Whether you stored your ride this winter, or battled it out with the elements, Spring is heading this way and it'll soon be time to get ready for the changeover. That means getting rid of Winter's influence and getting ready for the challenges of Spring.
Now, if you survived the East Coast snow-mageddon this year, you may be thinking that Spring will be just a piece of cake, but it does bring its own special hazards. Whether you'll be cruising or road tripping this Spring, paying attention to these few things will go a long way to making sure you get there and back again.
#1 - Change or Rotate Your Tires
If you are running with winter tires, it's not good to use them too far into the Spring season. As the warmer weather arrives, winter tires can wear more than they would in the cold. Waiting an extra two months to change them out could result in the equivalent of an extra season's wear, depending on how you drive.
When changing to your summer or all-season tires, consider rotating them from last year's position. Hopefully, you marked them when you took them off. Rotating your tires helps to prevent premature wear. You can rotate them front to back or corner to corner, but be careful if they have a directional tread. This is usually seen only on high performance tires, but in that case, you can only rotate front to back.
#2 - Check your tires
This is something that you should be doing regularly, but now is a good time anyway. Visually inspect each tire for uneven tread wear, sidewall damage, cupping, exposed innards and tread depth. Uneven tread wear indicates a suspension alignment problem that should be addressed sooner rather than later.
Sidewall damage most often happens from 'curbing' the tire, but could also result from running over debris on the road. A tire with sidewall damage should be checked by a tire professional. Cupping and exposed innards (fabric or metal belts under the tread) are signs that the tire's internal construction has shifted or is moving while you drive. Tires like this should be replaced immediately.
If all is looking good here, go around once more and check and set the tire inflation pressure. Don't forget to check the spare tire as well, assuming you have one. For cars that have a combination tire repair/compressor unit, check for a "Use By" date on the tire sealant. If you are well over the date, look into getting a new container of sealant from your dealer.
#3 - Check the Wiper Blades
If you've been fighting snow and slush all winter, chances are good that your windshield wiper blades are toasted. Even if your ride has spent the chilly months inside, have a good look at the blades and replace them if they are cracking, oxidizing (white residue on the rubber that doesn't wipe off easily) or just aren't doing their job. They're not all that expensive and easy enough to replace yourself.
#4 - Under the Hood: Air Filter
If your region is like ours, gas prices are going to go up in the Spring, so its a good idea to check your air filter and replace it if its looking past its prime. This will let the engine breathe more easily and improves gas mileage.
#5 - Check the Battery
Have a look at the battery and check the terminals for corrosion or deposits. These form most commonly on the positive terminal - the one with the red cable attached to it. You can clean off the deposits with a wire brush or a proper battery post cleaner - just a special wire brush. You can neutralize any battery acid that may be around using a weak solution of water and baking soda. Finally, apply some dielectric grease to the battery terminals to protect them from future growths.
#6 - Check the Radiator Cap and Coolant
Do make sure that the engine is stone cold before starting this part. Opening the radiator cap while the engine is still hot can result in coolant being sprayed out, possibly resulting in personal injury. When the engine is cold, remove the radiator cap and inspect the seal. If there is any evidence of cracking or significant degradation of the seal, replace the cap. They are not that expensive, in most cases.
While you have the cap off, have a look at the condition of the engine coolant. It should be reasonably transparent, though it may have changed color somewhat from its original condition. Check your owner's manual and verify the coolant level. Add coolant mixture as needed. You can get premixed coolant at most auto supply stores, but if mixing your own check the instructions. Most manufacturers do not want tap water being used. Use distilled water instead.
#7 - Check the Drive Belt(s)
Whether you have a serpentine belt, or multiple accessory drive belts, this is a good time to check them for wear, cracking, degradation or other nastiness. Visually check them where you can and then run your fingers along both the inside and outside to feel for possible trouble spots.
It is a lot easier to replace a suspect belt now than when you're on the road on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of nowhere, with no cell signal.
#8 - Check All Other Fluids
It's only going to take another couple of minutes to verify the rest of the liquids that are vital to the health of your ride. Have a look in the power steering fluid reservoir and the brake fluid reservoir. These are usually marked to show the needed level of fluid. Add fluids as necessary.
Check the oil level. We assume that you've been following a regular oil change interval that does not depend on the changing of the seasons, so just have a look while you're under the hood anyway.
#9 - Start Cleaning: Underbody First
Use a garden hose or pressure washer to wash out road salt and sand accumulated during the winter. Clean out the wheel wells and suspension components to minimize problems from this junk getting into sensitive components. Wash under the hood if you want to, but cover up electrically sensitive components first, such as the alternator, fuse box, computer module, electrical distribution panel and so on.
#10 - More Cleaning: Do the Rest
Give the outside and inside a good cleanup. Once that first sunny day arrives, you're not going to want to spend it inside doing this work. Once the outside has been washed, run your hand lightly over the hood and front sheet metal to see if you should be doing a clay bar cleanup.
Finish up the cleaning chores to the extent that you usually do and you'll be in pretty good shape for arrival of the Spring season.
Oh... there's one more item on the list. Now that you've lavished all this love on your special ride, go and do it all over again for the family car or your GF's ride. The upside may not be high, but the downside is enormous.