Winter is never easy on your vehicle. If you’ve hit potholes in the road, your tires may have lost pressure, CAA South Central Ontario says.
And your brakes may have accumulated road salt; your wheel alignment may not be right after driving on slick roads; and your car may be covered in a mixture of leftover snow, grime and salt.
That said, the snow has melted (hopefully), and the temperatures are finally nice again. April is National Car Care Month, making it the ideal time to give your vehicle a good inspection. Here’s a 25-point car care checklist so you know you didn’t miss anything.
Replace Your Windshield Wiper Blades
You may not have used your windshield wipers much in the winter, except maybe to sweep away light flurries. However, rainy weather typically accompanies spring. Affordable Auto Service in Hopkins, Minnesota, recommends changing out windshield wipers now before getting caught in the rain.
Speaking of windshields, you better watch your wiper fluid. The experts at Be Car Care Aware in Ottawa, Canada, suggest taking a look at coolant, transmission, brake and power steering fluid levels. “Keep in mind that your power steering, brake and coolant systems are closed, so low fluid levels may indicate a leak,” they say.
Replace Plugs and Batteries
Nathan Duke at AAA Northeast says that a car’s plugs and batteries can be depleted up to 60% faster than when the weather is warmer. The colder it gets, the more these components strain to keep the vehicle going. You can take a look at the parts yourself if you feel comfortable doing so; otherwise, call a mechanic to do the job.
Schedule an Oil Change
Now that you’re out of the house more, make sure to schedule an oil change at your dealership or nearby mechanic, Auto Stop Limited, Inc. in Baltimore reminds. Besides keeping the car running smoothly, “oil also prevents contaminants from accumulating in the engine, and helps draw heat away from the combustion chamber. It can only do this for so long before it breaks down.”
Wash the Car
The warmer the weather gets, the more you’ll see neighborhood kids offering car washes. If your vehicle is covered in road salt and grime, you should prioritize this job for more than just aesthetic reasons. As Ashley at Embracing Homemaking notes, leaving that road salt on the exterior for too long can deplete the color and corrode the metal.
Don’t Forget Underneath Your Car
While you’ve got your bucket, soap and sponge handy, John Goreham at BestRide writes you should give your car’s undercarriage a good cleaning. Just like the exterior of the vehicle, the undercarriage can get a gunky accumulation of grime and road salt. If you don’t want to get down on all fours during cleaning, Goreham says a hose will get the job done.
Give the Car a Good Waxing
Everyone loves that shiny, picture-perfect look of a car after it’s freshly cleaned and buffed. As Precision Tune Auto Care notes though, just like cleaning your car, you should wax it for more than just that glimmering finish. A good wax will protect your vehicle from spring weather that may loosen branches or pelt the car with rain. You should continue to wax every few weeks or so to keep your car safe.
Inspect for Paint Damage
Once your car’s exterior is grime-free, give it a thorough look, Jil McIntosh at Autofocus advises. Do you see any scratches, chips or other damage? These are dangerous for the long-term health of the vehicle’s paint, McIntosh says. Like road salt and other debris, this damage can also corrode the paint, so don’t wait to fix any scratches if you find them.
Replace Your Cabin Filter
Spring is prime allergy season, and the cabin filter could contribute to that sneezy and sniffly feeling, according to YourMechanic. This filter can prevent allergens from getting trapped in the car. If you haven’t changed out your cabin filter in a while, you could be breathing in pollen, dirt and dust each time you hop in for a drive.
Check Tire Pressure
Above, we mentioned how potholes and wintry roads can deplete tire pressure. Kix Brooks Radio spoke to the team at O’Reilly Auto Parts, and they mentioned that even though tires may look fine, they could be running out of air. “Tires lose 1 to 2 pounds of air pressure for every 10 degrees the temperature drops outside,” the O’Reilly team explains. Spring temperatures can sometimes fluctuate, so make sure to check tire pressure regularly.
Change Air Filters Now for When You Use Your Air Conditioner Later
Mobile car detailing company Spiffy recommends replacing the vehicle’s air filters. Also, if you live in an area where spring weather can quickly switch from warm and temperate to hot and summer-like, don’t wait until June to check whether your car’s air conditioner is working. Test it now so you have plenty of time for AC repairs if needed.
