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5 at-home repairs you can do in your spare time

Once you’ve decided to attempt to repair your car on your own, it can be tough to know where to start. As you have probably figured out, though, some repairs are a lot easier and simpler than others. Let’s look at some that are on the simple side, starting with the most simple.

Smaller replacement items such as fuses and wiper blades can be purchased inexpensively at your local auto parts store.General auto parts can be purchased at the same place but are often found online at a better price, like at

1) Change a fuse. You may have been stumped at some point by a bulb, or other small electrical component, that wouldn’t work even after you replaced it. The culprit was most likely a small, unassuming fuse. It’s exactly the kind of thing you never think about until it stops working, and even then it takes a while to think of it.

Fortunately, most cars have their fuses collected in one or two centralized locations for easy access, with a representation of which fuse goes to what. Your owner’s manual will tell you where to find it.If you are missing your manual, a downloadable copy can be found online. If a blown fuse is indeed the problem, then a firm tug on the offending fuse, and a similar replacement, are all you need for this one.

2) Change windshield wiper blades. The squeaking, the uneven surface contact, and breakage will all tell you that your wiper blades have seen better days. Once you have the replacements in hand, it’s usually a simple matter to unhook the old ones and put the new ones in their place. Considering how important all-weather visibility is, this simple repair is neglected far too often.

3) Changing out a head, tail or signal lamp. At this point it’s worth mentioning that it’s not just mechanical parts that need replacing from time to time. One great example is exterior lighting like headlights and taillights. Not only are they often the first thing damaged in a minor fender-bender, but simple exposure to the sun and extreme temperatures can make them dull, opaque, and just plain unsightly. A few small nuts and bolts are all that’s between you and replacing your worn or damaged lights, so it’s well within do-it-yourself territory, even for a relative beginner.

Now that you’re comfortable with what we might call entry-level repairs, it’s time to break out the wrenches and jack stands for a couple simple jobs that you could save big money by doing them yourself.

4) Replacing spark plugs. In a gasoline engine, combustion is started by a high-energy spark between two electrodes on a spark plug, with one spark plug at the top of each cylinder. Newer spark plugs can last many tens of thousands of miles, but they will likely wear out before the rest of the car does. Replacement is a cinch with the right tools, and good-quality spark plugs are only a few dollars each. Usually, replacing them involves removing the wire or ignition coil that sits atop each spark plug, and using a deep socket with an extension to reach down into the top of the cylinder head to loosen the plugs.

It is best to replace spark plugs one at a time. Once you have lifted the plug out, be very careful to avoid dropping anything into the hole before putting in the new spark plug. Setting the electrode gap to the correct amount is the next step, or you might choose a brand of plug with a pre-set, non-adjustable gap, depending on your car. From there, installation is the reverse of removal. When screwing in a spark plug, take your time and be careful not to cross the threads – repairing the threads there is expensive and avoided with some patience and attention.

5) Replacing brake pads. If you’re ready to take the next step, a good way to do that is to learn your way around your car’s most important safety feature – the brake system. Getting new brake pads can run you well into the triple digits at a shop, but you can do it yourself for roughly half that, with the right tools.

Getting access to your front brakes is simply a matter of setting the parking brake, loosening the lug nuts a little, raising the front of the car on jack stands, and then removing the wheels. A few turns of the wrench will remove the caliper and the other hardware holding the pads in place.

From here, you can simply install new pads, or for smoother and surer braking, you can pull off the rotors and have a local auto parts store machine the braking surfaces on a lathe for a nominal fee. You’ll probably need to push the cylindrical metal piston back into the brake caliper before being able to fit it around the new brake pads, and a sturdy C-clamp should do the job with ease. More detailed instructions are available on the web or at your local auto parts store.

These jobs only require your time, patience, attention, and some inexpensive tools that will pay for themselves over and over in the long run.Investing a little of yourself will let you avoid high shop bills for very simple things you can complete on your own.