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Taking your truck or Jeep to your local mechanic can be costly and even unnecessary in certain situations. With a little bit of knowledge and confidence, you can complete a range of vehicle maintenance projects on your own, which can save you hundreds of dollars. Many mechanics have a degree in business or mechanical technologies, but you don’t need a lot of training and experience to change an air filter or install a lift kit.
If you end up taking your vehicle to the mechanic, they might charge three or four times what it would cost to install these items yourself. Use this in-depth guide to become your own mechanic with your truck or Jeep.
Diagnosing Your Vehicle
If you’re looking to be your own mechanic, you’ll need to troubleshoot various vehicle-related problems like strange sounds, an engine that won’t start, or some other issue that leaves you scratching your head. But there’s plenty of information out there to help you get to the bottom of the situation. Some tech-savvy drivers are even using apps to diagnose their vehicles. Learn how to properly diagnose your vehicle, so you can fix the issue yourself.
You should always be on the lookout for various problems when driving, including strange sounds, smells, and changes to how the vehicle drives. No one knows your truck or Jeep better than you do, so stay alert when you get behind the wheel. Pay attention to dashboard alerts and signals, which will help you quickly get to the bottom of any underlying issues.
Here are some common vehicle-related sounds and issues that every truck enthusiast should know:
Whining: If you hear a whining or growling sound as you turn the steering wheel when you’re driving or parked, it usually means you’re running low on power steering fluid. To fix this issue, simply add more fluid and look for leaks on the power steering system. You only need to add more power steering fluid once a year, so, if you’re doing this on a regular basis, you likely have a leak. Check all hoses and the power steering pump for leaks. You can either replace these elements yourself or head to your local mechanic.
Squeaking: If you hear a squeaking sound when you start the engine, it usually means you have a worn serpentine belt. Look for glazing, peeling, cracking, and tears in the drive belt. If the belt looks torn, replace it, but, if the noise remains, you’ll also need to replace the belt tensioner.
Won’t Start: If your car simply won’t start, the likely culprit is the battery. Even if the low beam lights are on, the dashboard powers up, and the blower fan is running, the battery could still be to blame. You may need a new battery, but first, make sure your current battery is properly connected. Use a wire brush with corrosion-removal cleanser to clean off any grime or rust from the top of the battery, especially around connection ports. Dry off connection terminals before reattaching.
Still Won’t Start: You may also need a new alternator if your vehicle still won’t start. You’ll need a socket wrench and crowbar to install a new one. Unbolt the old alternator and install a new one in the same position. Use the crowbar to loosen and retighten the tension on the belt.
Even if you don’t run into any strange noises or smells, you can still do routine maintenance projects yourself.
Air Filter: One of the most common tasks drivers tend to do themselves is replacing dirty air filters. You’ll need to replace your air filter every year or every 12,000 miles. A mechanic will likely charge you over a $100 for this simple task, but it only takes around 10 minutes or less.
Just open the hood and look for the air filter, which is typically housed in a rectangular plastic box. Pull out the air filter; you’ll know right away if it needs to be replaced. These things can get black and filthy pretty fast. Throw away the old filter and slide in a new one, which only costs about $10 or $15. Make sure the new filter is in the same position as the old filter.
Cabin Air Filter: You’ll also need to replace your cabin air filter, which is usually located behind the glove box. You should replace this every three to four months to keep the air in your car smelling fresh. You’ll see a small plastic box inside your glove box with two arrows on each side. Push inward, and the filter should come right out. Pop a new filter in the same position as the old one, and you should be good to go.
Wipers: Winter and the rainy season can wreak havoc on your windshield wipers. You’ll likely need to replace these every once in a while, especially if you live in an area with extreme weather. Replacing your windshield wipers is a cinch. Just lift the old blades away from your vehicle and remove the wipers. Make a note of how the old blades were attached. They usually click onto the arm itself. Stick on the new blades and make sure they’re tight and securely attached before hitting the road.
DIY Projects and Upgrades
If you’re looking to upgrade your Jeep or truck, you should be able to make certain modifications yourself, so you don’t have to pay a mechanic on top of what you’re spending on new accessories. Most of these upgrades and accessories come with installation instructions. Read through them carefully before starting the installation process. Go slowly and give yourself plenty of time to complete these projects. If something goes wrong, you can always head over to your local mechanic as a last resort.
Lift kits and leveling kits are easy to install and come with in-depth step-by-step instructions. These kits usually come with a range of suspension parts and accessories, including coil springs, new shocks, and an anti-sway bar. You’ll need a jack and some other basic tools to get the job done, but it should only take you around five hours to get the job done.
Being your own mechanic shouldn’t intimidate you. As a truck enthusiast, you probably know more about your vehicle than you realize. Use video tutorials, your user manual, and model-specific guides to complete a range of projects, including everything from engine noises to suspension parts. You can save money and time by not visiting your local mechanic. Try one of these maintenance projects today.