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No matter where in the U.S. you live, you get to enjoy your share of seasons. Some are warm and colorful while others can be somewhat less enjoyable. For example, there’s winter.
Sure, winter always tends to bring family holidays and ski vacations. For many, though, it also includes months of shoveling snow, scraping windows, and/or driving on wet, salted roadways. And all of that bad weather can really take its toll on your vehicle.
This year, don’t forget your car when you tackle your usual spring cleaning and home decluttering. By remembering these 16 springtime car maintenance tips, you’ll mitigate winter’s impact on your vehicle while also ensuring that it’s in tip-top shape for the rest of the year.
Take Care of the Exterior
Before moving to the DC area, I never knew how much damage a winter season could do to a vehicle. After all, I came from Texas, where the biggest concern for my SUV was a random hailstorm.
After driving in snow and on salted roads for a few years, though, I have learned a few hard lessons: namely, that salt and ice can really take their toll on your car’s exterior. That’s why it’s incredibly important to begin mitigating that damage as soon as the warmer weather hits… starting with the exterior.
A Good Washing Is In Order
This might seem pretty basic, but the first place you should start is by giving your vehicle a thorough washing. This will not only clear off the corrosive road salts, caked-on mud, and debris that may have accumulated, but will also allow you to really inspect any new damage that the winter months may have seen.
Dust and grime that’s been allowed to sit can not only dull your paint, but also eat away at your clear coat, leave small scratches, and more. Be sure to wash your car well, and check for any new chips, dings, or scratches that have appeared, so you can fix them.
Don’t Forget to Go Low!
If you live in an area where the roads were salted over the winter, be sure to really blast your vehicle’s undercarriage when washing. That salt can cause rust, extensively corroding things like your exhaust system. (Unfortunately, I know from personal experience how expensive this damage can be.)
Keep this in mind next winter, too, as it’s smart to wash your vehicle’s undercarriage regularly throughout the icy season.
Repair Glass Damage
Small chips or cracks that appear in your windshield can be annoying. More than that, though, they are a safety hazard. As the weather warms up, any glass damage you may have incurred can easily spread, often without warning.
If you have minor windshield damage, an affordable repair is usually possible. By fixing your glass ASAP, you not only make your vehicle safer to drive but also prevent the damage from spreading… leading to an expensive windshield replacement.
Replace Windshield Wiper Blades
You should expect to swap out wiper blades once or twice a year. After a cold winter, the rubber strip on your blades may become less effective, so spring is a great time to replace them.
Swapping out wiper blades is surprisingly easy; even if you take your car to the shop for everything, you can probably handle this on your own.
Look up some videos on YouTube and buy replacement blades for your vehicle at a local auto parts store (or on Amazon). In about five minutes, you’ll have fresh windshield wiper blades and save yourself a ton of money in the process.
Wax On, Wax Off
After a long winter of freezing temperatures, salt treatments, and icy roadways, your vehicle’s paint may be suffering. This is a great time to add a protective wax coat, which will shield the car from springtime rains, pollen, bug splats, and more.
To keep your car’s paint as bright as possible, keep up with regular waxings every 6-8 weeks.
Give Your Tires Some Love
While you’re finishing up with the car’s exterior, don’t forget one of the most important parts: your tires. These rubber wheels keep you and your loved ones safely on the road, and need frequent attention to ensure their effectiveness.
You’ll want to let a little bit of air out of your tires for the warm months ahead; check your vehicle’s manual to see what your ideal PSI range is for spring and summer. If you put winter/snow tires on your vehicle for the season, now is the time to switch these out for all-weathers. Then, be sure to also rotate tires
You should also check each of your tires for tread depth. This can be done with either use a true tire gauge or the old-fashioned way: with a penny. Just place a copper coin into your tread with Lincoln’s head toward the tire; if you can see his whole head, your tread is less than 2/23” and you need new tires.
