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Car maintenance: DIY or leave it to the professionals?

When it comes to car care, there is a lot you can handle in your very own garage. But there are some issues that are better left to the professionals.

Woman working on her car |

Photo credit: PeterTG/iStock/360/Getty Images

Fixing a flat

Verdict: It depends

If you get a flat tire on the side of the road, assess the safety of the situation before trying to tackle the change yourself. If you’re in a friendly neighborhood, go ahead with it. If you’re on a busy freeway and you’re driving at night don’t go it alone. Call in your AAA membership or contact an auto service company such as Pep Boys, which will arrange a tow truck to take you and your car to their nearest location for a tire repair for as low as $20. A miniscule price to pay for your safety. When replacing, it’s worth opting for premium tires such as the brand new MICHELIN® Premier® A/S tires that evolve as they wear to provide incredible wet grip and stopping power even when worn.

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Battery change

Verdict: Let the professionals handle it

Yes, you could change a battery yourself. But if you can get your car to an auto parts shop before the battery putters out on you, the service people will likely install your new battery for no additional charge. Even better, they may check the charge for you to ensure you really need a new one. And with a new battery costing about $60 to $100, depending on the brand, it’s well worth taking it in to have it done.


Changing the headlight bulbs

Verdict: Save yourself the headache and pay for a pro

This one all depends on the make and model of your car. Some newer models are difficult to switch out without removing other parts of the car (hello, grill… we’re not messing with you). So unless you’re prepared to fully take apart and put back together the front end of your car, this one is probably best left to the professionals. If your car’s lights can be reached easily from the hood, go for it. Headlights are usually around $25 per two-pack, depending on the make and model of your car.

One little-known tip (well, it was little-known to me until I just recently replaced my own car’s headlights): touching the bulb with your fingers can damage it so take caution when handling it. Another tip: If both headlights stop working at the same time, it’s unlikely that blown bulbs are the problem. Check the fuse or consider a replacement relay switch for the headlights. My hubs and I tackled my headlights issue (which turned out to be the relay, not burned out bulbs) in about 45 minutes.

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Replacing a relay

Verdict: If you’ve got a mechanical-minded friend, DIY

Now about that relay… when my own lights went out, we thought it was a fuse, but those were fine, so that’s when we replaced both headlights, only to discover that was not the problem. After a simple YouTube search, my husband found a video that suggested the problem could be a worn relay. We got a new one at an auto parts store for $40, and he popped it into the fuse box in three minutes. Boom — lights, camera, action. Lights, anyway.


Squeaky brakes

Verdict: Probably leave it to the pros

Here’s the thing — if you’re into cars and have a garage full of tools (you’ll need a jack with stands, a lug wrench and a socket or adjustable wrench, a C-clamp, turkey baster — we bet you have one of those — and a bungee cord, not to mention the new brake pads themselves and a can of brake fluid), you can tackle this project. If you’re experienced in this type of repair, it could take about one hour — but for a novice it may take longer. Like, a lot longer. Plus you’ll probably need to buy a lot of tools to tackle the job, in which case we suggest you save yourself the trouble and take your car to the shop instead.

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Changing the oil

Verdict: Totally DIY-able

Changing your oil is totally DIY-able. You’ll need a socket wrench and an oil filter wrench, oil drain pan, funnel, gloves, new oil ($16 to $60, depending on the brand and variety) and a new oil filter ($9 to $15). The first time you try it, you may want to allow an hour (or more) to get the job done. Once you’ve mastered this mechanical skill, you can probably shave that time down by about half. If you’re gung-ho about DIY-ing, we think you’ve got this. If you’re not into it, an oil change should only run you around $35.

This post was sponsored by Michelin.

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