For years, tinkering with cars was the domain of nearly every suburban dad, muscle head, and high schooler taking Shop class. But as years have passed and cars — like many things we purchase these days — have become more and more ruled by computers and software. Working on vehicles is done almost entirely by specialized mechanics with the gadgets and tools to effectively troubleshoot and repair the increasingly complex vehicles we buy and drive.

There may never be a return to the mechanical simplicity of a vehicle that could be completely overhauled in the family garage, but that doesn't mean there aren't still car maintenance tricks any Tom, Dick, or Harry can pull off by themselves.

While there are plenty of aftermarket performance parts you can add to or change out on your vehicle, it's tackling the routine maintenance that will save you a lot of money over the life of your car. Here are three DIY vehicle maintenance feats that almost anyone can accomplish.

Air Filter

airfilter.jpgBy far one of the easiest maintenance tasks, changing an air filter is something no one should ever pay a mechanic to do. Because it's such a regular maintenance occurrence — your car's air filter should be changed every 12,000 miles or 12 months — it's especially important to learn to do yourself. After purchasing a new air filter, find your old filter under your car's hood.

It should be in a smallish, black box with metal clips that hold its lid in place. Open it up, and pay careful attention to which way the filter sits inside it. If you're prone to forgetfulness, snap a picture with your smartphone. Take the old filter out, and place the new one in making sure it's situated exactly as the one you just removed. Close the metal clips, and drop the hood — easy and cheap.


battery.jpgWhile there are symptoms that failing batteries exhibit, the only way to be sure you need to replace one is to test your battery with a multimeter, a device that can be purchased for less than $50 — or borrowed from a car-loving neighbor.

Once you've determined your battery is indeed bad, secure a new one, grab a few different types of wrenches, a hammer, and some gloves, and open your hood. Be sure to check that your keys aren't in the ignition, so no errant spark will have a chance to fly. Pull on your gloves in the event that there are cracks in the battery that might leak acid.

Because removing a battery can be dangerous, proceed carefully. First, loosen the nuts and bolts that hold the terminal cable to the battery's negative post. Remove the cable, and then do the same thing with the positive terminal. Next, unfasten any bolts or clips that are holding the battery in place. Once it's loose, lift it straight up, and place it on the ground.

Place the new battery into the spot vacated by the old one. Reverse the operation you just did with your old battery, by starting with the positive terminal and then moving on to the negative. After the plates, nuts, and bolts have been tightened to keep the battery cables tight to their terminals, refasten any support that helps hold the battery in place. Put the key in the ignition and crank it up. It should immediately come to life if the battery was your only problem.

Spark Plugs

sparkplugs.jpgSpark plugs need to be changed regularly, because as time and use wear away the metal on their electrodes, the plugs' ability to ignite your vehicle's fuel/air mixture is compromised, which, in turn, reduces your overall efficiency and performance.

To change out old spark plugs, you'll first need to buy replacement plugs. While you can get specialty plugs, ones identical to what you're replacing will work fine. Then, set about removing each of the old spark plugs one at a time, so you don't lose track of their order.

First, remove the ignition wire by pulling on the plug's cap in order to keep from damaging or breaking the wire. Next, grab the correct size socket wrench and remove the old plug. Place the new spark plug in its stead, and before reattaching the ignition wire, coat the rubber part of the wire with some dielectric grease to ensure a good seal. After that, snap the wire onto the new plug, and repeat the process with the next plug until every one of them has been replaced.

Even as vehicles get more complicated, there are still scores of maintenance tasks everyday people can learn to do on them. From changing a battery to replacing spark plugs, there's no reason to rely on your mechanic for every little thing.

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