Spring Car Care for Summer Serenity

Ten steps to take your car from winter to spring and beyond

Old Man Winter is a common thread for much of North America. It blows cold and much of the continent is regularly blanketed in snow and ice. Motor vehicles plod through all of this, and simultaneously contend with sub-freezing temperatures, heavily salted roads and a considerable amount of sand and gravel spread on road surfaces. These conditions take their toll on motor vehicles (no secret to veteran northerners), and when the robins return it really is prime time to give your car or light truck a break. Certainly it's common (and makes sense, too) to "winterize" a car or pickup truck, but it's also perfectly logical to ready your ride for the dog days of summer.

What follows are 10 ways to reverse the effects of winter on your car or truck. This certainly isn't the ultimate list of items to check, replenish or repair, but it will definitely get you on the right track, and your vehicle will appreciate it.

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1. Tires

For the vast majority of applications (4x4 pickups not withstanding), swapping from winter tires to summer tires is a given. Typically, tires engineered for snow and particularly ice wear quickly on warm, dry asphalt. In addition, many states and provinces outlaw the use of studded tires as soon as spring brings the big thaw.

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2. Oil, Filter and Lube

Winter in some parts of the continent means super cold temperatures, which also means that thin oil goes in as soon as the mercury drops. When the weather warms, it's time to switch to a more conventional lubricant. This is also a great time to lube your car or truck, and of course, to change the oil filter.

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3. Flush Cooling System and Transmission Fluid

While you're under the hood, check and replenish all fluid levels. It's also a very good time to flush the cooling system and to replace automatic transmission fluid. Coolant wears out. Winter is hard on the coolant and it's also hard on the radiator and heater core. Similarly, the transmission fluid takes a huge beating. As a result, it should be changed before warm weather hits. While you're at it, check and replace all hoses as necessary.

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4. Brakes

Given the corrosive nature of winter driving, it's always a good idea to examine the brake pads and rotors (or drums) when spring rolls around. It's also a good time to lubricate the park brake cables and park brake mechanisms. Winter road salt does a real number on cables and hardware.

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5. Lamps

Test each and every lamp on your car. Examine front lenses too. Why? Simple. You might be surprised to see damage from errant rocks, wayward tire studs and other winter debris. Headlights are the biggest problem, and it's not uncommon to find damaged lamps and lens assemblies following a tough winter. The only option here is to replace bits and pieces as necessary.

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6. Windshield Wipers

Wiper blades can take the real brunt of winter's snow and ice. Blades can easily crack and tear with the cycle of sub-freezing temperatures, plenty of ice buildup and of course, rapid defrosting. And don't forget blades are also at the mercy of chemicals (road salt spray, windshield washer fluids, etc.). The point is that spring is a good time to replace the blades. It's also a good time to replenish windshield washer fluid and to check (and replace) any damaged washer hoses.

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7. Windshield

If you think the lights and wipers take a pounding over the long winter, take a good look at the windshield in your truck or car. Typically, vehicles with more vertical windshields (pickups, SUVs, vans) suffer more so than sloped back aero models (passenger cars). It's not difficult to sustain a stone chip or six over the winter. It's also not uncommon for the windshield to suffer from multiple cracks. If the windshield has stone chips and bruises, it's time to get them fixed. Plenty of outfits can fill and repair chips. Outright fractures on the other hand mandate a complete windshield replacement. Spring is the time to get the job done to best avoid problems in a hot summer.

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8. Battery

The battery and electrical system on a car or truck can really be taxed when the temperature drops. The end of winter is a good time to go through the starting system. Examine all cable connections, clean and lube as necessary and watch for battery acid damage (corrosion) on battery trays and adjacent components. It's also a good time to consider the actual battery. If it worked especially hard in a harsh winter, there's a good chance it might need to be replaced.

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9. Exterior

Pick a day and devote an afternoon to washing, polishing and waxing your vehicle. Once thoroughly washed (and we mean thorough; spend some time spraying under the car and carefully spraying out the engine compartment), take the time to touch up stone chips. Once the paint has dried, polish the sheetmetal and chrome and give everything a good coat of wax. A good detail job will not only extend the life of your vehicle, it will hopefully make you fall in love with your car or truck (again) as well.

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10. Interior

The inside of your vehicle takes a pounding in the winter. Spring is the time to vacuum, clean and detail interior. While you're at it, remove things like carpeted floor mats. Give them a chance to dry out. Some folks like to leave a clothes dryer sheet or two in the car to remove odors. We actually place a small sandwich bag with a few coffee beans under the seat (with small holes punched in it). What's with that? Simple. It's a great winter odor eater!

A little work in spring will help get your car or light truck over winter and ready for summer.

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