The winter can take its toll on your car thanks to the effects cold and wet conditions have on various systems. So when spring comes around, you must ensure that your car is still in good condition, especially if the warmer weather means you’ll travel more often or further distances.
Your first step to getting your car spring-ready is to find your owner’s manual since it holds a lot of key requirements and recommendations for your car’s upkeep. With the manual in hand, work through this checklist, and you’ll be ready to hit the road in no time.
Wash and clean the interior and exterior of your vehicle
A good place to start is to wash and wax the entire car to get rid of all the muck and dirt of winter. Gritted roads during icy periods mean that there could be a big build-up of salt and other particulate matter on your car’s body, as well as on the underside and in the wheel arches. If left unchecked, this build-up can lead to rust and corrosion, so a thorough cleaning is important to avoid damage.
You should also take the opportunity to give your car’s interior a spring clean while you’re at it. Vacuum the floors, clean the dashboard surface, and give the inside of the windows a thorough clean to keep visibility at its best. It can help to leave your doors open for a while to let any trapped moisture escape.
Check your tire pressure and tread depth
Because air contracts in colder weather, your tires are likely to have lost pressure over the winter, so it pays to check their pressure and adjust it to the recommended psi range in your owner’s manual to avoid any problems. Make sure you check every tire, including the spare – it won’t be any good to you in an emergency if it’s not well-maintained along with the others.
You should check your tread depth, too. If your tire treads have worn away and become too shallow, then they’ll lose friction and grip on the roads, making your handling worse and creating a safety risk as a result. You can check tread depth using the old penny check trick – roll a penny along each tread and see how deep it goes; if you can see the top of Lincoln’s head on the coin, your treads are too shallow, and you should think about replacing the tire.
Be aware that if you changed your car’s tires to snow and ice tires for the winter, then it’s best for you to change them back to general-use tires when the worst of the cold weather has passed. You should still check the spring tires you’re fitting, though, to be sure they haven’t deteriorated in storage.
Make sure your lights are bright enough
Shorter days and worse weather conditions mean you’ll have been relying on your car’s lights more over winter, so you should make sure they haven’t worn out or gone dim. Start by thoroughly cleaning the light casings on your headlights, brake lights, indicators, and other exterior lights, then check they haven’t gone dim. If they aren’t bright enough, change the bulbs.
Check your engine oil and other fluids
Now it’s time to get under the hood. Start by changing your engine oil – it’s important to do this on a fairly regular basis to keep your engine healthy, as the oil picks up impurities over time and deteriorates with age, meaning it can affect engine performance if left unchanged. You should change the engine oil filters at the same time, especially if you notice they’re clogged or damaged.
While you’re there, check other fluid levels, such as for the power steering, brakes, and transmission. These shouldn’t need topping up too much, so if they’re deficient, then it could be a sign there’s a leak somewhere. Finally, add more windshield washing fluid since spring will bring all sorts of insects with it, which are bound to get splatted against your windshield before too long.
Test and recharge your car battery
As with your tires, cold weather can be bad for your battery. The chemical reactions that allow the battery to maintain charge are slowed down by cold weather, meaning it’s probably lost a lot of its charge over winter. Test your battery and recharge it to the recommended level; if it’s older than five years, you should start thinking about replacing it completely, as it will begin to deteriorate more and more from that point.
Ensure engine belts and hoses are in good condition
More components that can be damaged by cold weather are belts and hoses under the hood. The cold causes rubber to contract, which can end up causing cracks and other damage to the rubber components of your car.
You need to look for hardened or softened patches, leaks, cracks, and blistering on hoses. Belts, meanwhile, should be checked for cracks, glazing, or looseness.
Check the alignment and suspension
Winter weather can cause damage to roads, which in turn can create a rougher ride for your car that may cause wear and tear to its alignment and suspension systems. You’ll be able to tell fairly easily if something is wrong – if the steering wheel doesn’t stay centered or the car drifts slightly to one side while driving, the alignment is off, and if your ride is noticeably too bumpy or too floaty (especially when going over bumps), then your suspension needs re-tuning.
If there’s no obvious fault, it can be difficult to check yourself unless you know exactly what you’re doing. So if you’re taking your car to a mechanic for any other work, get them to check these systems at the same time – or make a special trip to take your vehicle in for peace of mind.
Test the brakes
Winter usually means wetter roads, which means more wear on your brakes, from braking harder to slowing and stopping properly. Because of this, you should test your brakes to ensure they’re in good condition. The first sign of trouble is if you can hear any odd noises when you apply the brakes, such as squealing or rattling.
Even if there are no audible problems, inspect the brake pads and drums manually in case there’s any visible wear and tear. If you notice any problems, get the brakes repaired or replaced as soon as possible since inefficient brakes can be a major safety risk.
Check the windshield and wipers
You should have already washed the windshield when you were cleaning the rest of the car, but now it’s time for a closer inspection. If roads in your area are gritted during the winter to improve grip in snowy or icy conditions, cars in front of you will kick up small bits of grit and stone that may fly back into your windshield and create small chips or cracks, so check there’s no damage to your windshield.
Even smaller chips need to be dealt with, as they can quickly turn into larger cracks and threaten the windshield’s integrity. Have any windshield damage repaired as soon as possible, no matter how minor it may first appear, to avoid bigger problems further down the line.
You need to check your windshield wipers, too, as the increased use during bad winter weather can leave them worn or cracked. Jagged edges on your wipers can cause scratches on your windshield, so if you see any damage, you should replace the wiper.
Finally, if you forgot to top up the windshield cleaner earlier when dealing with the other fluids, remember to do it now. You’ll probably need it, as spring means various bugs will be starting to emerge, which will no doubt end up splatting into your windshield before too long.
Take your car for a scenic test drive
If you’ve checked everything but still want to ensure everything works okay, take your car for a spin. You might have been making fewer or shorter journeys during winter to avoid adverse weather conditions, so head out a bit further than normal to make sure there aren’t any issues that only pop up on longer journeys.
Ideally, you can make use of the warmer spring weather to take a trip out to a local beauty spot – somewhere that’s far enough away that you can test the car thoroughly but not too far from home that you’d be stranded if anything does go wrong. Hopefully, though, your car will now be in top condition, and you can start to enjoy the clearer roads and bright spring sunshine.