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Do It Yourself “DIY” Car Care

Some services require the attention and tools of a highly skilled technician. But SOME tasks are easy enough that you can do it yourself, even if you’re a newbie! Keeping the vehicle clean on the outside is just as important as keeping it clean under the hood. You can do a few things regularly that will help how well your car works during the time between maintenance. Learning easy car care maintenance is simple and we’ve even broken into easy steps with videos so this phase of “adulting” doesn’t seem so hard. 🔧 

Checking Tire Air Pressure

  1. Let the tires cool overnight or for a few hours after driving.
  2. Park the car on an even ground.
  3. Turn the vehicle off.
  4. Remove the tire’s valve cap.
  5. Place the gauge over the tire’s valve stem and press firmly so that no escaping air is heard. The tire gauge will indicate how much pressure is in the tire.

Refilling Tire Air Pressure

  1. Take your car to an air dispenser. Most gas stations and AAA AAR shops have air dispensers.
  2. Park next to one of the dispensers so that the hose can reach all four tires.
  3. Turn the vehicle off
  4. Remove the tire valve cap.
  5. Place the gauge over the tire valve stem and press firmly so that no escaping air is heard. The tire gauge will indicate how much pressure is in the tire. It is in your best interest to purchase your own high-quality pressure gauge, because gas station and convenience store gauges are often abused and inaccurate.
  6. Adjust the tire pressure if needed. When adding air, push the air hose into the valve firmly, until the air stops escaping. Check the pressure every few seconds to help judge the amount of air going into the tire, until you reach the recommended air pressure. If the tire pressure is greater than it should be, use the nipple on the tire gauge to press the center of the tire valve stem and release excess air until the desired pressure is achieved.
  7. Replace the valve cap.
  8. Repeat the process for the other tires.
  9. Do not forget to check the air in your spare tire (if you have one that)
  10. Locate spare tire – if you do not know where it is located, check your owner’s manual (Hint: most are located in the trunk of your car. For an SUV or Tire, the spare may be located underneath the vehicle.)
  11. Remove the valve cap and add air to the spare tire just like the other tires
  12. If the spare tire is a temporary spare (commonly referred to as a donut spare tire), then air it up to 60 psi.
  13. If it’s a full-size spare tire, then air it up to the same psi as the tires on the car.
  14. If in doubt about the amount of air to add, refer to the owner’s manual or placard on the inside of the driver’s door.

AAA Sidekick tip:

The recommended tire pressure is usually listed on a sticker inside your driver’s door. If there’s no sticker on the door, you can usually find the numbers in the owner’s manual. On older cars the decal may be in the glove box or inside the fuel filler door. Most cars will recommend 32 psi to 35 psi in the tires when they’re cold, and did you know pressure can change based on the weather conditions? This is due to the fact that temperature changes result in air volume changes. When air becomes cooler, it takes up less volume, meaning the air pressure in your tires will decrease. When air becomes warmer, it takes up more volume, meaning the air pressure will increase. Check the recommended air pressure prior to filling the spare to help gauge the pressure.

  1. Park the car in a safe location where you can walk around to check all the tires. *The in-between parts of your tire are called a tread. The minimum legal tread depth for tires is 2/32″ but AAA recommends shopping for new tires when the tread reaches 4/32″ (the quarter test – see steps 3 – 5).
  2. Turn the vehicle off.
  3. Grab a quarter.
  4. Turn the quarter upside down and place the quarter in between the tread.
  5. When the top of Washington’s head is exposed, the tread depth is 4/32″ or less and it is time to start shopping for new tires.

  1. The car should be parked on a level ground and not on a slope.
  2. Start the vehicle.
  3. Let it run for 2 minutes to help circulate the oil through the engine.
  4. Turn the vehicle off.
  5. Grab a napkin.
  6. Pop the hood.
  7. Locate the dipstick. (Usually looks like a yellow ring)
  8. Remove the dipstick.
  9. Wipe the dipstick clean on a napkin.
  10. Stick the dipstick back into its holder all the way down.
  11. Remove the dipstick again.
  12. Carefully hold the stick and examine the end.
  13. If the top of the oil line is between the two marks or within the L (Low) or H (High), oil levels are good.

  1. Turn the vehicle off.  
  2. When washing a car, use the two-bucket method. One bucket will have clean, soapy water, while the other bucket is where you’ll drop the dirty water with the rag or sponge, you’re using. Make sure to only use car wash soap. Dish detergent will strip any wax off your car. 
  3. Start from the top of the car and work to bottom, focusing on one section at a time.  
  4. Use lots of water and rinse off each section of the car as you move along, remembering to place the rag or sponge into the dirty water after. This method will prevent any air drying that will leave streaks and cross contaminate the dirt that could damage the paint. 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

Wash the wheels last with a special wheel-washing brush with soft bristles for the tires. This brush will enable you to get in all the nooks and crannies. Always hand dry the car. Allowing it to air dry will leave behind streaks and watermarks. To properly dry the car, use a fluffy microfiber cloth, often sold at local gas stations, repair shops, or automotive parts stores.

