Mechanics will murder you with $75 an hour for labor plus costs for who-knows-what. They should hand you a Rosetta Stone with that invoice. Determined to appear knowledgeable, you listen calmly as the mechanic explains in another language how he's crushing you. Avoid the confusion, unnecessary costs and man-up: learn four basic car repairs you can do at home.
Basic Engine Tuneup. Look in your vehicle's manual and get the year, make, model and engine size of your car. Bring that information to your local auto parts store and purchase an air filter, one spark plug for every cylinder in your engine, a distributor cap, a distributor rotor and the appropriate set of ignition wires. Open the hood and look for a large black plastic box. Unclip the top of the box and replace the air filter by putting the new one in the same direction as the old one. Find thick grey or black wires that feed into the top of your engine. Use your fingers to pinch and pull the wires from the top of the engine to expose the spark plugs. Replace the spark plugs using a ratchet and lubing the threads of the new plugs with silicon gel. Follow the old ignition wires to their root to find the distributor cap. Remove with a Phillips head, pull the rotor out from under it and replace with the new ones. Connect the new distributor to the new spark plugs with the set of ignition wires.
Tire Rotation. Mechanics will tell you that rotating your tires is important, and they are right. What they won't tell you is that is requires no new parts and is easy to do on your own. Get a car jack and some cinder blocks. Place the jack on the frame of the vehicle just behind the front-right tire and remove the wheel with a tire iron. Keep the lug nuts and wheel nearby and slide cinder blocks under the frame next to the jack. Lower the car so it rests on the blocks and repeat for all four wheels. For four-wheel drive vehicles, switch the wheels in an "X" pattern: front-right for rear-left and rear-right for front-left. For front-wheel drive cars, swap out the front tires straight back for the rear tires and criss-cross the back wheels to the front.
Oil Change. Get underneath your car and locate the oil pan-it's a boxy looking metal belly with a belly button bolt head sticking out of it. Position an oil catch under the belly button and undo the bolt. Let the oil drain. Open the hood and locate the oil filter, which will be a white or colored can sticking out of the side of the engine. Get a firm grip and unscrew the whole can and be careful-oil may spill or spray when the seal is broken. Take a small bit of new motor oil and lube the rubber gasket of the new oil filter. Replace the belly button bolt, tighten the new filter and fill the engine with oil. Buy oil in Costco sized bulk to save even more money. Dispose of your old oil legally.
Engine Belt Replacement. When you start your car does your engine squeal? Well, it's time to change your belts. Open the hood and do a little detective work. Each belt has a mechanism that puts tension on it. Look for an engine accessory that swings, such as the alternator. Find the bolt that holds the swinging part in place and loosen it. Swing the part toward the center of the engine and work the belt off the pulleys and replace. Tighten the belt so that it wiggles less than a quarter of an inch. It's helpful to take a picture of the old belt before you remove it as a reference guide.