13 Things You're Paying Your Mechanic For (But Shouldn't Be)
No matter how good your mechanic is, you're probably still paying for a lot of unnecessary labor. Most maintenance and non-catastrophic automotive repairs are a lot simpler to deal with than you might think, and unless you've still got a legitimately good warranty that covers everything under the sun, there are just some things you shouldn't have to pay extra for.
1. Changing your oil every 3,000 miles
There are two different points here. First—it’s very easy to change your own oil, and paying someone else to do it is seriously frowned upon in some circles. Second—there is absolutely no reason to change your oil at 3,000 mile intervals. That was the standard in the 1960s, but with today’s synthetic oils, you can get away with five times that.
While manufacturers recommend 7,500 to 10,000 miles, that’s mostly to soothe the minds of people used to 3,000 mile changes. I’ve spoken with some of the engineers responsible for these recommendations—you can do 15,000 or even 18,000 miles before you’re pushing the limits. Still not sure? Have your own oil tested. You'll be amazed at how clean it is.
2. Changing your spark plugs
Changing the plugs is monumentally simple. Make sure you can easily get to all of them before you start. If you can, all you have to do is buy a little tool that slips over the end, and unscrew them like you unscrew a lightbulb. Then screw the new ones in until they’re JUST past hand-tight.
3. Swapping burned-out bulbs
Lights are sort of a weird mystery for some. There’s an old joke about needing to change your blinker fluid. If you’re concerned about blinker fluid, go here. Otherwise, your manual will have the specific instructions for your car on how to change your headlights, brake lights, and turn signals. It won’t take you more than a half hour.
4. Fuel system services
Fuel system services are a bit controversial. They can be quite beneficial to the health of your car, but generally only if it has over 100,000 miles and has been maintained only sporadically. If your car is just a few years old and you’ve been using high quality fuel, there’s a very strong likelihood your mechanic is trying to take you for a ride.
5. Rotating your tires
All you have to do is jack your car up, take your wheels off, and put them on a different corner. This isn’t exactly difficult, and rotating your tires will greatly lengthen the time between buying new sets. The only thing you need to be careful about is which tire goes where, which will vary depending on your tire sizes and tread patterns. The Tire Rack has an excellent guide for anyone who has never done it.
6. Patching your tires
You shouldn’t try this one yourself unless you’ve done it before or your name is Angus MacGyver, but you should never pay for it either. A lot of places won’t charge you a penny for patching a hole.
7. Changing your brake pads
Is this a little bit more advanced than changing your oil? Yeah. But it’s still really easy, and in the process of doing it you’ll learn a lot about how everything works behind your wheel. Ultimately, you’ll have a better understanding of how your car interacts with the road.
8. Changing the air filter
Depending on your car, this can be as little as a two-minute job. And seeing as though you should change it every two to three years, that’s not exactly a lot of time out of your life.
9. Replacing your windshield wipers
Changing your wiper blades is literally just a matter of pulling off the old ones and putting the new ones on. Paying for this makes as much sense as paying someone at a grocery store to carry your two bags of ramen.
10. Switching out your battery
This is the entire list of things you need to replace your car’s dead battery: One ratchet. One new battery. That’s it. Really. If you’re not sure if it’s actually dead, virtually any auto parts store will test it for free.
11. Replacing your fuses
If your radio or all of your headlights suddenly stop working, you should always check your fuses first. Your car’s manual should have a list of which fuses do what. Simply find the fuse panel, locate the fuse in question, pull it straight out, and look at it. You’ll see a thin piece of metal connecting two larger pieces of metal. If it’s broken, exactly like a burned-out light bulb, put a new fuse of the same rating in.
12. Fix squealing belts
Squealing belts are possibly the most annoying thing that you can have on your car. That’s not only because of the nails-on-a-chalkboard sound, but because you’re broadcasting to the world that you haven’t bothered to open your hood and spray a tiny amount of lube on your drive and accessory belts. While the hood’s up, look for any cracks on the belt, just to be safe, then use just a little bit of belt dressing.
13. Diagnosing your check engine light
There are a million different tools out there that you plug into your car to help diagnose why your "Check engine" light is on. Usually, the cause is something minor, like absent-mindedly leaving the gas cap off. If, however, it shows something serious and you think it's an error (yes, that happens), you can reset the light and see if it comes back again before taking it into your mechanic.