  1. Make sure your car is clean. Dirt and grime can “mar” or ruin the finish.  
  2. Turn the vehicle off. 
  3. Before waxing, your car should be completely dry and parked in the shade or indoors, if possible. This will prevent the car’s surface from becoming too hot and drying out the wax. If the wax dries too quickly, it will be difficult to buff off and may damage the paint 
  4. Polish before wax will produce a deeper shine but is not required.  
  5. There are two main types of wax: synthetic and carnauba. Carnauba is a natural wax that produces a deep shine but may not last as long as a synthetic wax. There are also spray-on waxes that are great for a quick touch-up after washing. The latest product on the market is ceramic coating. This coating provides great protection but is expensive and generally only applied by a professional detailer. 
  6. Spread a small amount of wax onto your cloth or pad.  
  7. Then apply it to the car using a circular motion and steady pressure. Keep working the wax into the paint until it’s completely absorbed. It’s best to focus on one small section of the car at a time until you’ve covered the entire automobile. Avoid getting wax on any non-painted plastic moldings or trim around the vehicle. This can discolor the plastic and can be difficult to remove once dried.
  8. Once the wax is applied, it needs to be buffed. This step ensures that the wax fully bonds with the paint. 
  9. Using a clean towel or microfiber cloth, gently rub the paint until you get the shine you’re looking for. The best results tend to come from using a microfiber towel. The static-charged, woven fibers grab the wax residue and polish the paint while you buff. In addition, microfiber does not shed lint.  
  10. Make sure to rotate your towels frequently so that you’re always working with a clean side. 
  11. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions. 
  12. As a general rule, a coat of wax lasts three to six months. Depending on how often you do it, waxing can be a labor of love. However, the benefit of waxing a car is that it will keep your automobile looking great and extend the life of the paint job, which means more money in your pocket when you sell or trade in. 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

Apply as thin a layer of wax as possible. It may be tempting to apply a thicker coat to get more shine and depth, but the excess wax will be challenging to remove and becomes streaky. Instead, if you desire more shine, complete one application, buff that coat off, and apply another very thin coat. Before applying a second coat, check the instructions on the product’s label to know how long it takes for the car wax to “cure” (the time it takes for the was to bond with the clear coat of paint). This can take anywhere from 12 – 24 hours.

  1. Replace both blades at the same time. The wiper assembly consists of two parts: the arm and a wiper blade that attaches to the metal arm.  
  2. Head to the store to buy the proper blades for the car.  Measure each of the old wipers first and bring the measurements with you into the store  AAA members receive discounts at NAPA Auto Parts 
  3. Turn the vehicle off.  
  4. Pull the entire wiper arm away from the windshield and into a standing position.  
  5. Adjust the wiper into a position perpendicular to the metal arm.  
  6. Repeat with the other wiper arm. 
  7. Release the wiper blade by locating the small tab on the underside of wiper blade (near where the rubber insert meets the metal arm) 
  8. Push it in (or in some cases, pull on it) to release.  
  9. Pull down the blade and slide off the hook of the metal arm. 
  10. Open the new wiper to determine if the left and right wipers are different sizes. You’ll want to match the new wiper to the correct side.  
  11. Push the movable hinge on the new blade until the hinge is perpendicular to the rest of the blade. 
  12. Line the new blade up with the metal arm so that the metal hook will go through the hole in the blade.  
  13. Push the metal hook through the hole in the blade. 
  14. Pull up on the blade until you feel it click it into place.  
  15. Gently push the blade back down to a resting position against the windshield. 
  16. Repeat process on the other wiper blade. 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

The left and right wiper blades may be different lengths.

  1. Most washer fluid is sold in gallon containers. A special formula is available in a much smaller container, which when mixed with distilled water, is like the already mixed version.  
  2. Head to the store to make that purchase. 
  3. Turn the vehicle off. 
  4. Pop the Hood.  
  5. Locate the “reservoir” or holder, where the windshield washer fluid lives, usually marked with a symbol that looks like a windshield with wipers moving.  
  6. Identify the low and full lines on the reservoir.   
  7. Open the cap and set it aside, avoiding any dirt and debris.  
  8. Use a funnel or the spout on the windshield washer fluid bottle to pour fluid into the reservoir. 
  9. Add windshield washer fluid until it reaches the “full” line. 
  10. Screw the cap back into place and start the vehicle to test the fluid sprayer. 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

DO NOT add plain water to the reservoir (washer fluid holder). Plain water can grow algae or leave mineral deposits that clog spray nozzles. Water may also freeze in cold weather. DO add only washer fluid because it helps protect from grime. Use a washer solution best for the season you are in. Summer fluid has ingredients to help remove bugs. Winter solutions will not freeze at lower temperatures and can help de-ice the glass. All-season washer fluid provides most of the benefits of both.

