "It is not practical for a DIYer to have this equipment."

4. Replace clutch.
This requires removing the transmission, plus specialized equipment including a transmission jack, engine hoist and clutch alignment tool.

5. Replace air-conditioning components.
Only a certified technician can work with refrigerants, which are harmful gases. In addition, not following accepted repair procedures can damage the A/C system.

If you decide to do other jobs yourself, check out Edmunds' how-to article archive or AutoMD's how-to articles and videos.


Start slowly and be realistic about the limits of your abilities. All the money you saved doing small jobs could be wiped out by one ill-advised repair attempt.

More on MSN Money:

Jan 11, 2013 3:18PM
I agree with this article. We at have tons of how-to articles for cars, and  we don't recommend any of the "Don't Try" things. 
However, we also have articles on how to fix an overheating car ( , how to install car stereos
( and many more.
Jan 15, 2013 9:33PM
Also learn how to replace a flat tire. It is faster than waiting for roadsie assistance even if you have it (free) as part of your car insurance or maintence plan - assuming you have it if you are out in the boondocks.
Feb 4, 2013 9:34AM
I get wiper blades at Parts America and they always offer to install them for free. I know it's a very simple do it yourself, but since they offer to do it for you, why not take them up on their offer ?
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.