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10 money-saving tips for do-it-yourself car care

Posted by Consumer Reports on April 20, 2013
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Car care tips

Consumer Reports provides cost-conscious car owners these 10 do-it-yourself tips for taking care of all your vehicles.

  1. Hazy headlight lenses. Modern headlight assemblies have clear plastic covers that often become hazy. To save the cost of changing the whole headlight reflector assembly, use a restoration kit with abrasive cloths and a special finishing liquid.
  2. Windshield wipers. Extend the life of wiper blades by keeping them clean. Wipe off the rubber edge with a paper towel moistened with either glass cleaner or water and a little dish soap.

    Be prepared to get new blade assemblies every spring and fall, or as soon as you notice consistent streaking. And if you're changing one, you might as well change both, because they are subjected to the same aging factors.
  3. Wash and wax your car. A hand washing helps preserve your car's paint by removing road grime and residues that can eat through the finish. It's also a chance to get a close-up view of every body panel to spot scratches, chips, and dings you otherwise may not have noticed.

    In order to maintain a quality shine, periodically wax your car. A spray wax is best for weekly or special-occasion applications. Other waxes can be used less frequently. Consumer Reports has found paste waxes hold up no better than liquid waxes and liquid is easier to apply.
  4. Stain treatment. Pet-stain products are good for removing food, beverage, and other stains from cloth upholstery and carpeting. Keep these tips in mind:
    • The quicker you treat a stain, the better.
    • Blotting is better than rubbing. Use cold water instead of hot, which can set a stain.
    • Test a cleaning product on an inconspicuous area to make sure it doesn't change the upholstery color.
    • Spray bottles are just as easy to use and less costly than aerosols.
    • Treat clean upholstery with Scotch Guard or a similar product to make stain removal easier.
  5. Dent removal. Avoid the cost of a body shop or using a "paintless dent removal" specialist by trying a do-it-yourself dent-removal kit. Kits available through infomercials and online usually cost $20 to $30. Follow the instructions carefully. Generally, the more experience you have, the better the results. You have to be careful with the hot glue, and you should avoid pulling the metal out too far. Small dents less than 1 inch in diameter were the toughest to fix. The kits worked best on dents about 4 inches across.
  6. Light bulbs. Changing most light bulbs/lamps isn't difficult.  Most have a twist-and-pull bayonet base or simply pull out and push in. Bulb specifications are usually found in the owner's manual. However, accessing a bulb can be challenging. Consult your service manual or look online if bulb access isn't obvious.
  7. Coolant. You should have the coolant changed at the interval specified in the owner's manual. If you need to top up between changes, add coolant to the coolant reservoir usually found near the radiator. You can buy coolant at a service garage, or auto-parts or big-box store. Sometimes it's premixed, and sometimes it comes in a concentrated form that you mix yourself using distilled water. A 50/50 mix is standard Just make sure to get the proper coolant, which should be listed in your owner's manual.

    Actually changing the coolant yourself may not be worth the hassle. You need a safe way to dispose of the discarded fluid, and doing the job right involves flushing the whole coolant system, which creates gallons of contaminated wastewater.
  8. Weather stripping. Rubber weather stripping on doors may come loose. If the rubber and clips are in good shape, reattach by pushing the clips back in place. Or glue it using a special-purpose weather-strip adhesive available at auto-parts stores.
  9. Fuses. Your owner's manual tells you where the fuse panel is located and which fuse controls what. There's usually a tool for pulling fuses inside the fuse-panel door. Always replace a blown fuse with one of the same amp rating, specified in the owner's manual. In other words, don't replace a 10-amp fuse with a 20-amp fuse. That could cause a fire.

    Note that fuses usually blow only if something has overloaded the circuit. So a blown fuse can signal something more serious, such as an electrical fault that will require a professional to remedy.
  10. Touch-up paint. Early touch-up of small scratches and chips can save the cost of a bigger professional paint job later.  Touch-up paint is available at your car dealership and some auto-parts stores. Make sure to get an exact color match and follow the instructions.

For more consumer advice from the experts at Consumer Reports, use your union member discount and save 27% off the annual subscription for Consumer Reports Online.

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