Car Care: Spring Car Checklist

myautonews_pic_3314475It may not feel like it today, but the winter driving season is nearly over. Is your vehicle ready for spring? There are some easy things you can do to make sure your spring travels are fun and carefree.

The first thing to do is make sure factory-specified maintenance is up to date. Look at your mileage, then check the recommended service schedule in your owner’s manual. You may be due for service or an oil and filter change. Any problems you’re currently encountering – hard starting, rough running, stalling, unevenly worn tires, for example – are reasons to take your vehicle in, as well. A lit “check engine” light is another sure motivator to head for your dealer’s service department.

Even if you’re not suffering from any gremlins at the moment, nobody wants problems to pop up unexpectedly. Here are a few items to take care of as the winter breaks.

  • Replace your wiper blades – Winter does a number on windshield wipers. Being able to see is worth the small amount of money a good set of wiper blades costs.
  • Flush and refill the cooling system – Cooling system health is often neglected, and system failures can cost big money and require major engine repairs. Keeping tabs on the coolant level, its condition and concentration (the level of freeze protection it will offer) is crucial to the longevity and proper performance of your engine. As always, follow your vehicle’s maintenance schedule and have the system serviced at the recommended intervals.
  • Check the tires – If you run dedicated winter tires, early spring is a great time to change back to your three-season tires. If you run the same tires and wheels year-round, check their condition now, and don’t’ forget the spare. Obvious damage, including cuts in the tread or bulges in the sidewalls, need immediate attention. Also check the tread for even wear and safe tread-depth. Make sure they’re aired up to the proper pressure listed in your owner’s manual.
  • IMN26780H2(1)Check and adjust belts and hoses – Most modern vehicles use a single “serpentine” belt to drive the charging system, power steering, air conditioning, and water pump. It’s all that stands between getting there and going nowhere. If you see cracks in the serpentine belt, get it replaced. Hoses don’t move much, but they can chafe against other underhood parts, and years of heating and cooling will cause them to break down. Like belts, hoses typically work right up until they don’t. Common signs of old hoses are bulging around fittings and obvious fatigue. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, the technicians at the dealership will be able to help.
  • Fix your air conditioner – While its primary function is to create a comfortable atmosphere inside the car, it’s a safety issue, too. The air conditioner is engaged when you de-fog your windshield, since it effectively removes humidity from the cabin air. The temperature swings and rainy weather of springtime are prime window-fogging weather, and you’re at greater risk for an accident if your windows are fogged and impairing your visibility. Make sure the system is fully charged and have it inspected for leaks.
  • Make sure all the lights work – Being seen is as important as being able to see. It’s as easy as walking around the vehicle with the lights on and making sure the blinkers work. Have a helper step on the brake pedal so you can check the brake lights. If you aren’t sure how to replace any bulbs that have burned out, take your vehicle to your dealer’s service department for assistance.
  • Change the oil – Winter weather can be hard on engine oil. Temperatures are low, which means it takes the engine longer to warm up and that can lead to extra condensation and acid buildup in the oil. Get that old stuff out of there and start the spring with fresh protection.

Following these basic steps will help ensure a trouble-free driving season ahead, without any nasty surprises. Check with your dealer’s service department to see if there are any specials or coupons that may apply to a comprehensive spring service. They know your vehicle best, too, so be sure to ask for their recommendations to keep your car in tip-top condition for the warmer season.