While you’re checking tread depth, be sure to also inspect for any nails, screws, etc. that might have made their way into your tires. And of course, if you’re not comfortable inspecting or rotating your tires, head down to your local shop for a quick service.
Engine and Mechanical Checks
Now it’s time to move on to the more extensive checks.
Pop the hood and check those fluid levels. This includes your windshield wiper, power steering, transmission, brake, and coolant fluids. You can also check your oil levels at this time.
Some fluids need to be checked with a cold engine and others with a running engine. Be cognizant of which you need before you go opening caps under the hood.
If your oil levels are low, you might get away with adding a quart or two. However, if you’ve driven your vehicle hard over the winter or it’s been more than 3,500 miles since your last oil change, it might be time for the full service.
If you have noticed any squealing, shuddering, or scraping while braking, you might have a problem with your brake pads. These need to be changed an average of every 50,000 miles; depending on how you drive, your vehicle, and even the pads you use, though, this number could really vary.
If you’re going in for a tire, oil, or other vehicle service anyway, ask them to check your brake pads for wear. If the pads are getting low or causing problems, now’s a great time to change them out.
You may also want to check your vehicle’s alignment at this time. Driving in snow and ice can do a number to your system, and a quick adjustment can ensure that you don’t cause problems to your car as you go.
Alignments are recommended every two or three years, or each time you put on new tires.
Freezing temperatures and rubber belts don’t mix, so spring is a good time to check your engine’s belts for wear or damage. This is especially true if you hear a whining sound when your engine is running.
If a belt does need replacing, do it sooner rather than later. Once a belt snaps, your only option will be a tow to the nearest mechanic… which is much less convenient than the repair bill for swapping it out now.
Check your engine and cabin air filters to determine if they need replacing. Typically, these should be swapped once a year or so; if you drive on dusty or unpaved roads, or live in an area with a lot of pollen in the air, you may need to change them more often.
Both of these can easily be done at home, and for much less than the dealerships charge!
If you aren’t going in for a full inspection, be sure to check your lights. This includes high- and low-beams, blinkers, brake lights, and reverse lights. You may also want to check interior lights, side running lights, and even fog lights (if your car has them).
Replacing these now will keep you safer and help you avoid being pulled over by your local law enforcement.
The Interior and Other Small Things
There are a few small things that you can also add to your spring maintenance list. They aren’t quite as impactful as checking your brakes or changing your oil, but they will save you time and energy later on.
Replace Batteries in Key Fobs
Many vehicles today operate via smart keys. This means that drivers are entirely reliant on their key fobs for entry and starting the engine. These key fobs typically have an emergency (manual) key hidden within them, but having a key fob die on you will still be an inconvenience.
If you haven’t changed your key fob batteries in a while, now is the time to do so. Look in your owner’s manual or do a Google search to find which batteries you need and how to do the replacement. This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes, but will be well-worth the saved headache later.
Detail/Clean Up Stains
If you’re cleaning your vehicle anyway, spend time doing a little detail on the interior. This includes tasks like cleaning and conditioning the leather (which will prevent cracking and discolorations), or treating marks on carpet/upholstery (before they become permanent stains).
Call In the Pros
While I personally believe that everyone is capable of conducting many of their own auto maintenance tasks, it’s also important to know your limitations. If you’re scared to tackle tasks under the hood or don’t think you can adequately handle them, it’s time to call in the pros. This is also the case if you come across an issue that requires a repair.
Inspections Are Valuable
Even if you’re not yet due for a state inspection, it might be worth stopping in at your mechanic’s for a multi-point inspection. There, they will test your battery, check spark plugs, top off fluids, inspect belts, evaluate tires and brakes, check filters, and more.
Many of these you can do at home, but if you’re not comfortable or think your car needs a bit more attention, don’t hesitate to visit a professional.
You already know that springtime is perfect for decluttering closets, tackling lawn work, and deep-cleaning the house. By adding some basic vehicle maintenance to that list, you’ll ensure that your car is safe and road-ready the whole year through.