Your vehicle has gone through a lot all winter, and now that spring and summer are here, it’s time to show it some love. Warm weather maintenance will help your car look better, work better, and ultimately last longer, which in turn will save you money.
Hoses and belts
Empty the trunk
Clean the carpets
Check the paint
Oil change intervals are longer than they’ve ever been, thanks to improved formulations, synthetic oils, and better engines. But winter’s temperature extremes are hard on oil, especially if you primarily make shorter trips or do a lot of stop-and-go driving.
This is also a good time to switch from winter-weight oil, which stays fluid at colder temperatures, to a summer viscosity blend that won’t get too thin when the weather gets hot. Always change the oil filter each time, too, since it contains dirty oil.
Although it’s known as “antifreeze,” coolant is just as important in the summer to keep your engine from overheating. Have it tested to be sure it’s strong enough to prevent corrosion in your engine, radiator and heater core. Don’t use plain water, which won’t provide enough protection. Follow your vehicle’s scheduled maintenance for coolant flushes, where the technician will drain the system, flush out any debris, and refill with new fluid.
Your brakes have been heating up and cooling down, blasted with slush, and possibly running through salt all winter. Even if your brake pads still have enough friction material left on them, spring maintenance is always a good idea. The technician will clean the components, lubricate any moving parts, and check the fittings and hoses for any leaks or seepage.
If you do need brake pads, don’t put it off: wearing them down has the potential to damage the brake rotors, which will be an even more expensive repair. Every so often, open the window and listen to your brakes for any grinding or squealing, or if you hear a constant squeak that goes away when you press the brake pedal. That’s a wear indicator warning that your pads are getting low.
Vacuuming your upholstery doesn’t just make it look better. It also removes dirt that can grind into the fabric. If your seats are leather, use an appropriate cleaning product and protectant. Some imitation leather looks very close to the real thing, but should be treated with vinyl-specific products.
Clean the inside of the windshield and windows, and you’ll be surprised at how much clearer your view will be. Check your owner’s manual to see if your car has a replaceable cabin air filter – the filter’s usually behind a panel inside the glove compartment – and if you do, pop in a clean one. [Drive with a clogged filter and the air inside your car may actually be dirtier than the air outside —Ed.]
If you haven’t been washing your vehicle periodically through the winter, now is the time to give it a thorough scrubbing. If you live in an area that uses road salt, you’ll want to spend a lot of time on the underside, since salt buildup in the suspension components and floor pans can lead to serious corrosion. Use a pressure washer or a high-pressure hose. Take your time and make sure you hit all the “nooks and crannies.”
If you use winter tires, now is the time to switch to summer or all-season ones. Winter tires are made with softer rubber compounds so they’ll grip cold pavement, and they wear out faster when it’s warm. That “stickiness” also creates more rolling resistance, which in turn uses more fuel.
If you’ve kept your all-seasons on during the winter, check their tread depth and air pressure, and look for any cracks or splitting in the rubber. Check your wheels for any corrosion damage, too, which can potentially cause air leaks in the tire.
Extreme temperature changes are hard on rubber, and your hoses and belts have been dealing alternately with cold weather and engine heat all winter. Belts shouldn’t be cracked or frayed, and shouldn’t stretch when you tug on them. Hoses should be flexible, but not so soft that they can be easily squeezed.
If any hose or belt is past its prime, have it replaced promptly. If it breaks or splits, it can leave you stranded.
Extra weight uses fuel, and a full trunk will cost you more at the pumps. If you have a winter kit in your car – items like sand or a shovel – leave them in the garage, along with anything else that you’re not going to need. While you’re in the trunk, check the air pressure in your spare tire, and make sure you have a jack and tools. Some cars have a tire repair kit instead of a spare, so if you don’t have one, you should have the other.
Dirt and salt can grind into your carpets and damage them. Vacuum them thoroughly. Depending on how dirty they are, a carpet cleaning product from the auto parts department might do the job, or you may need to rent a carpet cleaner or even take it to an auto detailer.
You don’t want to leave the carpets damp, so if you can, leave the car in the garage with the doors open or drive with the heater set on the floor level to dry them out. Check where the metal seat risers fasten to the floor, too, and the motors if you have electric seats. If the carpets get wet with slush and salt in winter, it can cause these metal items to rust. [Consider hitting them with some rust-check spray to prevent permanent damage —Ed.]
Once your car is clean, go over it thoroughly to check the paint. Stone chips and scratches can turn into rust if they’re deep enough, and they should be touched up right away. Finally, give your car a good coating of high-quality wax. With all of that done, you’re now ready to take your car through spring and into summer in top-notch condition.