5 DIY Car Projects for the Winter Break

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DIY in the Garage/Image Credit: Ryan McGuire

Contributing Author: Craig Fitzgerald

Oh, there’s nothing like it: The five uninterrupted days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when a lot of companies shut down entirely. Even if you’re not officially OFF for the break, your boss might be, and so may your customers, so it’s generally a pretty non-stressful time when you can plan out some car projects to get done at home.

We’re here to get you to focus on your vehicle. It’s served you well all year long, and it’s time it got a little attention from you. Our project this winter break – and most likely beyond – is installing an HEI distributor and a Holley Sniper EFI electronic fuel injection setup on our 1966 Jeep CJ5. We’re not suggesting that level of project for you, but perhaps some enjoyable, easy car projects that will improve your vehicle and make you love it the way you did when you first bought it.

Deep Detailing

Bissel Spot Clean Carpet Cleaner/Image Credit: Bissel

These few days are a great chance to really deep-clean your vehicle and make it more pleasurable than it has been with Pringles cans and Ding Dong wrappers flying around the interior.

Most people are going to drop a couple hundred bucks on a professional detail, which is a really nice way to fall in love with your car again. However, if you’re looking for a car project over the winter break, you can spend the same amount of money and still have all the supplies and tools to detail your vehicle all year round.

The Meguiar’s Complete Car Care Kit comes with just about everything you’ll need for around $65, other than a plastic bucket and a hose. We’d also suggest buying a set of detailing brushes to get the dust out of your HVAC vents.

You can always use the vacuums at a car wash if you don’t have a shop vac at home. If you’ve got stains on the carpet or the upholstery, and you’ve got a couple of Amazon gift cards burning a hole in your pocket, this Bissel Spot Clean Pro Heat Portable Spot and Stain Carpet Cleaner is amazing. We got one last year, and in addition to having the cleanest interior ever, we’ve used it to clean couches, chairs, and entry rugs in the house, too.

Change Your Cabin Air Filter

Cabin Air Filter/Image Credit: Bosch

Unlike us, you’re likely driving a vehicle from this century. If so, it’s almost certain to have a cabin air filter. These devices came along in the 1990s as a means of filtering out the pollen, dust, and allergens that are usually sucked in by your air conditioning and heating system.

If you get your vehicle serviced at a shop, you’ve probably been asked if you want to change the filter, and if you’re like most consumers, you probably said no because they wanted to charge you a hundred bucks to do it. No need to spend that kind of money on a fairly simple project. Most cabin air filters are easy to swap out, and they cost anywhere from $10 to $20 at your favorite auto parts retailer. This example for most popular Toyota vehicles is impregnated with Arm & Hammer Fresh Breeze to clean the air as it enters the cabin.

Look online to find video instructions on how to swap it out in your year, make, and model of vehicle. They’re typically placed in a relatively easy-to-access location, like behind a door in the glovebox.

If you haven’t swapped it out in a while, you’ll be horrified at the junk the filter has trapped over the last year.

LED Cabin and Instrument Lights

Accent LED Rock Lights/Image Credit: SuperBrightLEDS

One of the nicest improvements we made to a 2003 Jeep Wrangler X a couple of years back was to replace all of the interior lights with LEDs. Old incandescent bulbs are terrible in general, and ours were so dim you could barely read the things they were supposed to illuminate.

For a grand total of about $25 from the aptly named SuperBrightLEDS.com, we got LED replacements for every bit of illumination inside the vehicle, PLUS a replacement light for the underhood lamp. Use the site to input your year, make, and model and you’ll be provided with a list of all the bulbs you’ll need to fully illuminate your interior.

Replacing the bulbs will require taking the dash apart a bit, but it’s not all that difficult for DIY’ers of any level to do. There’s almost guaranteed to be a video online showing exactly how to do it on your year, make, and model. That’s how we figured it out.

Update Your Audio System

MTX Terminator46 Speakers/Image Credit: Crutchfield

This was another car project we embarked on over last winter break. The Wrangler was originally equipped with the top-of-the-line audio system, which included an amp and a subwoofer in the console. But over the years, the original head unit was replaced with a cheap CD player that didn’t have outputs for the amp. You couldn’t hear the radio at 50 miles per hour, let alone highway speed.

We replaced the head unit with a more modern digital media player with Bluetooth connectivity for about $75. We found compatible speakers for the four dash and soundbar locations for around $160.

You can buy audio equipment from Amazon or Best Buy or any of the other usual suspects, but we’ve had great luck with Crutchfield. They’ll provide the audio equipment, plus any necessary mounting kits and wiring harnesses for free.

Reattach Your Rearview Mirror

Image: Rear View Mirror Adhesive/Image Credit: Amazon

If you’re driving something older, the glue that holds the rearview mirror in place eventually gives up the ghost and your mirror will come off in your hand. This is the perfect easy project to get done while you’ve got a few minutes.

Mirrors are almost always attached to a metal slug that glues to the inside of the windshield. There are a couple of ways the mirror attaches to the slug: either there’s a set screw that holds it in place, or the mirror turns on with a quarter turn. Search YouTube and find the directions for your particular model.

The key in reattaching it is to clean the old glue off the back of the metal slug. It will come off with a sharp razor blade. Don’t gouge the surface of the slug because it will give you problems when you try to reattach it. Put a piece of fine sandpaper on a hard surface and sand the face of the slug using a circular motion.

Once the glue is removed, you’ll need some Permatex Mirror Adhesive. This is a two-part process: The first step is an activator that you use to clean both the slug and the windshield where it’s going to attach. The activator needs to dry for two minutes before you move on to the next step.

The second step is the adhesive itself. It only takes a drop, and more is definitely not better in this situation. Place the slug with the drop of adhesive on the spot on the windshield where you applied the activator, and hold it there for a minute. After that, you want to let the glue dry for 30 minutes before you reattach the mirror.

These car projects are all easily accomplished by anyone with even a small assortment of hand tools. We’ve had great luck researching the particulars ahead of time, both on YouTube and on internet forums. They’ve all been a great success, and you’ll be able to better enjoy your vehicle for years to come.

Craig Fitzgerald began his automotive writing career in 1996, at AutoSite.com, one of the first online resources for car buyers. Over the years, he’s written for the Boston Globe, Forbes, and Hagerty. For seven years, he was the editor at Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and today, he’s the automotive editor at Drive magazine. He’s dad to a son and daughter, and plays rude guitar in a garage band in Worcester, Massachusetts.