Car care: Spring tuneup for your car
Mar 20, 2019 10:35AM
It was a long winter. Shorter days, cooler weather and pavement potholes may have taken their toll on you — and an even bigger toll on your car. As flowers bloom and trees grow, it's a good time to give your car a spring cleaning and thorough checkup before it endures the ravages of summer.
"Now is the time to go to an established ASC-certified service center or dealership to check everything over," advises car care expert Pam Oakes, owner of Pam's Motor City in Fort Meyers, Fla. "Have them check tire condition and pressure, look over the cooling system and go through their checklist. Having a professional set of eyes looking at your car will provide an idea of repairs you may or may not need going into spring and summer."
Going to a professional for a spring checkup is wise, but with some helpful tips you can perform basic maintenance as well. Know the facts.
"We have a lot of attitudes about cars, but not necessarily facts," said Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor at Edmunds.com. "With newer cars, there is a trend for less and less maintenance. Older cars require more maintenance. In all cases, we recommend people start by going through their owner's manual."
Areas of concern
Tires: This is most important. Low pressure can cause a blowout, diminishes handling and will cost you MPGs. Check the sticker in your door jam for the correct pressure and inflate your tires properly. It is a good idea to rotate tires about every 7,500 miles, so do that too. Uneven wear may indicate wheel alignment is needed.
Fluids: Low fluids can bring your vehicle to a halt. Drivers often find this out the hard way when the weather warms. Check your coolant level and dipsticks for oil and transmission fluid level. Make sure the radiator and gas caps seal properly. Confirm that the gaskets inside aren't brittle. If so, replace them.
Oil & filters: Many cars now use synthetic oil, so the advice of changing the oil every 3,000 miles is somewhat outdated. Consult your owner's manual to be sure. Use the recommended viscosity for warm weather. Change the filter each time you change the oil. This is also a good time to change the air filter to protect your engine.
Air-conditioning system: If you are a warm-weather wimp, put this high on the list. Check the compressor belt for cracks, fraying and wear. Turn on the system to make sure the compressor comes on and generates refrigerated air. It is also good to have the refrigerant checked and recharged if low.
Hoses, belts and blades: All of these deteriorate through use and age, but especially when temperatures vary. They're essential to reliable operation of the electrical, cooling and climate control systems. With the engine off, pull on the belts to make sure they are tight. When the engine is warm, squeeze the radiator hose. If soft, replace it. Wiper blades are relatively cheap, so toss them when they smear or leave streaks.
Battery: Batteries can work hard in the winter. Make sure connections are tight and free from corrosion. Have the charge checked at a qualified auto shop. Be especially cautious if it is more than 2 years old.
Cooling system: Somewhat controversially, many experts recommend flushing and filling your cooling system every two years or 24,000 miles. Use a radiator flush product to remove rust, grease and other contaminants. Refill with a 50-50 mix of coolant and water.
Thorough cleaning: Wash the undercarriage to get rid of salt and sand. A low-profile sprinkler works great, but so does a garden hose. Treat the dashboard, leather seats and carpets.
Pay special attention to the bottoms of doors, where moisture and dirt can cause corrosion. This will also force you to clear out junk from your trunk that can rob MPGs. Go ahead and give it a good wax too. Or have your car professionally detailed as part of your spring ritual.
These are all good tips, but don't waste money on unnecessary maintenance. "People have an attitude of 'more is better,' but to what end?" Reed says. "Cooling flushes are not always a good idea as they could damage seals. Make sure your oil has the correct viscosity for summer, inspect belts and hoses, and get fluid levels up where they should be. Anybody planning a summer vacation should check and replace tires if they have excessive wear. Get a digital tire gauge and keep it in the car."
There are few promises in life, but if you follow these tips, you'll be ready to spring into summer clean, fully serviced and ready for the drives of your dreams.
REACTIVATING THAT CLASSIC CAR
It is important to be especially diligent when reactivating classic cars for the first time in the spring. We are more aware of our everyday cars since we use them often. Stuff happens when cars sit.
"They've been sitting all winter and (get) dusty, even with a cover," said Pam Oakes. "Detail it out. If you did not disconnect your battery, it will need a charge. Use a jump box or charger. Don't jump your classic off of your family sedan because it can cause damage. Perform regular maintenance and do a thorough inspection."
Do not move your car before you inflate the tires properly and check for cracks. Check the tailpipe and under the hood for critters and nests. Inspect wiring to make sure it isn't damaged. Check lights and signals; change bulbs if necessary. After the car starts, back out gently.
Seals dry and leak, so look for fluids on the garage floor. Change the oil and check fluids. After making sure insurance is up to par, a good first drive is to the local car wash. If something happens, you can always walk home. However, you're more likely to have a nice drive and enjoy spring weather.