Gearing Up For Spring

By Amy Winter

January 22, 2010 5 min read

Spring means warmer weather and more sunshine. Before going out to enjoy the nice weather, make sure to perform a proper car inspection after harsh winter driving conditions. That means checking your belts and hoses, looking at oil levels, checking for leaks and examining the car's exterior.

Matthew Wright, auto guide writer for About.com, says that spring is the ideal time to "catch up on routine maintenance." A routine checkup usually includes oil changes, coolant flushes and replacing filters and fluids (coolant, brake fluid, power-steering fluid, etc.). Make sure your air conditioning system is working properly in order to be prepared for warmer temperatures. When it comes to seasonal maintenance, you can either take your car to a mechanic or do the repairs yourself. Obtain a repair manual for your vehicle to keep up with a proper maintenance schedule.

"Your car has survived the rigors of cold weather, only to be subject to the rigors of summer heat," Wright says. "Heat is an engine's worst enemy, so your car needs to be in good tune to be able to deal with summer temps. Luckily, we have spring in between the tough seasons."

Car owners need to prepare their vehicles for winter driving. Drivers want to avoid breakdowns and maintain safety during cold temperatures. The Car Care Council (CarCare.org) recommends checking the battery, antifreeze and windshield wipers when "winterizing your car." Cold temperatures can reduce batter power, meaning drivers need to make sure the connections are clean, tight and free of corrosion. Be sure that the antifreeze is a mixture of 50 percent coolant and 50 percent water, according to the Car Care Council. Look at tire pressure, because low temperatures can cause a drop in tire pressure.

"Below-freezing temperatures can stress out a vehicle, as well as its driver," says Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council.

Spring maintenance is a chance to be certain that "everything survived the winter intact," Wright says.

Windshield wipers are an essential part of a car's spring checkup. Cold temperatures may cause the rubber on the wipers to become hard and brittle, increasing the chances for cracks, according to the Car Care Council. Blades that become cracked or leave streaks can't clean the windshield properly and will impair driving ability. Windshield wipers need to be changed regularly. At that time, be sure to clean and adjust the wiper system's nozzles and inspect the fluid level in the windshield washer reservoir.

Springtime means it's time for a carwash. Winter conditions also can affect the exterior of your car. Clean the car from top to bottom to remove the road salt used in icy conditions. If not wiped off, road salt will cause your car to rust, according to Wright. The Car Care Council recommends cleaning the underside, fenders, wheels and tires, in addition to the car's body. Use a different mitt when washing the tires and wheels; don't mix debris from the tires with the car's paint. Wipe down the fenders and bumpers last, because those areas contain the greatest amount of dirt. Look for dents, chips and rust.

The colder temperatures in winter and spring lead to more potholes. According to the Car Care Council, water enters the pavement through a crack and causes a softening of the soil underneath, which creates a dip in the road's surface. During winter and spring, the freeze-thaw cycles can increase the development of potholes. Hitting a pothole may damage your tires, wheels, steering, suspension and alignment. The Car Care Council advises drivers to look for these warning signs: loss of control or swaying when making turns, pulling in one direction instead of going in a straight line, low tire pressure and dents in the rim.

All drivers know what it feels like to hit a pothole, White says. What they don't know is whether their vehicles have been damaged in the process. "If you've hit a pothole, it's worth having a professional technician check out the car and make the necessary repairs to ensure safety and reliability," he says.

Wright emphasizes the importance of keeping up with car care during the different seasons.

"When it comes to seasonal maintenance, the most important thing to do is inspect, inspect, inspect," Wright says. "Become familiar with how things look, feel and work on your car or truck. You should be able to tell if anything seems like it's wearing or is in any way different than it should be."

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