Car Maintenance Checklist for Spring

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Winter weather is behind us, so use this car maintenance checklist to prepare your vehicle for dependable spring and summer driving.

Winter can wreak havoc on your car, creating hidden problems that could cause inconvenient, expensive breakdowns. With the spring thaw upon us, now’s the time to perform basic auto maintenance to avoid unnecessary repairs. Follow this simple checklist to see whether it’s a DIY fix or you need your mechanic to perform these services.

Engine

Take your car for a spin. Ensure your engine is idling smoothly and the check engine light (CEL) is off. With the engine off, inspect the spark plug wires and distributor cap for damage or cracking. Replacing spark plugs, spark plug wires and the distributor cap (and rotor) are all DIYable tasks.

Battery

Lack of use and cold winter temperatures are the perfect combination for battery problems. Check the battery case for leaks, cracks, dirt buildup, fraying or corroded battery cables or terminals. Also make sure the battery is held securely in place. Clean the battery case and any corrosion from the terminals. If you don’t have a maintenance-free battery, check the water level and fill with distilled water if it’s low.

Oil/Fluids

Even if you didn’t drive a lot this winter, it’s always a good idea to change the oil and oil filter. Performing a DIY oil change following a bitterly cold winter can extend an engine’s life by thousands of miles.

Check the color and feel of all fluids including windshield washer fluid, coolant, brake fluid, power steering fluid and automatic transmission fluid. Vehicle fluids come in a rainbow of colors. They all should be translucent and free from rust, dirt and debris. If clean and clear, simply top off. If they’re dirty or discolored, flush and refill with fresh fluids. You can flush and refill most fluids yourself.

Check the owner’s manual to determine the correct fluid types for your vehicle. Have your mechanic check the transfer case (on four- and all-wheel drive vehicles) and differential case fluids.

Windshield Wipers

Winter cold, snow and ice quickly take a toll on windshield wipers. Inspect windshield wipers for tears, cracking or twisting. Using the wipers to remove mounds of snow from the windshield can bend wipers. Replacing windshield wipers is a simple inexpensive DIY project. And don’t forget the rear wiper.

Tires and Suspension

Winter weather leaves potholes that can damage tires, wheels and suspension parts, or throw your vehicle out of alignment. Look for bent wheels and inspect your tires for cracking, bubbles or bulges. Properly inflate your tires to the manufacturer’s specifications (don’t forget the spare) and inspect the tread for abnormal wear or flat spots.

Pick up tread depth and air pressure gauges online or at your local parts store and use them regularly. Replace any tire that has tread measuring 4/32-in. or less. If your car is pulling or vibrating while driving, it’s time to see your mechanic.

Brakes

Have your brakes inspected for normal wear and tear. Mud, road salt and ice melt chemicals used on roads can cause disc brake rotors to rust or pit, and brake hardware to corrode and bind. Brake binding can lead to overheating and poor stopping. While some brake work is DIYable, if you’re not sure, leave it to a pro.

Lights

Make sure all your lights are operating properly and replace any bulbs that aren’t. Place a drop of grease on the new bulb’s contacts to keep them from oxidizing. Give headlamps and lenses a good cleaning. If your headlamps are cloudy or faded, clean them with a toothbrush and a paste of baking soda and water. Or try a commercial headlamp restoration kit.

Belts and Hoses

Winter’s severe temperatures can quickly damage rubber components, particularly drive belts and hoses. Check the belts for cracks, glazing or fraying. Squeeze all hoses to check for soft or mushy spots. Inspect coolant hoses for dry rot and leaks, especially around hose clamps and fittings.

Note: Look for any dirt or debris build-up or chewed wires under the hood. A warm engine compartment may have been a good place for a critter to hibernate.

Filters

Spring is the perfect time to replace all your vehicle’s filters. Besides the oil filter, replace the fuel filter, air filter, cabin air filter and PCV valve. These are basic, inexpensive, DIY maintenance tasks.

Exterior

Lastly, inspect your car’s exterior. Start at the bottom and work up. To get rid of any rust-causing salt residue, throughly clean your tires and wheels, the undercarriage, the bottom of the doors and under the sill plates and flush with plenty of clean water.

Using standard residential water pressure, rinse the front of the radiator to remove dirt, salt and leaf build-up. Scrub tires with non-acid base cleaners. Refer to your owner’s manual to determine what type of cleaner to use on your wheels.

Wash the rest of your car with automotive shampoo. Never use detergent. With a clean, soft brush and sponge, get into every nook and cranny, including the space around door and trunk weatherstripping. Completely remove any road film, mud, dirt and silt.

Finish off with a good coat of paste wax. Protect the finish with a thin coat of sealing wax. Use an ammonia-free glass cleaner and microfiber towels to polish the windows,  or try balled up newspaper instead.

A well-maintained vehicle helps ensure your safe driving pleasure.


Robert Lacivita
Bob Lacivita is an award-winning auto technician and career and technical educator and freelance writer who has written about DYI car repairs and vehicle maintenance topics, as well as writing state, federal and organizational foundation grants, and helped design a unique curriculum delivery model that integrates rigorous, relevant academic standards seamlessly into technical/vocational training, for more than 20 years. His work has been featured in Family Handyman, a Reader's Digest book and Classic Bike Rider magazine, among others. Bob and his wife lived through 20 years' worth of DIY home remodeling while parenting two (now grown) boys and now relax by watching their three fabulous granddaughters.