As we putter around town in our little commuter cars and compact crossovers, we run into slight setbacks as we unintentionally damage our vehicles. It isn’t like we are trying to hurt our cars, it is just that our vehicles are in a constant state of degradation, and even something as seemingly harmless as a short trip to the supermarket can result in cracked corner lenses, folded fenders, and busted trim pieces.
Even people who are extremely careful get the shaft as their leather seats fade and crack, speakers blow, and plastic knobs snap-off in hand. Parking one’s car well away from the bedlam that is the open road does not guarantee safety either, as varmints gnaw on electrical chords and make homes in your trunk, while rust slowly eats its way through your aging fuel tank.
So what do you do to combat these issues and keep that daily driver road ready and somewhat respectable looking? Dealerships are expensive and time consuming, specialized mechanics are likely to overcharge, and many franchise service shops aren’t trustworthy.
If you are lucky enough to have a garage or your own off-street work space, you might want to try your hand at a few DIY fixes in order to save some extra cash. Since dropping the tank to replace a fuel pump is not advisable for beginners, a cheat sheet containing a few easy DIY jobs is the best place to start. Remember, always research the task thoroughly beforehand via vehicle-specific online forums, reviewing PDF mechanic notes, and watching YouTube videos, as they are all indispensable resource. And know that since all cars are different, the ease (or lack thereof) of these projects will vary depending on what you drive.
1. Broken signal lenses
A rock kicks up from a truck in front of you and before you can breath a sigh of relief it smashes into your turn lens, rendering it useless. But before you go and drop big bucks at the dealer, research how hard it is to do it yourself, as these things are typically quite inexpensive. I got a set shipped to my door for less than $20, and all I had to do to install them was unscrew the damaged lens with Phillips screwdriver, unclip the bulb in the lens housing, and re-install the new one in reverse order. It took me less than 15 minutes and saved me a fortune.
2. Fresh fenders
This project was a bit more of a time consuming endeavor than previously thought, but it was by no means a difficult one either. Since my fenders had already been dinged-up by hail and distracted grandmas in land yachts, I felt that it was time to slap on some fresh metal in the hopes of maintaining some form of dignity while driving. After scoring a set of new fenders from CertiFit for next to nothing, I went about removing the grille, turn signal lenses, front bumper, and both side skirts in order to get the fenders off. All together it took a couple hours and only required the use of basic sockets, screw drivers, and trim tools.
3. No more funk in the trunk
Newer car owners don’t have to worry about this, but anyone with an older car knows that the glorified cardboard automakers called a “trunk floor” had the overall rigidity and lifespan of a jellyfish. So when my trunk floor cracked in half, I decided to build my own using some sheets of wood I had laying in my basement and a few hinges. I set the anemic card-stock flooring on top of my plywood, traced the outline, measured the folding gap for spare tire access, made some cuts, screwed my hinges on, and sanded all of my edges. Note that I used Rhino-liner spray on the wood, but will soon be vinyl wrapping the entire trunk floor in matte black to cover all that wood grain.
4. Sway bar end links
Sometimes you just have to break out the big boy toys when you are working on the car, and that is exactly what I had to do when a snapped sway bar end link refused to un-thread due to corrosion. After 10 minutes with the Sawzall the old end link was out, and I was able to put the new one in without incident. Just remember to make sure that the new end link is packed with bushing grease and is torqued to spec before moving on to the next project.
5. Goodbye broken antenna
Oh, the joys of having a power antenna that will extend to the moon and back, but it won’t fold all the way in when you turn the car off. Sick of this outdated technology, I was able to retrofit a shorty antenna from a newer Volkswagen onto my car in under 30 minutes. All I had to do was pull back a section of the trunk liner, loosen the antenna mounting bolts, unplug the old antenna, and pop in the new one in the open hole. It literally is a “plug and play” procedure, and the only concern I could see you running into is if the grommet on the base of the antenna did not want to seal properly.
6. The busted lip
Bump into a curb or go over a raised manhole cover fast enough and it is likely that you will damage that little piece of plastic trim beneath your front bumper, which is appropriately called a “lip.” While my factory lip was not completely cracked, it definitely had seen better days. So when I saw a brand new HC1 lip for a steal on eBay I jumped at the chance. Mounting could have been done with the bumper still on the car, but it is typically easier to remove the bumper, flip it over, and install everything upside down. The HC1 lip matched-up perfectly, I was able to use all of the factory mounting holes and supplied bolts to attach the fresh polypropylene piece, and install time was just shy of an hour total.
7. Rewrapped ripped speaker covers
This is is a really simple fix for anyone who has sagging or ripped cloth speakers. Just buy some adhesive spray and a fabric of your choice from a craft store, take the old speaker cover off and remove the damaged fabric, spray the plastic cover with the adhesive, and carefully place the new fabric on top. Once the glue dries you can use an X-Acto knife to trim any excess fabric before re-installing. I was ably to do both of my front speakers in less than an hour with drying time, and it cost me less than $5 in all.
8. Swankier seating
Since my old leather seats were ripped to hell from decades of abuse, I opted to do something different and installed some grey seats from a newer generation Accord. The rails matched-up perfectly in the front, and the only modification that had to be made was in the back, where a tab had to be slightly bent to line-up with a bolt. Once back together the interior looked completely revived, and to this day people have no idea that these seats are out of another car. Note that this mod doesn’t work for all cars, so be sure to research what seats are interchangeable with your car and offer compatible safety requirements like airbags.
9. Rusty rear rotors
Front rotors typically get the majority of the abuse, as that is where most of the weight in a car is located. So in the hopes of cleaning up the back of my car, and adding some fresh stopping power, I busted my calipers loose, heated up the rotor retainer bolt, smacked it with a hammer, and put my fresh discs on. While most cars have a similar mounting style for calipers, their removal can vary somewhat, so watch a YouTube video that focuses on your specific vehicle before attempting this one. Don’t forget to thoroughly spray your new rotor with brake parts cleaner prior to installation to remove any corrosion inhibitors that might be caked on it.
10. The out-of-whack wiper regulator
Nothing is more annoying than the slapping of a wiper blade against the cowl of a car or the A-pillar up front. As wiper motors and regulators begin to lose their luster the little plastic “teeth” inside of them break-off, resulting in a windshield wiper system that doesn’t want to stay on the glass like it should. To replace my regulator I unbolted the wiper arms, removed the clips and screws that held the plastic cowl to the base of the windshield, unbolted the regulator and its arms, and installed a new one before reassembling everything in reverse order. The entire procedure took about an hour, and I always recommend testing your wiper alignment once everything is re-installed to guarantee it doesn’t hit the A-pillar or the cowl.