By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Warm weather is here — almost — at last. Is your car ready?
1) Clean the crevices.
Door sills/jambs, trunk undersides; the inner fenders and undercarriage are places where winter gunk tends to accumulate. It’s not just unsightly, either. The gunk can prevent proper drainage/drying-out, which will accelerate body rot. Caustic compounds such as road salt are also hard on rubber seals/weatherstripping. It’s a good idea to wipe down the inner door jambs/trunk underside and run the car through the undercarriage wash at your local automatic car wash (or you can do it yourself with a garden hose).
2) Check the tires.
People know about keeping track of tread depth but sometimes forget to physically examine their vehicle’s tires for signs of physical damage — such as bulges on the sidewall or rips/tears — things that can be caused by hitting a bad pothole or bumping up against a curb. Such damage often happens during the winter months — but isn’t noticed because it’s just too cold outside to get on your hands and knees and take a close look at each tire. But now that it’s getting warm out, it’s a good idea to do a walk around. Any tire that has a bulge on its sidewall or any evidence of physical damage should be replaced as soon as possible.
3) Replace your wiper blades.
New wiper blades are cheap and easy to install — one of the few such things you can say about car maintenance these days. If you live in a four seasons climate, wiper blades should be replaced at least twice a year — once in fall and then again, in spring. Or even sooner, if you notice they’re doing more streaking than cleaning. This is a (usually) no-tools-required/DIY job that almost anyone can handle. And if you don’t want to handle it, many of the auto parts stores that sell blades will install them for you, free. Just ask.
4) Try your air conditioner.
Do it now — before it gets hot. And before every repair shop in town has a backlog of two weeks because of the vast legions of people who dropped off their cars for AC work. AC systems — especially on cars more than four or five years old — sometimes have very minor leaks that, over time, result in loss of cooling power. Also, long periods of disuse such as over the winter season can lead to other problems such as a sticky compressor clutch (this is why it’s smart to run your AC a couple of times a month for 5-10 minutes at a time during the winter months) that won’t become obvious until that first really hot day when you turn on the AC — and all you get is warm air. So, make sure your car’s AC is blowing cold now, before you really need it — and get it fixed if not, before everyone else realizes they need to get theirs fixed, too.
5) Polish your headlights.
Most late model cars have clear-plastic headlight assemblies instead of the sealed beam glass headlights cars used to come with. The upside is these plastic headlight assemblies look better and (when new) usually give you better night-time illumination. The downside is the plastic tends to yellow or become cloudy as the car ages, and this looks bad and also reduces the effectiveness of the lights, too. But the fix is fairly easy. Get some polish wax and a soft rag. Use the polish wax to buff out the plastic. It will safely remove the outer yellowed/opaque layers and restore your headlights to as-new look and function. Specialty kits are also available to do this job that include UV sealers to help keep the headlights looking great (and lighting right) longer
6) Hose off your radiator.
Your car’s radiator is really a heat exchanger. Engine heat is transferred to liquid coolant, which circulates through the radiator, where heat is taken away by the flow of air over thin cooling fins. But if dirt — and dead bugs and leaves/debris — cake onto the radiator’s surface, it becomes less capable of shedding heat. It’s harder for the fan to draw air through the radiator, which reduces it efficiency. The fix is easy — and free. Just get out your garden hose, pop the hood and — with the engine cold — thoroughly hose down the radiator, paying particular attention to the front (facing away from the engine) because that’s the section that acts as a bug-catcher and grime collector, too.