10 Money-Saving DIY Car Projects

hand holding a dirty car engine AC filter

Car maintenance can get expensive if it’s always the mechanic doing the work. Sure, some things should be left to the professionals, but there are a surprising amount of tasks you may not even think you can do yourself. Here are ten great money-saving DIY car projects for you to start tackling this weekend.

1. Replace Windshield Wipers

This is one of the easier projects for car owners when the old ones stop working. Find your car’s type of windshield blades at an auto store–bring in your old ones, or measure them, since you need to know what size they are. This info should also be in your car manual or easily found online.

Then, it’s just a matter of following the instructions. Some will click or snap-on, and some will slide. Take stock of how the old wiper comes off, as you will likely be doing the same thing for the new one, just the opposite way.

2. Fix Paint Chips

Tiny chips are hard to see, but this is how rust spreads. Same with scratches. Find your car’s paint number, usually located on the inside of your front door, and purchase a small amount from an auto parts store. Give the car a proper wash with a degreaser and wax remover. Apply rubbing alcohol to the chipped area, and then lacquer thinner with a Q-tip so the new paint will bond.

Then, use a fine-tip applicator to paint over the tiny chips and scratches. Make sure you don’t add too much, or the paint will run. There are also “chip kits” you can buy that some believe are much smoother to use than paint-pens or applicators.

red car with paint damage and rust near tire

3. Minor Rust Removal

Rust is an automobile’s worst disease, and left untreated, it can cause major damage. For small spots, use 50-grit sandpaper and get down to the shiny metal. Feather sand a small area around it. Once the rust is removed, apply a rust treatment/ inhibitor and let it dry. Then prime it. Once it dries, spray a coat of paint from a good distance, slowly, in one motion. Stops and starts will show.

Fully cover the area and feather in the edges as best as possible. Practice on a piece of cardboard to get the hang of it. You could buff the paint once it dries and apply a cream coat, but these steps aren't necessary. The main thing is that the rust has been taken care of.

4. Fix Small Dents

This job also starts by sanding the area with 50-grit sandpaper and cleaning it with a degreaser and wax remover. Mix up some body filler and apply a light first coat. Let the filler set up and continue to add thin layers, letting each dry before you re-apply.

Build the depression up until it’s level with the rest of the car surface and feather in the final coat. Once fully cured, lightly sand the area, then use a cream filler that will fully smooth and seal it. One more sand should do it before you can apply a coat of paint.

hands repairing car dents with equipment

5. Engine Air Filter Replacement

These filters keep your engine free of dirt and debris and help it run smoothly. They should be changed once a year or after 12,000 miles. Or, check them at every oil change. Lube shops will charge around $20-30 to replace them, but do this yourself and pocket that cash.

Lift the hood and find the black plastic box that holds the filter, usually on top or to the side of the engine. Remove the fasteners that hold it shut and take out the filter. If it looks dirty, replace it with a new one, and put the cover back on.

6. Cabin Air Filter Replacement

This is another filter that's easy to replace yourself. The cabin air filter helps your AC to run smoothly by keeping the motor clean. Check your car manual to see where yours is located, but it’s usually behind the glove box or console.

You’ll need to remove the access covers and remove the old filter. Auto parts stores will sell new ones and may even have some tips for how to install yourself. Pop the new one in following the directional arrows and put the cover back on.

7. Interior/Exterior Detailing

Save yourself $200-500 by detailing the interior and exterior of your car yourself. Vacuum the seats and floor carpet. Wipe down any hard surfaces with quality interior cleaners, including windows. You can remove window stickers with a bit of Goo Gone and a plastic scraper. Get the dust in between air vents by dipping a sponge brush in cleaner. Exterior detailing includes a proper wash and dry, followed by a wax. Getting at the tires and wheel covers will complete the job and leave your car looking brand new.

8. Re-fab a Pick-up Truck

This is more of a job for the hobbyist but a great one if you have an old pick-up truck in need of some “TLC.” Replacing the rear bumper yourself will save hundreds of dollars, if not more.

The main cost is the bumper itself, but the whole job should only take a few hours and consists of carefully removing the bumper and accessories and replacing it with the new one. To really spruce things up, paint a roll-on bed liner on the back. This will really freshen up the truck's whole look, and the protective coat will be cleaner.

old fashioned truck with red and white paint

9. Wheel Makeover

Giving your old, dirty car wheels a makeover is another easy, DIY job. Determine what kind of wheels you have: they could be steel, alloy, chrome, or aluminum, and some wheel covers are even high-grade plastic.

Purchase the type of cleaner that will work on the material they are. You may need to remove wheel covers (some will snap off, others may be screwed or bolted on) to get at the rims.

Use a scrub brush that can get into the crevices. If there is some rust, get out the sandpaper and remove it. Rinse, and watch them sparkle. Spray on a foam cleaner on the sides of the tires. Consider upgrading old, worn-out wheel covers with newer, quality versions.

10. Install Aftermarket Stereo

This is a good job for anyone who has a bit of wiring experience but can also be taken on by a beginner DIY-er with some zest. Some cars are more difficult to do this with, mainly because of their dash design.

Do some research before you get started to see what you’re getting into, but the installation can be straight-forward once you get the right size. The bonus is you can upgrade your stereo sound while also adding cool features like Bluetooth connection, GPS navigation, and music app support.

Your car is a major investment that requires work to keep it running smoothly. The average American will spend close to $2,000 in repairs and maintenance costs. Get ahead of the game and cut down your costs substantially with these money-saving DIY car projects.