Gut the Inside of Your Car
The frigid winter temperatures may make you less inclined to make a ton of trips to and from your car. In the interim, stuff accumulates in the backseat and the trunk. On a sunny warm day, go through everything and decide what you should throw out and what should go in the house, Infiniti of Grand Rapids writes.
Clean the Inside of the Car, Too
Now that your backseats and trunk are mostly empty, repair company CARite recommends that you clean any items in there you can. Vacuum the seats and the floors, wash the back windows and dust off your dashboard.
Don’t Forget Your Interior Air Vents
Alliance Auto Sales in Wauconda, Illinois, warns against putting that vacuum away just yet: “You want to get into the habit of vacuuming while you are dusting the interior to prevent dust from floating to parts of the car that were just cleaned,” they say. They also suggest using the bristles of a paintbrush to dust off the air vents.
Finish with a Leather Cleaner
If you have any leather surfaces inside the car, including seats, Eric Weiner at Automobile Magazine suggests sprucing these up with leather cleaner. After applying the cleaner and lathering in it, Weiner recommends using a cotton towel to gently remove any leftover traces of the cleaner.
Remove Debris from the Engine
Whether your winter was snowy or dry, VIP Tires & Service in Lewiston, Maine, suggests looking under the hood for unwanted debris that can slow down the car. Acorns, pine needles, road salt and crunchy leaves can all prevent rubber gaskets, drainage holes, vents and the engine from working optimally.
Realign All Tires
As mentioned above, driving on slick snowy roads littered with leftover road salt can wreak havoc on tire alignment. D&S Automotive Collision and Restyling in Mentor, Ohio, notes that now is the time to look at your wheels and tires. Swap out your winter tires for all-season ones, and give the tires a look to see whether the tread is too worn. You’ll also likely want to rotate and align them now.
Test Your Lights
Although the days are longer and the sun sets later, you still don’t want to be in a situation where you’re on the road and your bulbs, blinkers or lights go out. Not only does this make driving dangerous, but you could get ticketed. Jim Sigel Automotive in Grants Pass, Oregon, recommends testing all lights now. If these go out, most of the time you can change the bulb yourself.
Do an Exhaust System Analysis
Honda of Kirkland in Washington recommends taking a good look at the car’s hangers and supports. Check them for any signs of wear and tear. Exhaust leaks are no good, so if you see one contact your mechanic, stat.
Revisit Your Insurance Policy
As Desjardins Insurance says: “Spring is the perfect time to take a look at your car insurance policy and make any necessary updates.” Of course, your policy may be fine as it is, but if you want to reduce your coverage or add a new plan, you might as well take care of this now.
Test All Belts for Slackness
If any of your belts are too slack, you will need to contact a mechanic to get these tightened or replaced. “Cold winter weather often weakens your vehicle’s belts, and if they snap or break while you’re cruising around this spring, a tow truck will be the only way to get your vehicle moving again,” Austin’s Automotive Specialists in Texas says.
Renew Black Surfaces
If you’ve never touched your car’s mirror housings, bumpers, sidewalls and other black surfaces because you’re not sure how to clean them, Bob Weber at the Chicago Tribune recommends buying a cleaning gloss intended just for those surfaces. If using an aerosol can, spritz some on a cleaning cloth and then gently rub these surfaces, Weber advises. Avoid getting the cleaner on brake rotors and wheels.
Don’t Wait on an Engine That Stalls
If your car stalls or idles roughly when driving, or if it takes multiple attempts to get your vehicle started, it’s time to go to the mechanic, Christensen Automotive in Reno, Nevada, says. While this can seem like a serious issue, it isn’t always. Ignition wires may have burned out, the air filter may be too grimy or the spark plugs may need to be replaced. By regularly doing some of those repairs yourself, you can prevent a rough-idling engine in the future.
Make Sure Drains Aren’t Clogged
The drains in the car, particularly near the doors and the front cowling, allow fluids to naturally move. However, if these get clogged with debris, they’ll stop working properly, Midwest Performance Cars in Chicago says. Water and other fluids can then spill on the dashboard or floors, making for quite a messy trip.
Get an Inspection
If some of these jobs seem a little out of your comfort zone, or if you think your car may have been damaged during any winter drives, always go to the pros. Nancy Yang at MPR News spoke to the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence’s vice president, Tony Molla, and he says that scheduling an inspection should be at the top of your spring car care to-do list.