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Earn $50 an hour: Change your own car battery

Doing car repairs yourself pays off -- even for beginners.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 30, 2009 12:26AM

Frankly, auto maintenance has always scared me. All I've ever "fixed" are wiper blades, headlights and taillights. The extent of my under-the-hood knowledge is how to check and top off oil, antifreeze and windshield washer fluid. I've never changed my own oil because I didn't want to deal with the waste material.

That's why I recently found myself using an Entertainment Book coupon to get a lube, oil and filter service for $15.88. When I paid, the counter guy said my battery was on its way out. A replacement would retail for about $119.99, but he could get me one for $89.99.

I know less about cars than about doing my own taxes. Still, that seemed a little high. Maybe I could do better on my own -- but that would mean installing it myself.

Batteries not instructed
Folks who do all their own auto maintenance are probably snickering. What's the big deal? It's not like replacing the transmission. But some of us didn't grow up watching dads fix cars. My father could build, plumb and wire a house, but he never did auto work. All I knew about batteries is that they have the potential to explode, and that battery acid can ruin your day.

An MSN article noted that they don't make 'em like they used to; in newer cars, batteries might need replacing after four years. My 2001 Chevy Cavalier still had the original battery, so I guess there was a reason it was faltering.

The Sunday ads revealed a $54.99 model at Schuck's Auto Supply, just two blocks away. Before leaving, I did an Internet search on battery replacement. It didn't seem that hard. A little grimy, maybe.

That $54.99 model wasn't the right kind, but a suitable 7-year battery cost just $10 more. (Incidentally, both costs included disposal of the old battery.) The friendly folks at Schuck's offered to lend the tool I'd need. Before this, I'd never used a socket wrench. (It was cool. I want one!)

Getting the battery out of the vehicle was tricky. It was heavier than I'd imagined, and got hung up somehow. As I struggled and cussed, a young man stopped to help. He lifted it out in one smooth motion. Show-off.

Success, and savings
I lugged the equally heavy replacement out on my own, nestled it into place, and reconnected the battery and terminal clamps. Reluctantly I said goodbye to my new friend the socket wrench, and prepared for the acid test, so to speak: Would the car start?

The car fired right up. And boy, were my hands dirty. Back home, I found that liquid dish detergent really can substitute for that Orange Goop hand cleaner. (Thanks to the Smart Spending message board reader who posted that tip.)

If an auto know-nothing like me can do this, I bet you can, too. So when your battery starts to fail, consider replacing it yourself. First, of course, you'll want to read the instructions on the site I mentioned above, or in a car care book, to make sure you're doing it safely.

I think it's well worth it. About 30 minutes of work saved me $25. It might take you even less time.

Plus, you'll get to use a socket wrench.

Published Jan. 2, 2008


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