Repair Your Vehicle (Basics)

Modern vehicles are complex and repairing them can seen daunting. However, there are a number of common repairs you can do yourself at home. Even if you are unable to complete the repairs yourself, you can often save money by diagnosing issues with your vehicle before bringing it in for repairs.


Looking for Signs of Common Problems

  1. Look for cracks or leaks in the hoses. A leaking vacuum line can cause all sorts of problems in your vehicle. Inspect the rubber hoses in your engine bay for signs of cracking or damage. You can also try spraying soapy water over all of the hoses from a spray bottle to help Find a Vacuum Leak. Look for any spots the soapy water begins to bubble up on the lines. If you find any, that line is leaking and will need to be replaced.[1]
    • You can buy replacement hoses at your local auto part store.
    • To replace them, simply loosen the hose clamps on either side (using either a screwdriver or pliers based on the clamp) and remove the old hose. Then put the new one in its place.
  2. Check the belts for damage and tension. Most vehicles come equipped with either one serpentine belt or two accessory belts. Find them on the front or side of the engine and look for any cracks or glazing on the rubber. You’ll also want to pinch the belt between your index finger and thumb and wiggle it to test the tension of the belt.[2]
    • There should be less than {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} of play in the belt.
    • Glazing (shiny parts of the belt) indicate that part of the belt has been rubbing somewhere and the belt needs to be replaced.
    • Cracks in the belt mean its dried out and will also need to be replaced.
  3. Inspect the battery and tray. A bad battery or connection can leave your vehicle unable to start. Look over the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals for a buildup of oxidation or grime. Inspect the tray beneath the battery for damage as well, as it needs to hold the battery firmly in place.[3]
    • Check the bolt holding the battery in place for rust. If it’s rusty, it should be replaced.
    • If the terminals are oxidized, you can clean them by adding some baking soda to water and scrubbing that mixture unto the terminal with an old toothbrush.
  4. Use a penny to check the depth of the tread on your tires. Insert a penny into the tread with Lincoln’s head upside down. If the tread doesn’t cover the top of Lincoln’s head, the tires need to be replaced.[4]
    • On larger tires meant for trucks, a quarter should be used instead of a penny.
    • If the tread is worn down too far, your vehicle is more prone to a blowout.
  5. Look for low pressure or damage on your tires. Low tire pressure can reduce your gas mileage and make the vehicle feel sluggish. It can also damage the tires and make them more prone to blowouts. Look for any cracking along the side of the tire (sidewall) and use a tire gauge to make sure each tire is properly inflated.[5]
    • The sidewall of the tire will tell you it’s air pressure rating in PSI (pounds per square inch).[6]
    • If the sidewall is cracked, you’ll need to buy a new tire.
  6. Connect a code scanner to the vehicle to help with check engine lights. There are a number of reasons a vehicle’s check engine light might come on. If yours is on, plug an OBDII scanner into the open, trapezoid shaped port beneath the driver’s side dashboard. Turn the key to accessories on your ignition, and turn the scanner on to read the engine’s error codes. You can purchase a code scanner at any auto parts store.[7]
    • The codes will be a series of letters and numbers, but most scanners will also provide an English description.
    • If the scanner doesn’t provide an English description of errors, write down the code and find it in a vehicle specific repair manual or on the manufacturer’s website.
    • Most auto parts stores will scan your error codes for free.

Solving Electrical Issues

  1. Jumpstart a car with a dead battery. If the engine doesn’t turn over and no lights come on when you turn the key in your vehicle, the battery is likely dead. Start by connecting jumper cables to the positive (+) first and then the negative (-) terminal of your battery.[8] Then connect the cables to the battery of another running vehicle.[9]
    • After the other vehicle charges the battery for a moment, turn the key in the ignition again to start your car.
    • Make sure you look for the cause of the dead battery. If you left a light on, no further repairs are necessary. If you didn’t leave anything on, the alternator may have failed.
  2. Replace the battery. If your battery has been allowed to die too many times, or has sat unused for a long time, it will likely need to be replaced. Use the appropriate sized wrench or socket to loosen the bolt holding the battery in place, as well as the bolts holding the positive (+) and negative (-) terminals in place.[10]
    • Slide the cables off the battery terminals, then pull the battery up and out of the engine bay.
    • Place the new battery in the battery tray and secure it using the tightening bolt. Then place the cables on the terminals and tighten them.
  3. Install new spark plugs. You should replace your spark plugs every 30,000 miles or anytime they look damaged or burnt. Disconnect the plug wire from the spark plug, then use a spark plug socket to unscrew and remove the old plug. Insert a gap tool into the space between the new spark plug and its electrode, and rotate the tool until it presses the electrode out to the recommended gap distance in your vehicle’s user or repair manual. Then insert the plug and tighten it using the spark plug socket.[11]
    • You can get a gap tool at your local auto parts store and find the appropriate gap information on your vehicle’s manufacturers website if you do not have the manual.
    • Repeat that process for all cylinders.
  4. Change out spark plug wires. It’s easy to replace your spark plug wires at the same time as the spark plugs. After disconnecting the wire from the plug, follow it back to the ignition coil pack, and simply disconnect it there too (pull it back away from the coil). Then plug the new wire to the coil, and then to the plug.[12]
    • Be sure to connect each new plug wire to exactly the same coil and spark plug as the old ones, otherwise the engine won’t run properly.
  5. Remove blown fuses. If something electrical stops working while the rest of the vehicle continues to operate, it’s likely the result of a blown fuse. Locate the vehicle’s fuse box or boxes using your owner’s manual, then follow the guide provided in the manual to locate the fuse that relates to whatever has stopped working. Remove the fuse with a pair of plastic tweezers or pliers and, if possible, inspect it for damage.[13]
    • Most fuses are clear so you can see if the connection inside is broken or burnt up.
    • Insert a new fuse in place of any blown ones.
    • If you don’t have the manual, you can find the fuse boxes and fuse diagrams in a model specific repair manual or on the manufacturer’s website.
  6. Swap out blown headlights and taillights. If your headlight bulb goes out, access it from behind the headlight assembly inside the engine bay. Unscrew the bulb and harness from the assembly, then pop the bulb out with your hand.[14] Don’t touch the new bulb with your bare skin as you insert it however, as the oil on your skin may compromise the bulb over time. To replace tail light bulbs, follow the same process from the trunk.[15]
    • Make sure you provide the clerk at the auto parts store with your vehicle’s exact year, make and model to ensure you’re given the correct replacement bulbs.
    • If you do touch the bulb with your skin, wipe it off with an alcohol pad or some rubbing alcohol before installing it.

