Spring Auto Cleaning: Repair the Damage Winter Does to Your Car, Truck, or SUV

Have both you and your car, truck, or SUV had more than your fill of winter driving conditions, roads with potholes and frost heaves, and temperature variations that defied even the best antifreeze? If so, take heart: spring is at hand. Yet, to help your car make the change from winter to spring, some auto repair and maintenance is sorely needed to correct the damage from winter and prepare your car for better days ahead.

First up, it’s time to look at your tires. If you live in an area where it was best to put on snow tires, most communities and states require these be removed sometime between April and May 1st.

But even if you have all season tires, this is an excellent time to inspect your tires to determine if they need replacement. While you inspect, look for indications of uneven wear, or where your tread is more worn on one or two spots of some tires but not others.

Uneven tire wear usually signals one of two possible issues: you need to rotate your tires and/or have a computerized tire alignment performed on your vehicle. Tire rotation promotes far more even wear, while alignment can be critical for safe vehicle operation. If you notice a difference in how you steer vs. where your tires move, this is a sign your car needs a wheel alignment. This is especially true if the vehicle becomes downright difficult to steer.

Often, a good tire center will do alignment and tire rotation at the same time for a set price. Some centers even throw alignment in for free when you buy two or more tires at the same time. Check your local newspapers or with your local garage or tire center for seasonal specials on this work. Bear in mind that a well-aligned wheel base and good tires that are at their proper inflation can save you fuel; with today’s gas prices, this matters.

At the same time, you probably want to do as close a visual inspection as possible on the underside of your vehicle. Even if your car, truck, or SUV came with rust proofing or you had this package added, road salt and other winter driving factors can do a number on both the outside and underside of your vehicle. Rust proofing rarely lasts the lifetime of most cars and you may need to get yours updated.

Yet, if you find your vehicle is just too grimy or streaked to make an adequate assessment, consider going to a car wash that offers pressurized cleaning that can go up beneath the frame. Spot washing is great, but it won’t remove the leftover salt and debris that may be impacted in the wheels and in structures beneath the passenger or engine compartments.

Then, once washed, try to inspect the vehicle again for significant signs of rust. If you see any, address them sooner rather than later. (Other articles of mine on Associated Content cover the removal of small rust spots as well as changing your antifreeze/coolant. Check them out.)

As you perform your inspection, look for dings, scratches, loose fixtures, and other issues that could cause you problems down the line. You want to get these fixed before any big spring road trips.

Also look at your vehicle lights to be sure all are operational. Even a small thing like a burned-out marker plate light can cost you a ticket from the police and perhaps marks against your driving record in some states that can affect the price of your car insurance. A dead headlight can make it very hard for you to see even if a cop doesn’t happen to see you.

At the same time, you want to look at your car maintenance log. Determine if it is time for a tune up, an oil change, and the all-important drainage and replacement of your radiator/coolant liquid. These are all jobs you can tackle yourself even if you aren’t America’s best mechanic.

Finally, while you explore under the hood, take a sharp look at your belts and hoses. Anything that appears cracked, leaking, or otherwise damaged warrants swift replacement. Some of these you can do yourself while others you may want to hand off to a mechanic. Yet you will find other Associated Content articles that detail how to do work like changing your own spent fan belt that step you through the process.

Once this critical repair and maintenance is complete, you can drive happily into those warm spring days and nights. You’ve taken care of your automotive business and you don’t have to worry about as many nasty surprises awaiting you on longer pleasure – or work – trips.

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