Checklist: 11 car fix-ups for spring

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Benefiting from years of incredible public relations, the spring season is associated favorably with fertility, rebirth and awakening. It closes the door on winter, is highly anticipated and widely celebrated. But it’s more than simply an opportunity to dance around your backyard with flowers in your hair.

The arrival of spring means it’s time to plant, take down the holiday lights still draped from the eaves, wash those outside windows — yes, the second-story ones, too — and prepare your vehicles for the summer.

Putting a little time, effort and even a little money into your vehicle’s springtime maintenance not only can minimize unexpected and time-consuming repairs on those summer vacation excursions, but ultimately help maximize resale value. Do-it-yourselfers can accomplish most of the items on this checklist, but some or all can be farmed out to a professional if you choose.

11 spring gotta-do’s for your car
  1. Clean the exterior.
  2. Clean the interior.
  3. Check the tires.
  4. Rotate the tires.
  5. Inspect the brakes.
  6. Check all wiper blades.
  7. Repair scratches.
  8. Flush the radiator.
  9. Check all hoses and belts.
  10. Top off all fluids.
  11. Inspect your battery connections.

Clean the exterior. Wash the exterior using a cleaner specifically formulated for automobiles and a clean, soft sponge or mitt. Some wheel cleaners can damage the vehicle’s paint finish, so take care not to get any on the finish and clean it off immediately if you do. Protecting the finish against the elements requires a coat of wax two or three times a year. Spring is the ideal time to wax. Regardless of what the directions on the wax container say, always wax a vehicle in the shade. Typically, paste wax provides more durable protection, but some good liquid waxes are on the market. The clear coat on today’s vehicles is more robust compared with 10 years ago but still can be marred. Wax should be removed by hand with a soft rag. Even in the hands of a professional, a power buffer can leave marks on the clear coat. Rust Belt residents should also take a pressure washer or at least a hose to the undercarriage and wheel wells to wash away any salt residue.

Clean the interior. Cleaning the interior is like spring cleaning your home. It should be a top-to-bottom approach. Shovel out all the clutter. Vacuum the carpet and seats; remove any stains on either. Don’t forget the trunk. Rust Belt residents should remove any containers of salt or sand, shovels and any other emergency winter items in the cargo area. All that extra weight kills fuel economy, and you’ll need the space for those vacation souvenirs.

Check the tires. In addition to checking their air pressure, tires should be inspected for wear and damage at least every three months. Your vehicle’s spring maintenance checkup should be one of those inspections. Tires are required by law to have indicators in their tread design that appear when the tires are worn out. However, before leaving on a long trip, you should check the tread depth. Insert a quarter upside down into the tread at several places around each tire. If the tread doesn’t meet the top of George Washington’s head, consider replacing the tires. When uneven wear appears on the front tires, it could indicate the front end is out of alignment. A wear pattern in the center of the tire usually indicates overinflation. Check the air pressure in the spare tire.

Rotate the tires. Tires should be rotated every 5,000 to 7,000 miles. For front-wheel drive, the front tires should go to the rear on the same side, and the rear tires should be moved to the opposite side on the front. Rear-wheel drive is just the opposite, with the rear wheels moving to the same side on the front and the front tires crossing to the opposite position on the rear. Rotation patterns may vary if the front and rear wheels are different sizes or if the vehicle is equipped with directional tires.

Inspect the brakes. Unless you are prepared to remove each wheel, leave a full brake inspection to a professional. However, if your vehicle doesn’t have solid wheels, you can perform a perfunctory inspection in your driveway. Typically, front brakes do most of the work and tend to wear out more quickly than their rear-mounted counterparts, so inspect front and rear every six months. Usually, alloy wheels have sufficient space between the spokes so you can successfully inspect the brakes without removing the wheel. The round disc behind the wheel should be uniformly shiny and relatively smooth. Light lines may exist as normal wear and tear, but deeper grooves or rough spots indicate the need to replace the disc. If the discs appear in good shape, move on to the brake pads. Brake pads are the elements that touch the discs when the calipers grab them. You can eyeball the pads by following the edge of the disc to the caliper. Here you can see the outside pad. It should be no less than one-eighth of an inch thick. Replace the pads right away if the thickness is less.

Check all wiper blades. Winter can be ruthless where wiper blades are concerned. You might consider just replacing them each spring but at the very least, make sure they are in good shape. Don’t forget the rear-window blade if your vehicle has one.

Repair scratches. Particularly in the Rust Belt, car finishes take a beating from cinders and other debris, not to mention runaway shopping carts in the grocery parking lot. Buy a small bottle of touch-up paint and repair the dings and scratches.

Flush the radiator. Consult your owner’s manual for recommended service periods for flushing the radiator. If it’s annually, now is a good time to do it. Follow the recommended levels of water and coolant. Check levels periodically, anyway. Make sure you wait for the engine to cool down before attempting to remove the radiator cap.

Check all hoses and belts. Inspect all hoses for cracks and feel for soft spots. Both are indications a hose needs replacing. Also, inspect all connections to ensure they are sound. Belts should have no cracks or fraying. Make sure all belts are taut.

Top off all fluids. Consult the owner’s manual for the proper fill levels for the window washer fluid, brake fluid and automatic transmission fluid. Check them and top them off as needed.

Inspect your battery connections. If your battery resides in the engine compartment, winter weather may have hastened some corrosion on the connections. Check the battery posts and connections to ensure they are clean and free of any gunk or corrosion. If the posts are dirty, remove the cables — negative cable first. Any auto parts store will have solutions specifically designed for cleaning battery posts. Squirt the solution on and use a stiff-bristle brush to clean off the gunk. Replace the cables, and you are good to go.