Getting the chance to get dirty under the hood is often a dream for many Aussies, but for a lot of us, we simply just don’t have the time to wheel out the tools and get to tinkering. But, with a good chunk of us sitting through lockdown (and potentially looking for something to do after finishing another season on Netflix or BINGE), why not grab the keys and get to those DIY jobs that your ride has been begging for? Whether you could moonlight as a mechanic or you’re not sure which end of the spanner you should be using, here are some DIY car repairs and projects you can do while in lockdown.
Easy car repairs and projects you can do in lockdown
Before we get into the meat of the article, it’s important to note that while you may have a lot of time on your hands, you should always work within your means and skillset, which means that you shouldn’t look to take apart the engine block if this is your first time popping the hood (or you don’t even know what a ‘hood’ is). This is because not only can you do more harm than good, but you could also void your car’s warranty (if it’s a new car still under warranty), which can lead to plenty more problems down the line. Check out Canstar’s guide on car warranties in Australia to learn more about what you should and shouldn’t look to tackle.
Alright, so now that you’ve set down the hammer and relaxed on the Pimp My Ride visions in your head, what easy car repairs or projects can you do during lockdown? We’ve listed a few below:
- Properly clean your car
- Top up your fluids
- Replace windshield wipers
- Check your tyres (including your spare tyre)
- Replace blown bulbs or fuses
- Touch up your paint job
- Change your oil
- Replace air filters
- Mount GPS or phone holder properly
- Tidy up oil spills in your garage or driveway
Properly clean your car
Now this might not be a ‘repair’, but properly cleaning your car can help it run smoother, be more comfortable to be in, and potentially safer, all by simply putting in a bit of elbow grease. Vacuuming the interior, washing the exterior, cleaning the inside of your windscreen, removing stains, cleaning the headlights and adding protective layers to the dash can all help give your ride that ‘new car feeling’.
Each step may require a particular cleaning agent depending on your car’s materials (such as whether you have leather or fabric seating, or the material your dash is made from), but most will be available from auto stores, meaning you’ll just need to grab a cleaning cloth, bucket and the hose, and you’re good to go.
Top up your fluids
Your car runs on fluids, and needs to be kept well lubricated to ensure that the moving parts stay moving, and the parts that don’t move stay put. Fluids like your engine oil, water to clean your windshield and anti-freeze if you live in a cooler climate can all help ensure your car runs smoothly and that you can stay safe while out on the roads, and being stuck inside for a little while is a perfect opportunity to ensure that your fluid levels are at where they should be.
If you need to top up any of your fluids, make sure you’re filling up with the right stuff (such as the correct oil for your engine), as you may not get very far the next time you can go outside. Additionally, if you need to completely drain the fluids, you’ll have to ensure you have the correct-sized funnel and somewhere to drain the fluids into, as well as a means to properly dispose of them.
Replace windshield wipers
One of the easiest DIY jobs that won’t interfere with your car warranty, replacing the windshield wipers can help you stay safe behind the wheel, as well as save you from the horrible scraping sound old wipers tend to make. The rubber on windshield wipers will eventually break down, and begin to scrape against the windshield itself, meaning that the rain and water isn’t wiped away as effectively, as well as potentially damaging your windshield.
You can purchase replacement windshield wipers from auto stores, although you’ll have to ensure that you have the correct size, as not all windshields are the same dimensions. Replacing the wipers is as simple as swapping out the ‘blade’ of the wiper (the bit with the rubber that wipes the windshield) by unclipping the old blade and sliding it out of the arm, and then sliding in the new blade and locking it in.
Check your tyres (including your spare tyre)
Your car tyres are an important part of your car, and are often the only thing between you and the road. As a result, it’s important to have them properly pumped and have plenty of grip left on them to get from Point A to Point B. To properly inspect them, it’s best to prop your car up with the jack stand to allow you easier access to your tyres. Be sure you’re working on a flat surface, and that the jack stand is firmly in place before you get under the car.
You can check your tyres by firstly rotating them to ensure that there’s no foreign objects such as rocks or nails stuck into the rubber. If you do find a foreign object in your tyre, don’t pull it out, as you may damage the tyre further, but simply swap the affected tyre with your spare, and look to get a professional to patch the tyre the next time you go out.
Next, check the tread of your tyre. The amount of tread left directly correlates with how well your car handles and ‘grips’ the road, meaning the less tread you have left, the less effective your car tyres are at stopping or handling. Each tyre will have a tread depth gauge in the groove, and if your tyre and the tread depth gauge are almost level, it’s time to get yourself some new tyres. It’s also best to replace your tyres all at once, as replacing just one may impact the handling of the overall car, although you can talk to your mechanic or car tyre retailer about shaving the tyre to get an even distribution across all tyres.
Lastly – and this is the easiest part of your tyre maintenance – check to see if your tyres are pumped. While you can do this at your local service station, you can purchase a tyre pressure gauge at auto stores to allow you to keep an eye on how much air your tyres have in them. Ensuring the tyre pressure is consistent across all tyres, and filled to the correct amount, can ensure your tyres handle properly out on the road, and properly sustain the weight of the car. If your tyres need to be pumped, you can either fill them up with an air compressor or dispenser, or wait until it’s ok to head down to your local petrol station, who will likely have an air pump you can use. If your tyres are filled with nitrogen, you’ll have to wait until you can see a professional to get them filled.
