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Your 10-Step Guide to Modern Car Care​

With average prices topping $48,000, taking good care of your current ride makes sense

DIY car care tasks - check tire pressure, touch up paint, change air filter, read owners manual
ANUJ SHRESTHA 

Cars aren’t just transportation these days — they’re a major investment. The average price of a new car in the U.S. was more than $48,000 in September. And while used car prices have started to level off, they’ve still jumped more than 45 percent over the past two years.

So, keeping your car in top condition is both a good way to avoid being forced to dive into the car market and a good way to increase its value if you do decide to trade up.

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While a lot of car repairs require professionals, there are still plenty of ways to save money and do it yourself. The first stop for anyone considering a little automotive DIY should be YouTube. There’s no shortage of videos available for just about every imaginable automotive task. A lot of those videos will make it clear whether the repair is something for beginners or advanced garage mechanics.

Here are 10 places on your car where a little DIY time will not only save you money but make your car both better and safer.

1. Revive your owner’s manual

Once a year, pull out that manual and get refreshed answers to every relevant question you can come up with. What service should I be getting? How do I operate the car if my key fob dies? What does that dashboard light mean?

2. Clean your engine

Do this to easily spot the source of any leaks, should they arise. Clean the engine at least a couple of times a year by spraying with a commercial engine degreaser and then rinsing with a garden hose.

3. Buy new wiper blades

Make sure you buy the right length of blade, since the passenger’s and driver’s sides often use blades of different lengths. Typically, no tools are necessary, but watch carefully how the old one pops out. It will make installing the new one easier.

4. “Check Engine” light on? You’ve got this

Get an onboard diagnostics (OBD 2) scanner at an auto parts store (they start around $20). Plug it into the OBD port under the dash, usually on the driver’s side. Look up the displayed code on the internet to learn whether you have a problem that requires a mechanic’s attention — or just a loose gas cap.

5. Save your seats

Small upholstery tears will eventually become big upholstery tears. If the interior is cloth, a needle and thread may do the trick. For leather or vinyl, you’ll need to buy a car-seat patch kit; these run $10 and up.

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6. Fix the fog

There are plenty of kits to buff away headlight cloudiness on the market. You can also find DIY solutions online, including using toothpaste or baking soda as a cleaner.

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7. Scrub your battery

Battery corrosion is like a cancer under your car’s hood. Once a year, you should check the terminals. If there’s white or blue-green buildup, remove the connecting cables, mix some baking soda and water, pour it on the terminal and start scrubbing. Be sure to wear gloves and eye protection.

8. Refresh your air filter

Your engine air filter used to sit on the top of your engine. Now it’s tucked away in some corner of the engine compartment with a plastic cover and fasteners. It’s worth consulting your owner’s manual to find it. Changing it yourself every 15,000 to 30,000 miles is one of the easiest ways to save yourself some money.

9. Air up

Few car maintenance tasks are as important as maintaining proper tire pressure. It helps tires last longer, improves fuel mileage and makes your car safer to drive. The suggested pressure is noted on the tires or on the driver’s-side doorframe. At-home tire inflater air compressors start at around $30.

10. Touch up the exterior

Have a few chips or scrapes in your paint? Determine your car’s precise color; ask a dealer if necessary. Then buy touch-up paint from the dealer or an online retailer. Plenty of YouTube videos can show you how to apply it.

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close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

AARP Auto Buying Program

Find a car with safety features you want and get upfront pricing information.

close up of a gold car parked near the water during sunset

Please Select Make

Please Enter ZIP Code

Please Select Make

Please Enter ZIP Code