How to service your car at home
Whether you want to save some money, learn a new hobby or simply get to know your motor, there are plenty of ways you can perform a car service at home. While there are some jobs that are best left to your mechanic, plenty can be done on your driveway or garage, DIY-style. In this article, we detail all the ways that you can service your car yourself, letting you take control of your motor maintenance.
Before you start servicing your car, we’ve included a DIY home car service checklist for each job plus how long you can typically wait between servicing. If you’re unsure whether you should conduct a job, consult your owner’s manual and contact your mechanic to be sure, and if you don’t feel confident doing a job, don’t risk it; call your garage.
Car oil and filter check, top up and change
Check your car oil level every 2,000 miles (or four months) and change it every 3,000 miles (or six months).
You will need:
Plenty of rags
Dry, clean cloth
Oil filter wrench (if changing oil)
Oil filter (if changing oil)
Drain pan (if changing oil)
Funnel (if changing oil)
How to check your car oil level:
- Turn off your engine and let it become cold. Ensure your car is parked level. Open your bonnet.
- Pull on the dipstick ring to fully remove the dipstick. Wipe it with a dry, clean cloth.
- Reinsert the dipstick fully, without forcing it. If it gets stuck, remove and clean it again, then reinsert. Keep the stick as straight as possible.
- Remove the dipstick and check the oil level by looking at the min and max markers on the dipstick. If the level is below minimum, top up the oil.
How to top up your car oil:
- Unscrew the oil filler cap (an oil can marker will be atop the cap).
- Slowly and carefully pour in the new oil.
- After pouring a small amount in, check the oil level on the dipstick. Repeat this step until you reach the max marker. Don’t put more oil in than the maximum.
- Replace the oil filler cap and reinsert the dipstick.
How to change motor oil:
- Park your vehicle level and let the engine cool.
- Open the bonnet. Remove the dipstick and oil filler cap.
- Place the drain pan underneath the oil drain plug on the engine block. You may have to jack up your car to access it.
- Remove the oil drain plug and let the oil drain out into the pan.
- Once all oil has drained, clean drain plug, replace the gasket and screw the plug back on, using a wrench if necessary.
- Before refilling, you should also replace the oil filter. Remove the old filter with an oil filter wrench and install the new oil filter.
- Pour the used oil within the oil pan into a sealed container, ready to be taken to oil recovery container at a recycling facility – pouring it down the drain is illegal.
- Screw on the oil drain plug and pour the new oil into the oil tank with a funnel.
- Wait for five minutes to let the oil to circulate.
- Check the oil level and top it up if required.
- Replace the oil filler cap, start the engine and let it run for a few minutes to allow the oil to circulate through the engine.
- Let the engine cool, then check the oil level once more.
For more detailed instructions, visit our handy guide to checking and changing your motor oil.
Air filter change
Air filters generally need replacing every three years.
You will need:
How to change your air filter:
- Open your bonnet and locate the air filter. It should be held in a black, rectangular box and secured with metal clips either side. If you’re unsure where to find it, check your owner’s manual.
- Open the clips on the casing of the air filter and note how the filter slides out so you can replace it the correct way.
- Remove the old filter and place the new filter within the casing according to your note.
- Close the metal clips that fold it in place.
Spark plug change
Spark plugs should require replacement every 30,000 miles.
You will need:
Wrench (ratchet or socket)
12” socket extension
How to change your spark plugs:
- Locate the spark plugs – there will be between four and eight of them, and they should be attached to large, thick wires. Check your owner’s manual if you cannot find them.
- Take one plug and remove its wire. Do not remove any other plugs; spark plugs need to be replaced one by one, so the wires do not get mixed up.
- Using the spark plug socket extension, remove the spark plug from its socket.
- Replace the plug with a new spark plug. Screw it by hand, then tighten it with the wrench, taking care not to overtighten.
- Attach the wire to the spark plug socket.
- Repeat steps 2-5 with all other plugs.
Coolant check and top-up
Coolant should be checked every six months and topped up if the level is low.
You will need:
Coolant or antifreeze – check your owner’s manual for the correct type
How to check your coolant level:
- Park on a level surface, then let your car sit for a few hours to let the engine fully cool. Do not check your coolant when the car is hot – boiling steam can cause serious injury.
- Open the bonnet and locate the coolant reservoir.
