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April 26, 2013

News & Features

Spring clean: 5 ways to shake winter off of your car

The Associated Press

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(Thinkstock)


Winter can do a number on your car. Slush, salt and cold temperatures take a toll on everything from the tires to the wiper blades. As spring approaches, it's a good idea to give your car a thorough once-over to undo winter's damage.

It won't cost a lot. You can do the work yourself or visit a car wash and a garage. Goodyear, Firestone and other car-care centers will rotate your tires, change your oil and fluids and inspect your vehicle for winter damage for $35 or less.

Here are five things you can do to shake off winter and get your car in shape for spring.

1. Wash the underbody
Wintertime driving — especially if you've been up to ski hills or over the pass — will coat the bottom of your car with salt, sand and other grime that can cause corrosion. Corrosion can lead to rust problems, which can make your car much harder to resell or even dangerous to drive.

Spend a few extra dollars for the undercarriage power wash at the local car wash or spray the car's underside with your own hose. If possible, use a car jack to raise the vehicle for a more thorough cleaning, advises Bill Kropelnicki, president and owner of Rambling River Repair in Farmington, Minn. There's no need to use soap or any other cleaner.

While you're at it, open the hood and wipe down the engine with a soft mitt and soapy water. And remove all the leaves and debris that can find their way into the car, says Cliff Weathers, deputy autos editor for Consumer Reports.

Remove any crusty white residue off the battery with a toothbrush, baking soda and water. The residue — caused by corrosion — can eventually prevent your car from starting. The cleaning also helps prepare the battery for the stress of warmer temperatures.

2. Scrub inside and out
Salt and sand can damage the car's paint. Give your car a thorough cleaning and wax it with a paste or liquid wax, Weathers says. He cautions that sprays don't clean as well.

Scrub the bottoms of doors, which can get coated with grime, Kropelnicki says. He also urges car owners to clean the window channels and to apply a silicone spray, which repels dirt and lubricates the surfaces so the windows will operate smoothly.

Use a steam cleaner — you can rent one for $20 at The Home Depot — or apply a rug-cleaning spray to remove all the grime from the car's inside. Salt can break down some fabrics and cause rips or tears when feet grind against it.

Don't forget to take bags of salt and ice scrapers out of the trunk.

3. Replace wiper blades
Wiper blades get a workout during the winter months. Weathers advises changing them each spring and fall. Amazon's best-selling Bosch wiper blades go for $25 a pair.

4. Check tires
Some garages recommend a wheel alignment — which can cost around $80 — or a tire rotation as part of your spring maintenance. Weathers doesn't think it's necessary as long as you're following the car's regular maintenance schedule and doing normal winter driving.

Check your tire pressure. Cold weather can cause tires to be underinflated and the onset of warm weather can overinflate them. Also, visually inspect your tires to make sure they're wearing evenly and have plenty of tread for the rainy spring weather ahead.

Driving on properly inflated tires can save you money. It can cost anywhere from $50 to $250 to replace a blown tire, depending on the kind you need.

5. Check your fluids
Winter weather can deplete some fluids — especially windshield wiper fluid — more quickly, so top them off yourself if they're low. A service station will also do the job for $25 or so.

You should change your oil around every 5,000 miles regardless of season, Weathers says. Brake and transmission fluids should be checked as well.

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