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Post-Winter Car Care

Updated on March 9, 2011

Get your workhorse in shape for the fun ahead

As the calendar flips to March, the brutal winter across the U.S. is slowly but surely loosening its grips. Although the bitter chill still delivers its bites once every few days, the outdoor thermometers clearly announce that spring is around the corner. But before heading out for the usual chores such as leaning up the lawn, replanting the garden and fixing up the front porch, or speeding down the interstate for a quick spring break, don’t neglect to take care of your loyal workhorse that has faithfully helped you through some of the worst weather conditions you’d ever seen the past few months.

Few cars manage to emerge from the winter unscathed. Sub-freezing temperatures, snow, ice, potholes and road salt, etc. all take their toll. This past winter being the harshest in many’s memory makes the need for post-winter seasonal car care all the more urgent and important.

1. Give a good wash. As soon as the weather permits, pull out the garden hose and give your car a thorough scrub down. You’d probably heeded the experts’ advice and shut the water supply to the outside faucets during the freezing days of winter, which means that you hadn’t had a chance to hose down your car for months. With all those record-breaking storms last winter, you could have a full year’s supply of salt if you were to collect the white stuff sprayed onto your car. And you know what harm salt can do to the paint and undercarriage. So take advantage of the warmer weather and get rid of all the bad stuff. Pay special attention to the underbody, and don’t forget the radiator as well. If you really can’t or don’t want do it for whatever reasons, head for a car wash place; it’s definitely worth the few bucks.

2. Kick the tires. No, you don’t have to go car shopping; you just need to check if your set of tires is in good working order. Had you put snow tires on your car prior to the winter? Swap them out for the usual all-season ones for better traction and handling now that the roads are clear. If you had all-season tires on for the winter, the cold weather probably had reduced the tire pressure; and road debris under the snow that you might have run over (i.e. glass, nails), as well as those dreaded potholes could really wreak havoc on your tires. So while you check the tire pressure, it’s equally important to look for wear, tear and punctures. If it’s about time to do so, you might as well bring your car in for tire rotation, balance and perhaps wheel alignment to ensure save, smooth and fuel-efficient rides throughout the year.

3. Examine the brakes. You might not realize it, but your brakes likely have gotten quite a bit of extra workout in the winter when you tried to avoid those dangerous ice patches and the huge potholes that weren’t there the day before, all while being eaten alive by the road salt. Nothing is more important for a car than its brakes, so it’s imperative to take a good look at whole system, including lines, hoses and the parking brake for winter damage. Low brake fluid level is an indication of a possible leak or excessive wear. If you hear continuous grinding, squealing or screeching, there is a good chance that you need new brakes.

4. Change the oil. The last winter was so cold that nobody wants to stay out there for a second too long, so chances are you haven’t done a thing for your car the for the past few months, including changing motor oil. As we all know, to minimize engine wear, you must change your oil and replace oil filters regularly according to the maintenance schedule in the owner’s manual. This is especially necessary after months of extremely cold starts and constant stops-and-goes on the snow-jammed roads. To prepare for the hot driving days ahead, you might want to consider spending a few extra bucks and switching to synthetic oil, which is specifically designed to provide better and longer lasting wear protection, and therefore help keep your engine cleaner and running a bit more smoothly.

5. Check the Battery. Did you notice that your car needed a few more cranks before it finally got started on those freezing mornings? Car batteries work overtime in the winter. The colder it gets, the more power it drains. The past winter being so cold for so long a period, it’ll be a good idea to have your battery checked out, especially if it already has more than a few year under its belt. Inspect the terminals and posts, too, and make sure they are tight and free of gunk. If corrosion is present, clean it off with a wire brush before applying a good coating of lubricant.

6. Test the air conditioning. Not everyone does this: run the air conditioning periodically in the winter so it helps to keep the system well lubricated and leak tight. Blowing cold air on a freezing day is just not a natural thing to do. If you haven’t been using the air conditioner for the past few months, the time is now to put a little test on it because you don’t want to wait until you break out a stinky sweat on a hot summer day before realizing something’s wrong. To test, turn the unit on high and to the coldest level. If the air coming out is warm, has little pressure, or with unusual noises, schedule an appointment with your favorite shop to bring the car in. It’s better to leave this kind of jobs to the pros.

A car is more than just a commuting tool that brings you from point A to point B. they keep us safe and comfortable from the elements, absorbing all sorts of abuse and harm without a whimper of complaint until the very end. They deserve a little bit of care from us, especially after such a long and brutal winter. Besides, a well-maintained car can ensure you of uninterrupted fun when the weather turns truly fabulous.

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