Winter conditions can damage your car. That means your car could probably use a refresh when the weather warms up. After being coated in salt, mud and sand, a car’s exterior requires attention, and many parts and systems need some love as well.
“Through preventive maintenance, you improve the performance, durability and safety of the most important parts of your vehicle. They also help ensure you don’t break down at the wrong time or in the wrong place,” said David Bennett, 52, repair systems manager at the American Automobile Association’s national office in Heathrow, Florida.
Here are some things you can do yourself and what you should leave to the professionals to get your vehicle ready for travel.
Do some DIY details
For stand-up comedian Shaun Eli, 59, who has been doing his own car maintenance since he was in high school, springtime auto tune-ups are no joke. Eli keeps his car in tip-top shape because prior to the pandemic, he spent a lot of time on the road, driving from his home in New York City to comedy appearances.
Eli starts his spring tuning by washing away the leftovers of winter, including the salt that can attack your car’s metal. Deep cleaning your vehicle top to bottom, inside and out — also called detailing — can be expensive at $100 or more, but you can easily do it yourself.
Hose down the exterior first, spraying under the car and in the wheel arches, removing as much dirt and salt as possible.
Wash the exterior of the car with car wash or mild dish soap and a damp sponge, top to bottom. Dry the car thoroughly and then apply car wax with a soft cloth to protect the surface.
“I’m a big fan of using Rain-X on the windshield; it helps when you’re driving in the rain because it coats the windshield so the rain blows right off as you move,” he says.
When you’re done with the outside, take care of the inside. Since salt can corrode your car from the inside out, especially after months of winter boots chasing granules around the vehicle, it’s important to give it a thorough cleaning. Remove the floor mats, hose them down and let them dry outside.
“If it’s been a while since the carpet has been shampooed or vacuumed, by all means do it,” advises Bennett.
Wipe down the seats, steering wheel and dashboard with a damp cloth and clean the insides of your windows as well. But never open the hood and hose down the engine, Bennett warns.
“You can wipe the engine area with a rag, but it’s not a good idea to spray it to get rid of any deposits,” he says. “There are far too many electrical components underneath that could be damaged.”
Check wiper blades
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Windshield wiper blades work non-stop during the snowy, slushy, and freezing months. With more than 90 percent of your driving decisions based on what you see, it’s important that your wiper blades work properly.
“Run a damp paper towel over them a few times to clean them, being careful not to cut yourself on metal edges,” suggests Eli.
Then squeeze the wiper fluid and see how the sprayers work, suggests Mollie Lewis, 51, a certified ASE automotive technician and owner of All in the Wrist Auto and Diesel Repair in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“If you’re getting a lot of streaks or noise, it means the rubber has snapped and you need a wiper change,” she says.
Don’t forget to check your rear wipers too.
When the car is cold, open the hood and check the engine oil, brake fluid, transmission, power steering and engine coolant levels. Consult your owner’s manual for instructions or find DIY information online.
“Follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule for when these need to be replaced, and have these fluids topped up as needed,” says Bennett.
While checking fluid levels, look around the engine compartment to see if your belts and hoses are dry or snapped, Bennett adds. If so, they need to be replaced.
Dirty air filters can reduce your gas mileage by up to 10 percent: Dirt prevents air from entering the combustion chamber, which in turn prevents the engine from running efficiently, says Bennett.