REM

How long do you want your car to last? If you're driving a leased automobile, you don't have to worry about that question. Still, it's an important consideration for people that still are holding onto their pink slips three years after driving their cars off the lot. Some folks consider 100,000 miles the end of the road. For others, the 100,000 mile mark is merely a pit stop. Americans are keeping their new cars longer—nearly 6 years compared to 4 years in 2003. The average lifespan of American cars, including used ones, is up on the whole. We're squeezing over 10 years out of our vehicles. If you're planning on keeping a car or truck on the road for at least a decade, you're going to have to do more than change the oil and replace the tires.

For some auto owners, working on a car is pure joy; they've pulled the hood release lever nearly as many times as they've turned the key in the ignition. I am one of those strange individuals. Assuming I can perform a repair in my garage with basic hand tools, I'm going to do it myself.

In the two and a half years that I've had my 2006 Ford Focus, I've replaced the shocks and struts, springs, brake discs and drums, pads and shoes, spark plugs, fuel filter, brake hoses, and transmission fluid. I have no doubt that I've saved over $1,000 in labor costs by getting my own hands dirty every now and then.

So, why don't more people maintain their own cars? Having a garage makes the process easier, but it's not a requirement. I once installed a complete sound system in a friend's front yard (thanks Steve!) and our very own Miro painted his entire car in a private parking lot. Some repairs sound scarier than they actually are, which could explain why drivers are afraid to attempt them on their own. But it got me thinking: What are some basic car repairs or maintenance procedures that anyone can do, but most people don't?

Tire Rotation

Every time your car rolls out of the driveway or down the parkway, you're rotating the tires, right? Well, not exactly. Tire rotations are performed to ensure that all of your tires wear down evenly over time. A tire rotation requires removing each wheel and reinstalling it on a different corner of the car. If you have a car with four identical wheels and non-directional tires, you'll be moving back to front and front to back, as well as switching sides for at least two tires. Directional tires, on the other hand, mean that each pair of tires has to stay on their specified side of the vehicle. What if you have different sized wheels for the front and rear of your car, as well as directional tires? You better hope that your car's alignment isn't off, because those puppies are staying put.

Brake Noise

A cast iron disc spins at over 10 revolutions per second when a hydraulic piston pushes two blocks of metallic and ceramic fibers against it, bringing the disc to a complete stop in a matter of seconds. And you have the audacity to complain that you heard it happen? It's OK—you're not the only one. Squeals and squeaks from brake components are all too common, but it's an ailment that's easy to fix. Sometimes, simply cleaning your car's brakes with an aerosol brake cleaner is all it takes to remove annoying particles and debris that cause high-pitched scraping sounds. Applying a layer of disc brake quiet material to the backing plates of your brake pads can also cut down on noise. It is possible that your brakes are making noise because wear markers on the pads are making contact with the rotor, which means it's time to change them out. New pads, cleaner, and lubricant shouldn't cost any more than $100 and only require a few hours to install.

Spark Plugs

Has your relationship with your car lost some of its spark? (I know, cheap pun.) A gasoline engine's spark plugs are one of the least expensive, yet critical components of the combustion process. I change my spark plugs every 60,000 miles or so—regular spark plug maintenance keeps me from having to shell out for costlier repairs. Spark plugs may seem complicated, but replacing them is usually one of the easiest repairs you can do. Most spark plugs can be changed without even putting the car on a jack and require no special tools other than a spark plug socket, which can be acquired for a few dollars at your local auto parts store. There are a few key things to keep in mind when changing out spark plugs: 1. Make sure the spark plug gap is set to the correct distance with a gapping tool, 2. Apply anti-seize compound to the threads, 3. Apply dielectric grease to the insulator, and 4. Tighten the spark plugs to the correct torque specification, but never over-tighten them.

Help Us Out

We're working on expanding our collection of automotive repair guides, but we can't do it alone. Planning on changing your transmission fluid this weekend? Did those factory shocks finally give out and start bouncing more than the crowd at a Snoop Dogg Lion concert? When you're in the garage wrenching on your pride and joy, go ahead and snap some pictures. Then, start a new guide on iFixit and show everyone else how to do whatever you did. It's an easy way for you to be a part of teaching the world how to fix anything and everything.