Common Auto Repairs & What To Do About Them [w/ How-To Videos]

If you keep up with basic maintenance on your vehicle, you can avoid the most common repair items, or at least delay them.  Here are the 12 most common auto maintenance and repair items.

The 12 Most Common Vehicle Maintenance and Repair Items

  1. Engine oil change
  2. Oil filter change
  3. Replacement of windshield wipers
  4. Air filter changed
  5. Manufacturer recommended scheduled maintenance
  6. Tire replacement
  7. Replacement of batteries
  8. Fixing brake problems
  9. Adding antifreeze
  10. Other fluid replacement
  11. Rough running engine
  12. Wheel alignment

Dealing with each of these is fairly inexpensive.  Taking care of the entire list might cost you $1500 or less in total. But failing to take care of business can lead to major repair bills.  The cost of skipping these maintenance items and basic repairs and the ensuing damage it can do is an estimated $8,000.  That doesn't include loss of use, safety issues, or the hassle of taking your car in for repairs.

Even if your vehicle is under a factory warranty, failing to stay on top of these basic maintenance items may void your warranty and make you pay out of pocket.

Engine Oil Change

The oil in your engine is what keeps your engine running smoothly by reducing friction and dissipating heat.  If you take your vehicle to an oil change place or a dealer, it might set you back $50 to $100.  Forgetting this maintenance item can cause serious damage that may be irreparable

A leak might cause your engine to dry out and raise the internal temperature.  When that happens, the entire car can overheat.  A remanufactured engine might cost you $4,000.  You might blow a head gasket, which can set you back $2,000.  A camshaft replacement might top $1,500.

Check for your manufacture's guidelines on oil changes.  The old "3 months or 3,000 miles" adage is no longer the standard.  Some vehicles can go much longer.

Here's Scotty Kilmer showing you how to go about doing it yourself:

Oil Filter Change

When you change your oil, you'll want to change out your oil filter.  The filter does exactly what it sounds like:  it filters out the metal shavings and gunk that the engine produces during normal use.  Without the filter, those shavings could get back into your system and cause damage.  After some use, the filter will get clogged and oil will no longer flow properly or efficiently.

Changing the oil can be quick if you've got a way to safely get your car up off the ground.  The emphasis here is on safety:  a vehicle falling on you can kill you.  Find the oil pan and the drain plug.  With a large container underneath the oil pan, loosen the drain plug with a wrench and carefully remove it.  Make sure the oil is cool before draining - hot oil can be dangerous.  When the oil stops flowing, wipe the oil pan thread and drain and make sure everything looks good.  Replacing the drain plug and/or gasket if needed.

Make sure you have the correct oil filter for your particular vehicle.  They are not interchangeable.  You'll also need a container to catch the oil when you loosen the oil filter or filter cap with an oil filter wrench and let the oil drain out.  Remove the filter and make sure the gasket isn't still sticking to the mounting plate.  Clean off the plate and put a light coating of new oil on the new oil filter gasket (oil, not grease).  Install by hand rotating clockwise.  Check the box for exactly how tight to install it.

Then, before you start your vehicle, go under the hood and fill it up with the right amount of new oil.  Let it sit for a few minutes and then start the engine at idle for a minute or so.  Check for leaks.  After it sits for a few more minutes, check the dipstick to make sure you are at full.

Paul (a.k.a. proclaimliberty2000 on YouTube) shows you the step-by-step.

Replace Your Windshield Wipers

Your windshield wiper blades should be replaced twice a year or whenever you notice a material change in visibility.  When the blade gets bent or out of alignment, they no longer make contact with the windshield to get it clean.  You might hear them squeak or skip and notice smearing or streaking on the window.

Fixing it can sometimes be as easy as popping them back in place or running a cleaning solution across the blades.  If this does not work, get new ones.  They'll cost you $20-$50 for a pair and you'll want to change them in pairs.

This is an easy fix.  For most vehicles, you lift the arm away from the windshield and click the tab underneath.  With the tab depressed, slide the blade off by pulling downward.  Reverse the process to attach a new one.

Watch this video from Tony Lee Glenn to see how easy it is to do.

Air Filter Change

Like the oil filter, the air filter traps dirt and debris and stops it from getting into internal engine parts like cylinders and pistons.  Even particles as small as a single grain of rice can cause damage.  A dirty air filter can also mess up the air-fuel flow mixture and cause spark plugs to foul and fail.  A clean air filter increases fuel efficiency, reduces emissions, and prolongs engine life.

If you take your vehicle to a repair shop, they'll swap out the air filter every few visits as part of the service.  Expect to pay between $20 and $50 for a filter.  If you're a do-it-yourself kind of person, this is also an easy swap.  For older (carbureted) cars, the air filter housing is round and sits above the carburetor.  Unscrew the wing nut and swap the old one for the new one.

For newer and fuel injected vehicles, the air filter is typically located near the top front or alongside the engine by the throttle body.  It is usually inside a black plastic, rectangular housing attached by screws or clips.  Open up the housing and trade the old one for a new one.  Your engine will thank you.

Charles the Humble Mechanic goes in depth on the topic of air filters in this video:

Manufacturer Recommended Maintenance

If your vehicle is still under warranty, it's important to stay on top of what your vehicle's manufacturer recommends.  If you don't, and you have a problem, they may void the warranty.  While it's best to check with your manufacturer, here are the basics:

    • Every 5k-10k Mileage:  Oil change and oil filter
    • 25k-30k miles: Air filter, fuel filter
    • 50k-60k miles: Battery, brake fluid, brake pad and shoes, rotors, coolant, transmission fluid
    • 75k-90k miles, hoses, power steering fluid, spark plugs, ignition system, timing belt

Note that you should check over the basics, like fluid levels, filters, and belts at every oil change to make sure you're not in danger of breakdowns or leaks.  Items like brakes, hoses, gaskets, wipers, and tires should be looked at routinely as they wear at irregular intervals.  Again, check with your manufacturer for the specific recommendations on mileage and maintenance.

