Save money by doing small jobs on your car yourself

Sorry for my absence (again).  No sooner had I got over my gastric flu and had a recuperative weekend away, than I went down with a horrible throaty head cold.  I feel fine now but my ears are still squeaking like an inept balloon modeller on a wet Sunday.  Back now though……

Me in Halford's car park

Me in Halford’s car park

This afternoon, I managed to talk Lady Marjorie out of taking her car ten miles to the garage for her mechanic to replace the tail light.  Once she had realised that simple car jobs can be done by ordinary folk, some of whom are not even called Bob, she agreed that I could pick up a new bulb from Halfords  and fit it for her in the morning.  She waved me off down the drive with an immaculately pressed lace handkerchief and a tear in her eye.

The thing is, that many small jobs on a car can be done by ourselves.  It’s not that I want to deprive honest mechanics of a living, but why waste money when a job is quick, cheap and simple?   Even on modern cars where, if you can find out how to lift the bonnet, there is just a small microchip and a telephone number for NASA lurking beneath, bulbs still need changing, fuses need replacing and tyres occasionally need levering off in a ditch and we can do these things ourselves.  It is not an esoteric art.

In my new book, ‘Wartime Housewife: No-Nonsense Handbook for Modern Living’ there is a chapter on essential items for different aspects of domestic life, including a sensible kit for the car.  One should always carry a spare bulb or two and men and women alike should have a telescopic wheel brace.  So often, wheels have been put on at the garage with a machine and the strongest bod can have a hard time of getting his nuts off.  But with an extendable wheel brace, the extra leverage makes short work of even the tightest wheel nut and the feeblest of biceps. 

Look in the handbook and it will tell you what to do.  If your car doesn’t have a handbook, then Haynes manuals for older cars are still available, and manuals for modern cars are available online at

As I was sorting Lady M’s car out, I remembered that my own headlamps was on the blink.  I went to Halfords and looked up the correct bulb for my Focus Estate (there is a flipchart in store so that you can check you have the right one) and went out into the car park to fit it.  The bulb was eleven quid which made me gulp a bit, but still cheaper than a mechanic and, as I hadn’t had to change any bulbs on this car so far, I thought it was about time I learned how to do it. 

I lifted the bonnet and approached the light array housing.  Once I realised that I had to remove the battery cover to get anywhere near it, I took a further ten minutes getting the housing off and trying to get my hand into the miniscule space allowed for big greasy mits to get at the bulbs.  Having erroneously removed something that intermittently buzzed in my hand, I put it back sharpish and found the offending bulb.  I thought I’d better just do another quick check to make sure I had the right one.

I switched on the engine, turned on the lights and went to the front to stare at them.  All were lit.  Mmmm. I switched off the engine, went back under the bonnet checked the bulbs again, taking care to accidentally drop the housing into the machinery of the car.  With a sigh I slid under the car and tried to manoeuvre my arm through the hole in the bottom to wiggle it out.  Removing myself gingerly from the puddle in which I had inadvertently reclined, I returned it to its rightful place, breaking several nails in the process, and checked the lights again.  All working – the bulb was just loose.

I was glad that I had effected this repair in the car park because I was able to go straight back into the shop and get my money back.  The whole business took about forty minutes because I was unfamiliar with the car, but next time it will be the work of a moment.  I was dishevelled and greasy and that’s how I like it, because I did it myself.  And so can you.

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7 Responses to Save money by doing small jobs on your car yourself

  1. Toffeeapple February 19, 2014 at 10:51 #

    I thought Halford’s would do light fitting at no cost? Anyway, I still don’t know where the engine is on my smart, though I did once refill the washer bottle and replace a tail light…

  2. wartimehousewife February 19, 2014 at 20:35 #

    they will do it, Toffeeapple, but they charge. It’s only about £5 or £7 but I could buy a couple of pints of Doom Bar for that!!

  3. Philip Watson February 19, 2014 at 22:00 #

    I applaud loudly your determination not to be beaten by a mere machine. I disapprove strongly of the recent tendency of manufacturers to seek to make their vehicles as user-hostile as possible, unserviceable except by the witch-doctors at the main dealers with their special tools and wands and incantations.