  1. Before checking the coolant fluid levels, the car should be turned off and allowed to sit until the vehicle is cool to the touch.  
  2. Park the car on level ground.  
  3. Check the coolant level by locating the coolant reservoir, usually a translucent plastic.  
  4. The outside of the reservoir should be marked with minimum and maximum lines for the coolant.  
  5. On the side of the container tub, there will be a ‘Min’ minimum and ‘Max’ maximum scale, just like on the oil dipstick. It may also say “Hot” or Cold” meaning the engine temperature 
  6. Make sure the coolant level is within these parameters.  
  7. Never open the cap on the radiator when the engine is hot.  Use only the overflow bottle for adding coolant. 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

Try to buy coolant already pre-mixed, but you can use an empty container to mix equal parts coolant and distilled water to create the 50/50 coolant and water mix that’s usually recommended. It is very important to use distilled water as regular tap water will contain contaminants that will damage the engine over time.

  1. Turn the vehicle off.
  2. Air filters actually do a better job of trapping contaminants once they have been in operation long enough to gain a light coating of dust and dirt.
  3. Locate the filter housing via the vehicle owner’s manual (usually in the glove box or you can find them on the manufacturer’s website).
  4. Remove the bolts, screws or clips that hold the air filter box together.
  5. Some vehicles may require a connector to be unplugged or a clamp to be removed.
  6. Remove the filter from its housing.
  7. Hold it up to a bright light such as a 100-watt bulb.
  8. If light passes easily through more than half of the filter, the filter is good to keep using. The light test works well with paper filters. However, some cars have extended life engine air filters with dense fabric filters that are highly effective, but don’t allow light to pass. Unless a filter of this type is visibly caked with dirt, replace it at the mileage intervals specified by the vehicle’s owner’s manual.
  9. Put the air filter box back together, ensure it is in place properly by tightening the screws or bolts or adjusting the clips back on. If you disconnected any connectors or removed any clamps, make sure you reinstall those, too.

AAA Sidekick Tip:

Some vehicles, primarily pickup trucks, have an engine air filter service indicator on the filter housing. This indicator measures the air pressure drop across the filter when the engine is running; the pressure drop increases as the filter becomes more restricted. Check the indicator at each oil change and replace the filter when the indicator says to do so.

  1. Turn the vehicle off.
  2. Open the truck or tailgate of the car.  
  3. Start by removing the cover to the back of the taillight panel  
  4. Remove the screws or bolts holding the panel in place (usually 2 – 4) and keep them in a safe place to put back on later (some trucks may require you to remove the entire outside panel, or you might have to softly pull back some fabric/cloth that could be covering over these screws or bolts). 
  5. The bulb will be connected by wire, so you’ll want to slowly turn the bulb socket to the left to release it from the assembly. The older bulb will then release straight out of the socket.   
  6. Next, slide the new bulb into the socket, aligning the sides of the bulb back into the socket.  
  7. Carefully turn the bulb to the right, back in place.  
  8. Reattach the outside assembly that covers the light, making sure it aligns straight.  
  9. Tighten the screw or bolts.  
  10. Unscrew and repeat for the other side if necessary (might as well triple check while you’re here)
  1. The owner’s manual shows the location of the fuse box(es) and provides a diagram telling which fuse controls what. It is important to first understand why the fuse blew before replacing it so look for any electrical issues. 
  2. Turn the vehicle off.  
  3. Locate the fuse boxes that contain spare fuses and a fuse puller that looks like a small clothes pin or tweezers. Always replace a blown fuse with one of the same amp ratings.  
  4. Take off the fuse panel’s cover. 
  5. There will be a range of colors and numbers that denote different “amperages” (amps), or wattage, while a diagram (usually on the reverse of the cover) will show what system each fuse is assigned to in the car. 
  6. Locate the blown fuse. To indicate which fuse is blown, the inside will usually be black or have metal filaments that are broken, or the system in the car is no longer working.  
  7. Insert a replacement fuse of the correct amperage.  
  8. Keep a few extra fuses of various amperages in the vehicle. 
  9. Start the car to check if it is working correctly. If the same fuse blows soon after you replace it, it’s time to seek a qualified technician to diagnose and repair the problem. 

AAA Sidekick Tip:

Using a fuse of the incorrect amperage can cause serious electrical problems.

  1. Wash the Headlights: Use a warm, soapy water to clean the surface dirt and debris from the headlights, then rinse with clean water, allowing them to fully dry. 
  2. Tape off Your Headlight: Apply masking tape to the areas around the headlights. This will protect the trim, paint and plastic parts during cleaning.  
  3. Soak & Sand: Soak your sandpaper in water briefly to wet it, and then apply a generous amount of window cleaner to the sandpaper. Then start sanding in one direction (up and down or side to side). 
  4. Use a microfiber cloth wipe to wipe the window cleaner from the headlight. 
  5. Rinse and Sand Again: Once you’re satisfied with the sanding in one direction, rinse the lenses. 
  6. Then, use the finer grit sandpaper and begin sanding again, switching directions from your first round of sanding.