Winter can take a heavy toll on your vehicle, from wiper blades to tires — and just about everything in between. Without timely repair and replacement of damaged and worn-out parts, that winter wear can make driving more dangerous and can even result in an accident.
Before you head out for spring and summer road trips, what are some steps you can take to make sure your vehicle is safe and road-ready?
Remove Corrosion-Causing Salt and Grime
Road salt and sand can result in serious damage to your car by eroding the undercarriage. That coating of grime causes severe corrosion over time, which can make it dangerous to drive your car. It also can decrease your vehicle’s value and make selling more difficult.
To remove the sand and salt, use a garden hose at maximum pressure, or position a lawn sprinkler under the vehicle to wash the areas you can’t get to.
Check and Top off all Fluids
After a long winter, you’ll want to check all your vehicle’s fluids such as those for brakes, power steering and transmission. In addition, take a look at your oil level and windshield washer fluid.
Dry winter weather can cause some fluid levels to decrease more quickly than usual. Certain fluids — primarily oil, along with transmission and brake fluids — should be changed approximately every 5,000 miles, regardless of the weather.
Install New Wiper Blades
Wiper blades can take a significant beating in winter as you try to keep your windshield clear of snow, sleet, freezing rain, salt spray and road debris. Typically, you should plan to replace your wipers about every six months, but you may need to do so more often if they’ve suffered abnormally high wear. If you’re not sure if your wipers are still good to go, make sure they haven’t become too dried out and that they touch the windshield completely as they move.
Inspect the Spark Plugs and Battery
If your spark plugs become dirty, they can waste fuel by misfiring. Since they can fire 3 million times for approximately every thousand miles, spark plugs also can sustain damage from chemical and electrical erosion. In addition to checking the condition of your spark plugs, take a look at battery connections and posts to be sure they haven’t become corroded over the winter.
Check and Replace Hoses and Belts
Your car’s belts and hoses play a vital role, ensuring that your air conditioning, power steering, and cooling and electrical systems work properly. Be sure to replace any hoses or belts that appear to be frayed, brittle, cracked or excessively worn.
Make Sure Tires Are Road-Ready
Ice, salt and road debris can cause a surprising amount of damage to your tires over the winter. The cold can leave tires underinflated, so checking pressure is important.
In addition, look for any signs of uneven wear or insufficient tread to keep you safe as the rainy spring months arrive. If the tires have worn unevenly, you may need a wheel alignment.
Change the Air Filter
Dust and dirt can gum up your air filter, which bears responsibility for keeping impurities out of your cylinders. A clogged filter can waste gas and degrade your engine performance, while a new filter can improve your mileage significantly.
Service the Radiator and Cooling System
Your radiator cap should fit well to increase the pressure in the cooling system and reduce the risk of overheating. In addition, flushing your cooling system at least every other year can provide additional insurance that your engine won’t fail. It’s important to use a product intended for radiator flushing, rather than just water, to get rid of the sediment and grease that can become deposited over the winter.
Clean the Interior and Exterior
Salt and sand left on your vehicle’s exterior for too long can permanently damage your paint; be sure to thoroughly wash your car as soon as possible once roads have been cleared.
Dirt and debris from a wet, muddy winter also can end up inside your car, potentially damaging the carpeting and upholstery. As you give the interior of your car a spring cleaning, be sure to restock your emergency kit if necessary, and don’t forget to remove the ice scrapers and bags of sand and salt from the trunk.
With a little care and attention, you can reverse any winter damage and ensure that your car is safe and ready for warmer weather.