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Some auto maintenance tasks are still DIY

There's no argument: Cars and trucks are getting more complicated. It's to the point where any professional mechanic who doesn't want to fall behind has to undergo frequent training, not only on general procedures, but on repairs that are specific to certain makes and models. That makes it increasingly tough to do your own maintenance. But a novice can still handle several tasks. Here are a few, and some sources for helpful how-to information:

Changing oil: Even this isn't as easy as it used to be. I changed my own oil for years, but we now own a car that requires a special tool to reach the filter. It's so much trouble that I've admitted defeat and let the dealer do it. On most vehicles, though, it still comes under a do-it-yourself heading.

At ehow.com, there's a video that takes four minutes to watch, but if you can do a complete, proper oil change that quickly, you could get a job on a NASCAR crew. Watch it here: www.ehow.com/video_5225917_ change-own-oil.html. Also, About.com has an eight-page tutorial here: autorepair.about.com/od/regularmaintenance/ss/oil_change.htm.

Changing a car battery: This one isn't as easy as it used to be (though it took a search party to find the battery in my old Chevrolet Corvette). Batteries can be located in several different places, as designers search for optimum weight placement, cooling and the best use of available space.

Your owner's manual should help you locate it, if it isn't in plain sight, like batteries used to be. Keep in mind, if you are buying a new battery, many sales outlets offer free installation. Keep in mind, too, that with some vehicles, disconnecting the battery can cause the radio to lose its "code," which is an antitheft measure. The code must be programmed back into the radio after the change, discouraging a thief who presumably knows that your radio is coded before he steals it.

If you still want to change your own battery — or at least know how it's done — about.com has a tutorial here: autorepair.about.com/cs/doityourself/a/blbattery.htm. Another good one is at www.castrol.com/castrol/generic article.do?categoryId=8264013&contentId= 6003187.

As with any mechanical undertaking, be careful, and if you think you're getting in over your head, get some help.

Tires: Of all the minor maintenance you do on your vehicle, at the absolute top of your list should be checking, and maintaining, your tire pressure. Proper pressure recommendations are found in the owner's manual or on the driver's doorjamb of the car, not on the tire, which typically just lists the maximum allowable pressure. The wrong pressure can severely shorten tire life, can cause excessive heat buildup — which can result in a blowout — and can cut fuel mileage.

Check your tires' pressure at least once a month, and while you are down there, look for wear — both normal (the tire is wearing evenly across the tread) and abnormal (certain parts of the tire seem to be wearing more than others. If you see that, consult a professional.). You'll need a gauge, preferably a good digital one, available from an auto parts store.

The website Edmunds.com has a tutorial: www.edmunds.com/ownership/howto/articles/125093/article.html. The site also has a link to a video that helps walk you through the process. Over time, all tires lose air, so you can't afford to put this off for long.

Some auto maintenance tasks are still DIY 08/26/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010 2:48pm]
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