We are often afraid to do very simple repairs on our cars because we think we might mess something up. So, to make sure we don’t, we pay someone a lot of money to maybe mess it up. Dealerships and repair shops know we are either afraid to try easy repairs and/or that we have no clue what is going on under the hood. While there are some honest mechanics, most take advantage of people, charging an arm and a leg for exceedingly simple tasks. For example: the last time I went to a dealership for repairs, they “graciously” offered to do the job for 600 percent more than it cost to do the job in my driveway.
Moral: Never pay a mechanic for what you can do at home.
I’m not saying you should be able to replace anything beyond your comfort level, but you should be able to take general care of your car in a way that will save you money and give it a long life. With auto labor costing around $100 an hour, the savings will really stack up.
1. Replace wiper blades
Labor Savings: $70-100
It won’t give your car a longer life but could save your life on a rainy day. Blades snap into place and are easy to switch out if they become broken or worn down. The hardest part is figuring out what size blades you need for your car model, which can easily be found at your auto supply store. There will be a book or chart by the wiper blades that will tell you the exact size you need. All you have to do is unclip the old blades and snap the new ones in place.
2. Replace engine and cabin air filters
Labor Savings: $75-$150
Air filters are a lot like wiper blades: they aren’t expensive, it’s easy to find the part you need, and simple to install. Your owner’s manual will walk you through how to replace the filter step by step and leave you wondering why you would ever pay someone to change it for you.
3. Keep your fuel lines clean
Potential Savings: $120-$700
This isn’t a repair, but a proactive measure to protect your fuel system and gas efficiency. Think of your fuel lines as the arteries and veins of your car. If they get clogged, the engine will have to work harder, kill your fuel economy, and potentially cause a lot of damage. Fuel cleaning fluids such as Seafoam, Lucas Oil, and Royal Purple will clean out your fuel lines and fuel injectors while boosting your fuel economy. Whenever you fill up at the gas station, pour a bottle of your chosen fuel system cleaner in the tank. The cleaner will do the work for you.
4. Replace spark plugs and cables
Spark Plug- $7-$20
Labor Savings: $150-$300
This is another simple job that will boost your engine’s efficiency. Spark plugs are easily replaced with a socket wrench while the cables that connect to them simply snap into place. Be careful with this one, though. The last thing you want to do is strip the socket the spark plug goes into. Slow and steady wins the race.
5. Replace brake pads
Labor Savings: ~$250 per axle
You can do this with your car’s emergency jack, tire wrench and a socket wrench. You brakes are housed just behind This is a simple swapping out of parts: slide the old pads out and put the new ones in. Just remove the tire, disconnect the hardware, slide the old pads out and put the new ones in.
6. Replace Your Battery
Labor Savings: $100-$250
Batteries should last 4-6 years and can be heavy but their are easy to get to and a cinch to replace. With the car off, unclip the battery cables, remove the old battery, and put the new one in, attaching the cables to the correct nodes (positive or negative). It’s that easy.
7. Replace a headlight/taillight bulb
Labor Savings: $25-$75
Just like replacing a light bulb at home. Your owner’s manual will tell you how to access the headlight. After that, it’s simply a matter of taking the burnt out bulb to your local auto part store to make sure you buy the right replacement. If your lights are foggy, you can also buy a headlight cleaning kit for $5-$15 that will make them look brand new.
8. Change Your Oil
Labor Savings: $15-$100
Fifteen dollar oil changes are appealing, but what you think you will save will be added once you hand your car over to the quick-stop shop. Often, these places will search your engine for problems that will make up their costs. I have had attendants flat out lie to me about my brakes and air filters. Say “ok” to one thing and your $15 doll poor quality oil change is now a $100+ trip.
Changing your oil is very easy, but requires some up front costs. You will need a jack and jack stands for safety, an oil pan to collect to old oil, and an oil filter wrench. Those parts can last your whole life. Buy the best oil you can (your car will thank you and it will save money in the long run) and a new oil filter with each change. Once you have drained the old oil, take it to your local auto shop or parts store to dispose of it.