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5 money-saving DIY tips for car owners

Consumer Reports News: May 29, 2012 03:38 PM

As cars have become more advanced over time, it has been increasingly difficult for enterprising owners to perform basic maintenance and repairs. While some jobs do require professional expertise and pricey tools, there are still many things that a handy owner can do to keep a car running in top shape and save money in the process. Below are a few tips from our automotive experts.

1) Treating hazy headlight lenses. Modern headlight assemblies usually have clear plastic covers that can grow hazy over the years from exposure to the elements. To save the expense of changing the whole headlight reflector assembly, you can use a restoration kit, usually consisting of abrasive cloths and a special finishing liquid. Some kits are applied with elbow grease, while others call for an electric drill. (See our headlight cleaner test and advice.)

2) Windshield wipers. You can extend the life of wiper blades by keeping them clean. Wipe off the rubber edge with a paper towel moistened with glass cleaner, or water and a little dish soap. Wiper blades don't last long. In our tests we've found that six months is about the best you can expect a set of wiper blades to stay in top form. (See our windshield wiper buying advice and Ratings.)

3) Wash and wax your car. Giving your car a good cleaning helps preserve the paint by removing road grime and residues that can eat through the finish. The time spent hand washing a car gives you a close-up view of every body panel, so you can spot scratches, chips, and dings you may not have otherwise noticed. To maintain a quality shine, periodically apply car wax. A spray wax is best suited to weekly or special-occasion applications. Other waxes can be used less frequently, every 2-3 months. (See our car wax buying advice and Ratings.)

4) Light bulbs. Changing a light bulb isn't difficult—most these days have a twist-and-pull bayonet base or they simply pull out and push in. Bulb specifications are usually found in the owner's manual. However, accessing a bulb (usually called a lamp in industry parlance) can be a real chore. Consult a service manual or look online if access to the bulb isn't obvious. Auto-parts stores and your franchised dealer carry good selections of replacement bulbs. If you're replacing a halogen headlight bulb take care not to touch the glass with your bare fingers. Skin oils on the quartz glass are said to shorten its life.

5) Touch-up paint. Touching up paint flaws early can save a heap of money down the road. You can touch up small scratches and chips with touch-up paint, available for a few dollars at your car dealership and at some auto-parts stores. Make sure you get an exact color match. Touch-up paint usually comes in a small bottle with an applicator brush in the lid. Otherwise, use a small, pointed artist's brush and cover the scratch by going over it in tiny dabs. Let this paint dry for at least a day or two before polishing the car.

See our full list of 10 do-it-yourself car-care tips.

Visit our car maintenance and car repair sections for more helpful advice on car ownership.

Gordon Hard


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