There’s maintenance you should do, the kind of work that demonstrates or imparts mechanical aptitude. But sometimes, it doesn’t seem worth the bloody fingers and oil stains. That’s okay! You’re a car owner who understands opportunity cost and has better ways to spend an hour. Here are four tasks worth handing over to the mechanic.
If you can drain and refill a bathtub, you can do an oil change. Doing it yourself doesn’t make you the Orville Wright of Chevy Berettas. What an oil change will do is force you to crawl under your car and have hot liquid spill down your hand and possibly your face. You’ll need to extract the filter, which is great fun if you think your knuckles have too much skin. Then you need to safely get rid of the old oil, which won’t happen before you step in it, knock it over, or otherwise replicate Deepwater Horizon in your driveway. You know what’s easier? Pay the guys who do this every day and can knock it out in ten minutes.
Last time I did this, I attempted the swap in the parking lot of the auto-parts store to return the old battery—as with oil changes, battery replacement leaves you with a toxic nuisance to recycle. There, I learned that the tie-down system involved tiny bolts located so far down in the engine bay that they were, technically, part of the Earth’s molten core. It’s worse in new cars. Generally, the more modern the car, the more aggravating the battery swap. Just for fun, I popped the hood on a 2017 Audi Q7 to test my hypothesis. Unsurprisingly, there’s no battery in the engine bay—performance-minded companies often put it in the rear for better weight distribution. So I lifted the cover on the rear floor, only to find a subwoofer and amp. With much chagrin, I resorted to the owner’s manual. The index says, “Battery location inside the luggage compartment, “The battery is located in the engine compartment.” I give up, Audi. You change the battery.
NEW SPARK PLUGS
Modern spark plugs last 100,000 miles, which means that car companies don’t give much thought to accessibility. Yes, it is theoretically simple to unscrew a plug and replace it. (You know, as long as you avoid cross-threading and give it the right amount of torque.) But that assumes you can reach all the plugs. If you’re lucky, a V-6 might have four accessible plugs and two that are underneath a fluid reservoir or some other hunk of removable equipment. Worst case? The rear plugs are buried under the firewall. If you want to feel deep empathy for your fellow man, find an online forum on strategies for changing the rear plugs on a Chrysler minivan. Unbolting the whole hood is just the beginning.
If you want to throw on your favorite Warrant concert tee and wax the Trans Am, don’t let us stop you. But you’ll never do it as well as the real car wash. You’ll miss sections, leave water spots, or catch grit on the sponge and rake it over the clear coat. It’ll look clean when wet, but as it dries you’ll see the water-spotted folly of your penurious ways. If you’re afraid you’ll catch Legionnaires’ disease from your own door handle, go to the car wash. Go automatic. Tip the guys.
ONE TO DO YOURSELF
Wiper blades usually snap right on and off with a locking plastic tab, requiring only a bit of 3D- temporal processing to figure out. Sure, you can have it done when your car’s at a garage for a checkup. But you should know how to replace them. When a wiper blade totally fails, it’s always during a weather event so heinous that Jim Cantore will be reporting from the other side of the parking lot. Learn how to change your blades with the quickness of a Nascar pit crew, and you’ll be your own hero during the next deluge.