    Breakdowns on the road are another matter. Although I do have AA cover for complete unmovable collapses, my first instinct would always be to try to nurse a stricken ride home under its own steam (singing Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer, at the top of ones voice, is optional, but usual); but whilst I’d be happy to have a go with my 45-year old Land-Rover, I’d be much less keen to try to do so with Mrs W’s modern VW thing, for fear of sending its on-board demon computer into an implacable sulk.

  4. wartimehousewife February 19, 2014 at 22:18 #

    I’m sure I must have told you this story, but I once had a Rover whose security system went mental and locked me out. It started off by merely making things tricky by spontaneously alarming certain areas of the car, then it progressed to not recognising the remote control key. After a decent interval, it would only let me in if I turned the key backwards and forwards in a sequence that corresponded to a numeric code. When I stopped locking it altogether, it started trying to lock me in when I was actually IN the car. Finally I took it to a Serious Rover Dealer who attached it to their computer. The car thought the computer was an intruder and went into complete lockdown and I had to scrap the car.

    It could have been demonic possession I suppose?

  5. Philip Watson February 20, 2014 at 20:37 #

    No, I don’t recall that story; but it doesn’t surprise me, being a fan of neither Rover quality control, nor car security systems. A professional thief will have your car away, no matter what you do to protect it; and some spotty herbert looking for a cheap ride home from the pub is going to be more deterred by six feet of hefty chain knotted around the clutch pedal arm and the steering wheel, and secured with a padlock – which he can see – than a box of electrickery that he’ll only realise is there after he’s smashed your window to gain entrance.

    Other tricks that work well, apart from the chain business, are removing the steering wheel (again, a visible deterrent), or taking the starting handle with you when you leave the vehicle (the only problem being that you risk being accused of being in possession of an offensive weapon). Possibly the simplest I’ve heard is to leave a plastic dog turd on the driver’s seat when you park up.

    In desperate need of immediate wheels, in the spring of 1982, I bought a decrepit Morris 1100 (that sort of scaled-up Mini), but realising that it was very stealable, I decided to make it a bit more recognisable. Having recently been reading Ngaio Marsh, I had named this heap ‘the Bloodbath’ at first sight, so painted that as a name across the bootlid, finishing it off with half a tin of Humbrol red enamel, puddled on with the lid open (and panel thus horizontal), and the lid then slammed closed. The following day I was pulled over.

    ‘Excuse me, sir. Is this your car?’
    ‘Yes officer. Bought it yesterday. Here’s the paperwork.’
    Meanwhile, number 2 plod is crawling about, looking at tyres and sills and things. He shouts up to number 1 plod, from his position in the gutter, ‘It looks OK’, and manages to sound very surprised. Number 1 plod also obviously surprised. Long, thoughtful pause, then ‘OK, sir, I have to ask. Why the paintwork?’
    ‘Well, officer, I’ve been told that these get stolen a lot.’
    ‘Yes sir.’ (Pleased with himself.) ‘That’s why we stopped you.’
    ‘Well, if somebody had stolen my car, I’d want you to stop them, wouldn’t I?’
    ‘… Yes …’ (Sounding a bit puzzled now.)
    ‘Worked, didn’t it?’
    ‘Eh?’ (They clearly didn’t recruit the brightest in the Avon and Somerset Constabulary.)
    ‘Ooooooh. I get it. Well, sir, you’ll have to get used to my colleagues stopping you to check.’
    ‘That’s OK, officer. It’s all legal.’
    And off they plodded.

    I worked it out, after it all calmed down: I got stopped, on average, every ten days for the following few months. Then they got used to it, slowed to check it was me driving, and gave me a wave. That autumn, I acquired a new girlfriend, a sweet little thing who had just left home to go to university. She was obviously worried: ‘When we’re out driving, why do all the policemen wave to you?’ (It didn’t help her mother’s opinion of me …)

  6. wartimehousewife February 20, 2014 at 21:58 #

    Brilliant!! On all counts.

  7. Wesley of Trusted Car Buyers March 4, 2014 at 17:04 #

    There’s no more rewarding feeling than doing the job yourself. It’s amazing how helpful the car handbooks are… you’d think they were there for a reason… not just destruction manuals ;)

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