Replace blown bulbs and fuses
Blown light bulbs can be an obvious safety concern for not only you, but other motorists sharing the road with you. As a result, checking that your headlights, indicators, brake lights, interior lights as well as the smaller bulbs showcasing your rear licence plate are all in working order can help you stay safe when behind the wheel. Replacement bulbs can be purchased from service stations and auto stores, with replacing bulbs a simple case of popping out the old one and inserting the new one.
Alternatively, you may find after closer inspection that the bulbs aren’t the issue, and that the fuse has blown. This is another easy fix, as most cars allow easy access to the fuse box (check your car’s owner manual to locate this, as it may vary from brand to brand), with replacement fuses able to be picked up from petrol stations and auto stores. To replace a fuse, simple pull it out of the fuse box and replace it with a new fuse of the same voltage. Run a test to ensure the fuse is properly working, and then you’re good to go.
Touch up your paint job
After washing your car, you may find that your car has a few scratches, or that the paint may not be holding up as well as it did. Thankfully, you can tackle a few of these areas, all without too much effort. For smaller scratches, you can look to erase them with special products that can be purchased from auto stores, although you’ll have to be prepared for a bit of elbow grease to get your car looking pristine.
For light scratches, you’ll have to sand the affected area with a fine paper, before looking to polish the area, and then finish by buffing. Most product kits available on store shelves will include all three elements needed to take care of scratches, but it’s also recommended to pick up some car wax to wipe down the area afterwards for some much-needed aftercare.
If you want to bring the paint job back to its heyday, buffing it can bring back some of the shine, although there’s no guarantee it’ll come back good as new. If you have an older car, or you regularly leave your car parked in the sun, the paint may fade beyond repair – and need an expert to repaint the whole vehicle – but for slightly newer models or those parked undercover, buffing and waxing may bring back some of that sparkle. Just be sure to properly wash and clean your car before you get the buffer out, as you want the car’s surface free of all containments beforehand.
Change your oil
Topping up your oil levels is an important part to keeping your car running optimally, but what if you want to drain and change your oil altogether? While this is usually done at the mechanics when you drop it off for a service, if you’ve left it too long between services, or you just want to ensure that your car has fresh oil to work with, changing the oil can be done easily at home.
To change your oil, firstly raise your car with a jack, and ensure that it’s secure before you hop under it. Once you’ve safely raised and secured your car, unscrew any undertray protection that your car likely has (which protects vital engine parts from scraping against the road), and set up a bucket or tray to catch the engine oil. From here, loosen the drain plug (it’s best to wear gloves here, as there will be a fair bit of oil coming out, and it may be hard to scrub off your hands), and let the oil drain into your bucket. Once the oil has fully drained, inspect the oil filter for any breakages, before popping the plug back in. From here, re-fill the engine with the correct oil, and then re-inspect underneath to ensure there are no leaks. Let the oil settle for a few minutes before re-checking the oil levels to ensure you have enough in the engine, before turning on the car and letting it run idle for a few more minutes. After this, inspect underneath to see if there are any leaks, before reinstalling the undertray.
Replace air filters
While vacuuming and cleaning the interior of your car can help improve the air quality in it while you’re driving, tackling the air filter may be a worthwhile job to do during lockdown to help you breathe in that fresh air the next time you’re out and about. The air filter (surprisingly) filters the air outside of the car when entering your vehicle, helping to capture pollutants from entering the cabin. As a result, your air filter will become dirty and clogged up, which not only impacts its effectiveness, but can impact the efficiency of your car in general, as less air is circulated to where it needs to be.
Replacing – or simply cleaning – your air filter is an easy process, although you’ll have to ensure that you’ve purchased a suitable filter replacement part for your vehicle. To replace your air filter, pop the bonnet and locate the air filter (you can usually do so through the owner’s manual). Undo the fastenings holding the filter in place, and remove the old filter. Now from here, you can either clean or replace the whole unit, with cleaning the filter box (where the filter is housed) also recommended to catch any loose particles. Pop the clean or new filter back in and redo the fastenings, and you’ve got some clean air heading your way.
Mount GPS, dash cam or phone holder properly
Regardless if you’ve been rolling with a homemade mount for the past few months or you’ve got a new toy thanks to some lockdown shopping, it’s important to properly mount your devices to ensure that you keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel. Properly mounting your GPS unit, a dash cam or even just a phone holder can ensure that each device can be used hands-free, and – in the case of the GPS and dash cam – can be used most effectively without being obstructed.
To properly mount each device, follow the instructions on the box or in the manual, and ensure that each device is mounted in an area that doesn’t obstruct your view of the road.
Tidy up oil spills in your garage or driveway
Now that you’ve spruced up your car, you may notice that the garage or driveway has a bit of wear and tear of its own – namely in the form of oil marks. To tackle oil marks, it’s generally recommended that you pick up a degreaser – which you can usually find at hardware or auto stores – and follow the instructions on the packaging. Instructions generally consist of pouring degreaser on the area and scrubbing with a steel brush before rinsing with water, although this may vary slightly between degreasing products. If the oil marks still show up, give it 24 hours and tackle it again.
And there you have it – a few car-based jobs you can do yourself while in lockdown, or during the weekend when things have settled down a bit. While you’ll likely have to source a few cleaning materials and spare parts before you get started, all of the above jobs can be done with minimal know-how without voiding any car warranties you may have. But, if you’re not comfortable tackling any of the above, it’s best to leave to the professionals and simply highlight the potential issue the next time you drop your keys off at the mechanic.
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