Whether you’re a seasoned mechanic or just getting into automotive DIY, replacing common car fluids is something most anyone can handle. Manufacturers make it pretty easy to top off most fluids, and for many systems, you can replace the fluid entirely without a mechanic’s tool set or training. Granted, some systems are easier than others, but it’s always more satisfying to do it yourself. These three essential car fluids are especially DIY friendly:
1. Windshield Fluid
Windshield and deicer fluid usually runs out more quickly than other fluid. Luckily, it’s also the easiest to replace. You’ll know you’re out when you get a notification on your dashboard or when you try to spray your windshield and nothing comes out.
To add more windshield fluid, find the plastic reservoir under the hood of your car — it should be clearly marked, most likely with a picture of wipers. Just pop off the cap and pour in the fluid. There should be a fill line on the reservoir itself or min/max lines to guide you.
If you live in regions with freezing temperatures, make sure you use a fluid with deicer in it. Adding water alone will leave you with an unhelpful ice cube. Swing by your local NAPA Auto Parts to pick up some of the pre-mixed solution, and keep a gallon handy. You’ll use it!
Oil shouldn’t need topping off unless you have a leak or didn’t add enough to begin with. It does need to be changed regularly, however. This project might sound daunting, but after you’ve done it once, you’ll wonder why you ever paid anyone else to do it for you.
Changing your oil is as simple as removing the drain bolt, collecting the old oil, replacing the drain bolt and adding the new stuff. You may want to change the oil filter while you’re at it. The trick with DIY oil changes is the disposal afterward. Collect the old oil in a large container, add the new oil into the engine, and then fill the now-empty bottles with the used oil and cap them tightly. You can then drop the bottles off at a local automotive shop or recycling center.
Oil should be changed every 3,000 to 5,000 miles (every three months or so). The specific mileage is specified in your owners manual. Your manual will also tell you how much is needed. This is not a negotiable amount and it varies by vehicle, so make sure to have the proper amount for one oil change on hand.
Driving around without coolant is not something you want to be doing, so keeping a bottle around for topping off is never a bad idea. Radiator flushes are needed less frequently than oil changes and they are a bit of a hassle, but the project is still doable.
The funnel is your friend, here. Coolant is notoriously splatter-prone and it’s considered illegal dumping to spill the liquid into drain water systems. Also, note that the system is under pressure when it’s hot, so never remove the cap until the engine has cooled. Like windshield fluid, the plastic reservoir should have fill levels clearly marked, but check your manual for how much the system holds, and keep a bottle in your arsenal.
Checking and topping off fluid levels is a simple first step to maintaining your car. Changing the fluids takes a bit more know how, but it is a task worth learning. You’ll feel pretty good knowing you can do it yourself.
Check out all the chemical products available on NAPAonline or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA Auto Care locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on essential car fluids, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA Auto Parts store.
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.