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Car Care You Can DIY and When to Pay a Professional

car care - mechanic putting the car on a lift

Car care is increasingly more complicated these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make some repairs on your own. Here are common car repairs you can safely and easily do yourself and some that are best left to the car care pros.

DIY Car Care

Changing a Flat Tire

Flat tires are a nuisance and they seem to strike at the most inopportune moments. You can call AAA services for help with the job or you can try to tackle this one all on your own. The process isn’t complicated and the tools to do the job should be in your car. Once you find the spare tire, jack and tire iron, you can remove the flat tire and pop on the spare, although it’s not always that easy. Get full, step-by-step instructions.

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Checking the Battery

Dead batteries can strike at any time. Checking your car battery and knowing when it’s time for a new one should be part of regular car maintenance. If it’s time to replace, call for roadside assistance to get a battery delivered to you and installed properly.

Replacing a Light

Headlights, tail lights and turn signals tend to burn out and legally need to be replaced before you drive. If you can manage changing a household lightbulb, then you can change many of the bulbs in your car. Find the correct bulb at an auto parts store and then follow the instructions in your owner’s manual to see how to access and remove the old bulb. Keep in mind, not all lights are created equal; for example, some headlights require removal of the bumper cover to gain access to the bulb.

Replace an Air Filter

The job of keeping your engine free from dust and dirt goes to the air filter. Eventually, it gets dirty and needs to be replaced as a part of regular car care. You’ll find the air filter in the engine compartment beneath a cover that may be held on with screws, clips or clamps. Once you remove the cover, take out the the filter and clean the housing before installing the new one. Your owner’s manual has guidelines on how often this should be replaced, but a good rule of thumb is to do it every 30,000 miles and check the filter’s condition with each oil change.

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Adding Oil

Checking your oil should be a regular part of monthly car maintenance and is essential to keeping your car in working order. If you check and find the oil is low, then it’s easy to add more. Purchase the correct grade at a gas station or auto parts store. Pop the hood and unscrew the oil cap. Pour in the fresh oil and once the dipstick shows it’s full, your car is all set. Learn more about changing your own oil

Tips and Tricks

  • If you drop a part where you can’t reach it, dab some superglue on the end of a dowel or coat hanger, touch it to the object, wait a minute for the glue to dry and carefully retrieve the part.
  • Using a spray with soapy water (kids bubble soap works great) can help find leaks. Just spray it to the suspected area and look for bubbles to form.
  • Use a mixture of baking soda and water with an old toothbrush to clean the corrosion off your battery cables. Hot water and a little soap will work too.
  • Cloudy headlights can often be improved with non-conventional approaches. Non-gel toothpaste contains abrasive that can clean a plastic headlight cover. As a last-ditch effort, if you need a quick fix, bug sprays that contain DEET will dissolve the plastic haze and temporarily clean the headlights.
  • If you see a dent in your fender, a plumbing plunger often can pull out the dent. Pour hot water on the dented panel, attach the plunger and pull. If the panel isn’t creased, you might get lucky and the dent will be gone.
  •  A plastic bumper can sometimes be salvaged with boiling water. Pour it over the bumper; it may soften it enough to manipulate the plastic from the backside so you can push it back into shape.
car care

Car Care Best Left to Professionals

Timing Belt

Plenty of people try to replace the timing belt, but it’s not a good idea. This car care job requires taking apart a good bit of your engine. It also requires reassembling it correctly when the job is done. If you make a mistake putting things back together, what was originally an inexpensive car repair could end up being very costly.

Shock Absorbers and Struts

Not only is this a tricky job that can require special tools to perform correctly, but because you will need to jack up the car and climb under it to perform the job, it can be dangerous. Rather than risking injury and a poorly performed repair, it’s best to pay to have this done by a professional.


This is a big one that people dread because it’s not cheap to repair. Depending on the vehicle, this can also be a difficult and time-consuming job. If you don’t follow procedures correctly a radiator replacement could turn into a much more expensive repair. This is such an important part of car care that doing it improperly could mean needing a whole new engine. Instead of taking that risk, have a professional do the job and you’ll know it’s done correctly.

Fuel Pump

The fuel pump supplies fuel to the fuel injector at just the right pressure. It is a sensitive part and an expensive one to replace. This might tempt you to try the job on your own, but that isn’t a good idea. In many cases you need to remove the fuel tank and depressurize the fuel system. This is definitely a job for the pros.


Replacing your brakes isn’t the most complicated job, but it’s not one you want to do wrong. Your brakes are what stand between you stopping at a traffic light or careening into an intersection. If you don’t know how to do this correctly, is that a chance you’re willing to take? We didn’t think so. Seek a professional for this auto repair rather than risking brake failure.

What would you add to our suggestions for repairs anyone can handle versus those that should only be done by professionals? Let us know in the comments!

AAA members can save on automotive replacement parts and accessories at NAPA.

For discounts on repairs and quality you can trust, check out our AAA Approved Auto Repair facility locator here.

This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been updated. 


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6 Thoughts on “Car Care You Can DIY and When to Pay a Professional

  1. Trying to decide if it’s something you want to attempt yourself? There are a plethora of YouTube videos you can use to help you determine if you want to undertake the job.

  2. How about a guide to the approximate cost of independent garage repairs for tasks such as brake pad and rotor replacement, headlight bulb replacement, wheel bearing or drive hub replacement and tire mount and balance and battery replacement.

    1. Nina,
      If you need Roadside Assistance, please call 1-800-222-4357. If not, please let me know what kind of help you’re looking for and I’ll point you in the right direction.

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