Car Care at Home: Top 5 Easy DIY Remedies

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In today's world, the cost of automobile ownership is definitely high and the cost for repairs for anything (cars included) can prove even higher. One way to drive down those expenses is to perform some of the repairs by yourself. Not only is car care at home a means to keep more dollars in your pocket, you might also gain a good chunk of satisfaction from a job well done.

Five things the average person can accomplish at home include changing wiper blades, replacing a battery, fixing a burned out bulb, replacing a fuse or changing a thermostat. None require a considerable amount of tools and all can be accomplished right in your driveway. Follow along as we show you five easy home remedies:

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Car Care at Home Tip #1-Replace Battery

The engine must be shut off. Open the hood and locate the battery. The first step is to remove the negative or ground cable (black). Loosen the attachment nut and remove the cable. If it is a top post model, you may be to twist it and pull up. If does not come off, it may be necessary to use a set of battery terminal pliers. Your local auto parts store will have them in stock. Never attempt to pry the cable off. This often ends in a broken, cracked or damaged battery case.

Repeat the process with the positive cable (red). Set the cables aside and remove the hold down clamp (often they are simply a one-bolt affair).

You can now remove the battery from the battery tray. They're heavy so be prepared. It's best to get your fingers under the battery and using both hands, lift straight up although in some vehicles, this isn't possible.

With a mix of household baking soda and water, scrub the battery tray. A stiff brush helps here. The baking soda-water mix will neutralize and remove any battery acid build up on the tray surface. This is also a good time to clean the battery cable ends. Baking soda and water works, but this time, a wire brush might be necessary for proper cleaning. Be careful with the splatter from the soda mix. The remaining acid can raise havoc with clothing or car paint.

You're ready to install the new battery. The install process is identical to the removal, except of course reversed. When you're done, check to insure that the cables are tight. Start the car.

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Car Care at Home Tip #2-Replace Fuses

The engine must be shut off. Locate the fuse box. In most cars, it's located in the area near the left (driver side) kick panel or adjacent to the steering column. Typically, the owner's manual will spell out the location. Some vehicles (particularly later model examples with high electrical loads) are equipped with a second fuse box located within the engine compartment.

Remove the fuse box cover. The cover will often include a diagram showing, which fuses control specific functions. Older model vehicles will have this information spelled out directly on the fuse panel.

Locate the blown fuse. Using your fingers, you can often pop the fuse out of the panel. If it proves difficult, you may have to use a fuse "puller." This is simple plastic tool (sometimes included with the car and stored in the fuse panel or panel cover). As a last resort, you can pry the fuse out with a small screwdriver, but be careful! Some of the circuits may be "live."

Examine the removed fuse. The filament (a thin metal strip) should be broken and the fuse may appear blackened. This indicates a "blown" fuse. Determine the amperage of the fuse and replace with an identical example. Do not assume a higher capacity fuse will fix an electrical problem! Only replace with the same amperage fuse.

Replace the fuse by pressing it back into the slot the original came from. You should be able to press it in with your fingers. Properly installed, you'll feel it snap into place.

Start the car and check the circuit the fuse controlled. For example, if the courtesy lamps weren't functioning previously, they should be now. Once you've determined the circuit is functional, reinstall the fuse panel cover.

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Car Care at Home Tip #3-Replace Tail Lamp Bulbs

For the majority of vehicles, bulb number 1157 is used when the brake and turn signal lamp use the same bulb. If the turn and brake lamps use individual bulbs, the most common bulb number is 1156. In some cases, the owner's manual will help you determine the appropriate bulb. Otherwise, ask your auto parts store for assistance.

Bulbs for most passenger cars are accessed by way of the luggage compartment. In some examples, an access panel or carpet covering will have to be removed or set aside. Locate the bulb(s). Determine which bulb is burned out (by turning on the tail lamps, applying the brakes or using the turn signal switch). Once determined, turn the vehicle off.