Robert DIY gives great advice on proper car care as recommended by the maintenance schedule in the video below:

Tire Replacement

Tires wear out at different times due to different driving conditions, tire tread, and quality.  Tires that blow out or go flat are a pain to deal with, especially if they pop away from home.  You can look up the expected life of a tire by getting the make and model number off the side and going to Google.

That thing about the penny trick does work.  Position a penny into the tire groove with the head down.  If any part of his head is covered by the tire tread, you're good to go.  If you can see the top, you need new tires.

Changing a tire is easy.  Set the parking brake, jack up the vehicle, loosen the lug nuts, swap them out, and then do the same thing in reverse.  With newer cars, there's a little more to do a whole new set.  Wheels need to be balanced and TPMS (tire pressure monitoring systems) need to be reset.  If you need a whole new set, most places that sell you the tires will do the install for free or a couple of bucks.  Have them check the wheel alignment at the same time.

You won't have to leave the tire-changing to the professionals if you watch this video from fixitsamo:

Battery Replacement

A dead battery can leave you stranded.  At best, it's inconvenient.  While battery life will vary depending on the quality of the battery and the environment you drive in, you should get at least three years out of most of them.  If you're still using the original battery after 4-5 years, congratulations, but it's time for a new one.  Batteries can run $50 to $400 depending on the quality and the vehicle.

Most places will install your new battery and dispose of your old one if you buy them there.  If you want to do it yourself, the hardest part may be finding it.  While typically under the hood, you may find it in the trunk, behind a wheel well, or even under the floorboards.

First, figure out the positive and negative terminals.  The positive one likely has a red housing.  Using a wrench, loosen the nut or bolt on the negative terminal and remove the cable.  Then, do the same for the positive one.  Be careful not to let metal touch both battery posts at the same time, and make sure not to let the wrench touch the positive terminal and the body or fender at the same time.  If the battery has a retaining clamp on top, you'll need to remove that as well and then lift out the battery.  Make sure the terminals are clean and corrosion free.  If not, you'll need to clean them off before re-installing the battery and doing this process in reverse.

Learn how to change your car battery from Brian Cooley on this Roadshow video:

Brake Problems

If your brake pedal nearly touches the floor, it takes a lot of pressure to slow down, they pull, drag, grab, or vibrate, or you hear that grinding, screeching, or metal-on-metal sound, it's time to get your brakes fixed.  When you experience any of these symptoms, don't wait.  The longer you put it off, the more potential damage you can do to the rotors.  Brake pads are cheap.  Rotor repairs are expensive.

You can usually look at the brake pad through the wheel.  If it looks really thin, like less than a quarter-inch, it might be time to replace them.  Some brake pads have a slot in its center to indicate wear.  Brake pad replacement can run between $150 and $300 an axle.  Calipers and rotor repairs can run between $250 and $1000 depending on what needs to be done and the type of vehicle you drive.  If you have the right tools and experience, you can change out the brake pads and even the rotors.  If you don't have the experience, leave it up to the repair shop.  You may save a few bucks doing it yourself, but when it comes to brakes, how much risk do you want to take?

The AutoZone YouTube channel has a great video from 2011 on diagnosing brake problems:

Adding Antifreeze

Antifreeze prevents your water from freezing up, but it also raises the boiling point of engine coolant to prevent it from overheating.  It also protects engines from corrosion, mitigates heat, and prevents scale build-up.  If your level is low, check for leaks first.  Assuming there are no leaks, you'll need to do a 50-50 blend of antifreeze and water (or buy a pre-diluted solution) and top it off.  You may need to adjust the blend depending on your climate and conditions.  Check your owner's manual for coolant flush intervals.

If you need some guidance, use this handy tutorial from 2CarPros:

Other Necessary Fluids

You'll also want to stay on top of other fluids, including windshield wiper fluid, brake fluids, and power steering fluid.  In most vehicles, there are easy to find and marked.  You can top them off quickly and cheaply and avoid serious damage.  If you fear a leak or seem to be going through a lot of fluids quickly, you'll need to get it checked.

Watch this video from Advance Auto Parts to make sure you don't forget to check on any of these important auto fluids:

A Rough Running Engine

If you've done a lot of the above-mentioned items, you may be able to avoid the rough running engine.  Clogged filters, bad spark plugs, spark plug wires, distributor cap, or a loose or broken vacuum hose might be the culprit.  If your engine isn't running smoothly, check each of these items.  However, there are plenty of other reasons that can cause a rough idle.

Frank of Desert Car Care reveals a common culprit behind a rough idling engine in this video:

Wheel Alignment

This is really an alignment of the vehicle's suspension that connects the wheels to the vehicle.  If your car pulls to the left or right, your steering wheel is crooked even when driving straight, you hear excessive tire squeal, or you notice uneven wear on your tires (or faster-than-normal wear), your vehicle might need an alignment.  Expect to do this every two or three years or if you tend to hit curbs regularly, more often.

Wheel alignment can range from $75 to $400 depending on what needs to be done.  You can find do-it-yourself solutions on the internet, but unless you've got the skills, training, and tools, you're better off letting a repair shop or tire shop deal with it.

Here's a video from the Learn Engineering YouTube channel discussing wheel alignment and what will happen if you don't have it done:

Don't Be One Of "Those Guys"

Did you know that 35% of vehicle owners skip recommended service and repairs?  That's what the folks at AAA report.  Don't be one of "those guys."  If you take care of these basic maintenance items and common repairs, you can increase your vehicle's life, its resale value, and stay safe.