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Self Service - Subaru

I don't know how often I get told "you can't do anything yourself on late model vehicles" and that "you have to take them in for everything."  While I'd be a fool not to acknowledge that today's vehicles are far more complex than those of yesteryear, there is still a significant number of "routine" maintenance items that anyone with a little common sense, a modicum of mechanical skill and a serious penchant for saving a few bucks can still do themselves.  Of course, you do need some basic hand tools but nothing too complex.  One thing I find interesting on the Subaru is that you need a 17 mm socket for the oil and transmission fluid drain plugs. I always wanted a use for that set of metric sockets I have.

Of course, if you don't feel comfortable by all means take your car to a professional.  I have always had good experiences with the professionals at the Subaru dealer both in Huntington, WV (River City) and in Jeffersontown, KY (Bachman Subaru).  They have the parts and the knowledge to keep you running well.  That skill isn't free, but it is certainly worth it to keep your Subaru running right.

One common excuse I hear for not doing anything yourself is that you don't have the time.  The last time I checked, most service places want you to leave the vehicle.  Rarely do you drive right in and work is started.  Even if the later is the case there is still the time spent driving to the service center.  There is the issue regarding what to do with used oil or transmission fluids.  Of course, all the major retailers (like Auto Zone and Wal-Mart) will happily take your used fluids for recycling.

There are several side benefits to doing some of these mundane chores besides saving a few bucks (although the savings can be significant).  I think one of the most important is that you "get to know" your car a little better.  While poking around under the hood you may just see something that doesn't look right and address it before it becomes a problem. 

Here is my summary of jobs I feel anyone can tackle along with my comments.  Again, my comments are based on my own experiences with my Subaru.

Oil Change - The most basic item if you want to keep the car running a long time.  I can't remember which oil manufacturer said in a series of advertisements, it but they were right - oil is the life blood of your engine.  This is actually a snap.  Both the drain plug and filter are easily accessible from the front of the car without even putting the car on ramps.  Sadly this isn't a universal condition on all vehicles.  There certainly are vehicles out there with the plug or filter in locations that are extremely challenging to access.  Keep in mind that a lot of places that do oil changes are doing them as somewhat of a "loss leader".  They get you in and then attempt to "upsell" you other services that you may or may not need.  Also keep in mind that the person who changes your oil, especially at some quick service place, is generally not some kind of cracker jack mechanic and in many cases is some kid that you probably wouldn't otherwise trust to walk your dog.

Transmission Fluid Change - This is not much more complex than changing the oil since this vehicle is equipped with an external spin on filter and the transmission pan has a drain plug.  I can do it without even putting the car on the jack stands as there is sufficient ground clearance.  Again, this is not a universal condition.  For some reason a lot of people tend to neglect transmission fluid until it's too late.  You can save about 40 bucks doing this yourself since your dealer will charge you 0.4 hours of labor (at around 90-100 dollars per hour).

Radiator Service - You might lose some fluid on the driveway, but it is not hard to change the antifreeze in these cars,  Some vehicles have what are known as "closed" systems.  My Project C3500 Silverado is an example.  If you have such a system you really have no choice but to obtain service at a dealer since special equipment is required to properly do the job.

Air Filter - Not quite as easy as on a 1980's small block Chevrolet engine. but very doable.  The air filter is held in a box that requires a little effort to get open.  A clogged air filter will have an impact on the performance of your vehicle.  I use an aftermarket K&N filter that can be cleaned and is reusable.  I can't really tell if it improved performance.  I keep a more conventional filter on hand to put in while the K&N dries after cleaning.  Just keep in mind that a dealer will hit you for 0.4 hours of labor to do this simple job.

Fuel Filter - Very accessible.  All you have to do is relieve the fuel pressure and you are in business.  The fuel filter is one of those things a lot of people tend to ignore until it gets clogged and the car won't run.  It can be difficult to pull the fuel hoses off of the filter since it has a double flair on the ends of the filter tubes.  With a little patience it can be done.  Keep in mind that a dealer is going to charge you 0.8 hours of labor to do this; that's about 80 bucks at current labor rates.  The filter itself is about 10 dollars at places like Auto Zone (FF739DL - 9.99).

Spark Plugs - A bit of a challenge as you have to remove a couple parts to gain access but very doable.  On many vehicles the plugs appear to be buried in the engine.  This is certainly a job you don't want to start if you are not absolutely sure you can finish it.

Belts/Hoses - Easily accessible and doable.  You just have to be certain that you get everything nice and tight when installing the new belts and hoses.

Headlights - If one goes out it is easy to change the bulb.  I had one go out while on vacation in Chicago and I fixed it in five minutes in the hotel parking lot while the family was in the hotel pool.  A dealer will hit you for 0.3 hours of labor (or about 30 bucks!).

Other Lighting - This is another place where a dealer is going to hit you for 30 to 40 dollars to change a 3 dollar bulb.  It is generally quite easy to get to any light.

Battery - The only concern here is if you are actually strong enough to do it.  The good news here - just about any Auto Parts store will put it in for you and take care of recycling the old one.

Brakes - One bolt is all it takes to change the pads - so simple that anyone can do it in a matter of minutes provided you have a jack.  You don't even need jack stands since you are never under the car.  Considering how important your brakes are, I would not recommend doing this (no matter how easy it is) unless you are very confident in your abilities.  I have not changed the rotors myself (yet - they have been changed at the dealer).  I monitor the thickness and the current rotors are still well within factory specs.

Tire Rotations - Yes, this is a pain in the butt and most places you buy tires from will do it for you.  It is, however, an excellent opportunity to look around at the condition of your car.

This page was last reviewed/revised on July 29, 2014
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