In most cases, the bulb will unscrew with a partial turn. In other cases, the socket must be removed first, followed by the bulb.

Replace the bulb in the same manner it was removed. Be sure it seats cleanly in the socket (you should feel it seat into place). When replacing bulbs of any sort, it's a good idea to keep the new bulb covered with a clean shop towel or cloth while you're handling it. Body oils can shorten bulb life dramatically (this is actually most important with today's high energy headlamp bulbs).

Start the vehicle and check the bulb function. If the operation is satisfactory, replace any panels or carpet set aside to access the bulb.

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Car Care at Home Tip #4-Replace Thermostat

Purchase a (correct) new thermostat and thermostat gasket for your vehicle. Additionally, you'll need a small tube of gasket sealant.

With the vehicle completely cool, slowly open the radiator cap, using a shop towel between your hands and the cap. Slowly open the cap. If the engine is cool, there should be little or no pressure in the system. Remove the radiator cap.

Determine the location of the thermostat. You can accomplish this by following the large upper radiator hose. It will end at the location of the thermostat. In most cases, the thermostat cover or housing will be located at the front of the engine, and will be secured by way of two bolts (or more).

Prepare for some coolant loss in the next step. Remove the upper radiator hose at the thermostat housing. The clamp is most often held in place by way of a screw. Often, the hose will require some force to remove (they tend to stick on the housing). You'll probably have to twist the hose in order to remove it. In some cases, once removed, you can quickly fold the hose over itself. This can prevent a considerable amount of coolant loss.

Remove the bolts that attach the thermostat housing (cover) to the engine. You'll have to pry the housing off. Use care not to damage the housing. Remove the old thermostat.

Use a gasket scraper (a putty knife will suffice) to remove all of the old gasket material from both the thermostat housing and the engine mount surface. Steel wool or a Scotchbrite pad can be used to remove any gasket or old sealant remnants. Both the thermostat housing and the engine mount surface must be clean and dry before installing the new thermostat and gasket.

Reinstall the thermostat using the same orientation as it was removed (spring facing down or toward the engine). The thermostat fits into a recess in the engine side of the housing. Apply a thin coat of gasket sealer to both sides of the housing-the engine side along with the removable cover side. Install the new gasket. Re-install the thermostat housing and re-install the housing bolts. Tighten the bolts.

Replace the upper radiator hose. Reinstall and retighten the hose clamp. Allow time for the gasket sealant to dry. Once dry, start the engine and check for leaks. Shut off engine.

Top off the cooling system (be sure to use the same type of coolant the engine is equipped with). Replace the radiator cap and tighten.

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Car Care at Home Tip #5-Replace Wiper Blades

Determine the appropriate blade replacement and purchase from your local auto parts store. With the vehicle turned off, locate the wiper blades. Place your new blades alongside the old models to insure they're the correct (same length and same style).

Pull the wiper arm up and away from the windshield. The arms are almost always spring loaded, which allows them to be pulled away and serviced.

The majority of wiper blades are attached by way of a release pin. Locate the slide lock on the wiper blade to release the pin. Remove the blade assembly from the wiper arm.

Slide the new wiper blade over the arm. Allow the pin on the arm to seat on the new blade. You'll feel (and often hear) a click as it seats. In some examples, there's a hook that covers the pin. Close it until it locks. Try to (gently) pull the blade off. It should be locked in place.

Lower the arm assembly back onto the windshield. Repeat the removal and replacement steps for the second blade. In many cars, it's more difficult to acess one of the wiper blades (it will be positioned in the center of the car). To gain access, turn the wiper on. Allow it to sweep to a convenient location and turn the ignition key off.

About the Author

A true hands-on "gearhead," Wayne Scraba has a diverse background in both writing and motorsports. Over the past two and a half decades, Scraba toiled as a magazine editor, technical editor, freelance magazine contributor, and has authored five automotive books. His background also includes racecar fabrication, muscle car and street rod restoration and construction, and operating his own automotive parts and repair business.

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