Replacing Parts

  1. Put on your spare when you have a flat tire. A flat tire may be the most common form of auto repair you can run into. Make sure the vehicle is on a flat, solid (paved) surface and that you’re in a safe area. Use a tire iron to break all the lugnuts loose. Then, use a jack to lift the vehicle off the ground and slide a jack stand in next to it to ensure the vehicle can’t fall. Remove the lugnuts the rest of the way and remove the wheel from the vehicle.[16]
    • Slide the spare wheel and tire onto the lug studs and then use the lugnuts to hold the new wheel in place.
    • Lower the vehicle back to the ground and then tighten the lug nuts firmly.[17]
  2. Install a new serpentine belt. If your belt looked damaged, loosen it by engaging the auto tensioner pulley with a breaker bar (if your vehicle has one) or by loosening the bolts securing the alternator to the engine. With the tension released from the belt, simply slide it out over the pulleys and remove it from the vehicle.[18]
    • Use the serpentine belt diagram in the vehicle’s owner’s manual or found on the manufacturer’s website to ensure you run the new belt through the pulleys properly.
    • Once the belt is run, apply pressure to the auto tensioner pulley with the breaker bar to loosen it, and pull it up over the last pulley, then release it to add tension.
    • If your vehicle does not have an auto-tensioner, run the belt over all pulleys, then use a lever to apply pressure to the alternator out away from the engine to make the belt tight, then re-tighten the alternator bolts to maintain tension in the belt.
  3. Replace your windshield wipers when they appear dry or cracked. Bad windshield wipers can make driving in the rain unsafe. You can remove most wipers by pulling them out away from the windshield, then turning the wiper perpendicular to the arm it’s on (on a 90 degree angle). Then simply slide the wiper off of the hook holding it in place. [19]
    • Some wipers may have a notch or tab you need to press to release the blade from the arm.
    • Install the new blade and then fold the arm back flat against the windshield.
  4. Swap out your air filter when it’s dirty. A dirty air filter can reduce gas mileage, or at worst, prevent the vehicle from running. Use the owner’s manual to help you locate the airbox, then unclip the 4 clips holding it closed. Open the airbox and inspect the filter for damage, dirt, and debris.[20]
    • If the air filter is damaged or discolored, remove it and simply drop a new one in its place.
    • Resecure the airbox when you’re done.
  5. Put in new brake pads. Bad brake pads will squeak and not step as effectively as good ones. First jack up the vehicle, secure it on jack stands and remove the wheels. Then remove the two caliper bolts holding the pads and their bracket in place. Slide the bracket up and out of the caliper, then remove the brake pads. Use a C-clamp to compress the caliper piston back into the caliper, and the insert the new brake pads.[21]
    • Resecure the brake pad bracket to the caliper with pads in place.
    • Put the wheels and tires back on the vehicle and lower it to the ground when you’re done.

Changing Fluids

  1. Drain and replace the coolant. Locate the petcock on the bottom corner of the radiator and open it with a container beneath it to catch the draining coolant and water. You may also want to disconnect the bottom hose going into the radiator to drain it. Close the petcock and reconnect the hose once it’s done draining.[22]
    • Add a 50/50 mixture of water and coolant to the radiator and it reaches the full line on the reservoir.
    • Make sure to use the correct kind of coolant for your vehicle. If you are unsure, you can find that information in the owner’s manual or on the manufacturer’s website.[23]
  2. Change your oil every 3,000 miles (or as directed). Some newer vehicles have different interval requirements for oil changes, but if you’re unsure, 3,000 miles is a good rule of thumb. Slide a container beneath the vehicle’s oil pan, then locate and remove the oil drain plug (the only bolt in the bottom of the pan). Allow it to drain completely, then reinsert the drain plug.[24]
    • Unscrew the old oil filter and screw on a new one in its place.
    • Then refill the engine with the correct amount and type of oil, which can be found in the vehicle’s owner’s manual or on the manufacturer’s website.


  • Never work under a vehicle without placing jack stands beneath it.
  • Always wear eye protection when working beneath a vehicle.
  • Disconnect the negative (-) terminal of the battery before working on any part of the car to avoid shocks.

Related Articles


  6. [v162021_b01]. 19 November 2021.
  8. [v162021_b01]. 19 November 2021.
  17. [v162021_b01]. 19 November 2021.
  23. [v162021_b01]. 19 November 2021.

Quick Summary