- Check the coolant level – it should be between the min and max markers. Below min, and a top-up is required. If it’s above max, siphon the excess out of the reservoir.
How to top up your coolant:
- If using antifreeze, not pre-mixed coolant, mix the antifreeze with distilled water in line with the instructions – typically 50-50, or 70-30 for cold climates.
- Cover the reservoir cap with a cloth and remove it.
- Place a funnel within the reservoir to avoid spills – antifreeze and coolant are toxic.
- Slowly fill up the coolant to the maximum marker.
- Screw the cap back on until it clicks.
View our guide to topping up engine coolant and antifreeze for more in-depth instructions.
Gear oil and filter check and change
Oil for manual gearboxes should be changed every 30,000 to 50,000 miles, while oil for automatic gearboxes should be changed every 60,000 to 100,000 miles.
You will need:
Gear oil gasket and filter
How to check your gear oil:
- Open the bonnet and find the transmission dipstick.
- Remove the dipstick from the filler tube, clean it, then insert it fully back in.
- Remove the stick and read the oil level. There should be min and max markers on the stick, showing the amount of oil in the gearbox. Check the colour of the oil.
- If the level is below minimum, you may need to put more oil in the system. If the oil is very dark and smells burnt, it may require replacement.
How to change your gear oil and filter:
- Find your vehicle’s drain hole and place an oil pan underneath it. If not, put the pan beneath the gearbox assembly.
- Unscrew the drain bolt or remove the gearbox pan. Let the fluid drain into the pan.
- Remove the old gasket and filter – have the replacements close by.
- Inspect the gearbox pan and clean any small pieces of metal off the magnet. If larger pieces of metal are present, you may need to replace your gears.
- Install the new gasket and filter. Place and bolt the pan back onto the car or screw the drain bolt back on.
- Check how much gearbox oil your car needs in your owner’s manual.
- Put the right amount of oil into your gearbox using an oil pump or pour in the oil once you have measured it out.
- Let the oil settle for a few minutes, start the engine and run the vehicle for five minutes.
- Check the oil level again to make sure you have the right amount in the system.
- Find your nearest oil bank to dispose of the oil.
View our guide to checking and changing gear oil for more in-depth instructions.
AdBlue consumption can vary greatly, with tanks requiring a refill between 3,000 and 12,000 miles. Your vehicle will alert you via the dashboard if you need to top up your AdBlue tank.
You will need:
How to refill your AdBlue:
- Locate the AdBlue® tank beneath the bonnet or next to the diesel filler cap.
- Remove the AdBlue® tank cap and put a funnel in the top of the reservoir.
- Slowly fill up the tank until it’s full.
- Your car may need a dashboard reset after topping up to remove the warning light.
- Do not start the vehicle until its onboard computer has validated the refill. This can take a few minutes, after which your car should notify you the refill is complete.
View our guide to checking, refilling and removing AdBlue for further step-by-step instructions.
Battery terminal cleaning
Car battery terminals require cleaning every year or so.
You will need:
Baking soda and water (or battery terminal cleaning fluid)
Clean, dry cloth
How to clean your battery terminals:
- Turn off your car; you may electrocute yourself if you do not turn off your vehicle entirely.
- Located the battery and remove the negative terminal using a wrench, then the positive terminal.
- If your battery is bulging or warping, you should replace it as soon as possible.
- If there is a powdery, white substance (corrosion) on the terminals and clamps, you should clean them.
- Mix a small amount of water with baking soda to create a paste.
- Use the toothbrush to apply the paste to the terminals and clamps.
- Scrub away the corrosion – you may require a steel wool scrubber.
- Dry off the battery, terminals and clamps.
- Wipe a little petroleum jelly onto the clamps and terminals to keep them corrosion-free for longer.
- Reconnect the battery – positive terminal first, then negative.
Check your tyre condition
Tyres should be checked every few months or so.
You will need:
How to check your tyre condition:
- Check all four tyres for bulges and visible damage such as punctures, cuts and splits. If you find any, you may need to replace your tyre.
- Check the tread depth by insert a ruler into the tread.
- The minimum legal tread depth is 1.6mm, although you should change your tyres if they are under 3mm to ensure total safety.
There are plenty of ways you can perform DIY maintenance on your car at home. Visit our advice hub for more information on DIY car servicing, Lub Advisor to find the right lubricants and fluids for your vehicle, or contact our experts if you have any queries.