Seasonal Car Maintenance

Many drivers put vehicle maintenance on auto pilot, waiting for a “ding” from the vehicle’s onboard reminder or following decades-old habits.  These days, vehicles have changed and so have maintenance schedules. Keep your vehicle in peak condition all year by following AAA’s seasonal advice.

Congratulations! You survived another winter. And now that you’re putting your winter coat back into mothballs until next year, why not take the time to do some post-winter clean up on your vehicle as well?

Your car takes everything winter hands it … torrential downpours, freezing rain, and even mountains of snow. So, it makes sense to get it ready for warmer weather.

Start with your tires, even if you drive on “all season” tires. Heavy, consistent snow and ice require snow tires, which absolutely should be replaced with the non-snow variety. If you drive on all season radials, this is the time to rotate them. By rotating tires seasonally, you extend the life of the set.

Windshield wiper blades also take a beating during winter weather. Cold temperatures are hard on rubber compounds, and they are assailed with slush kicked up by traffic. This slush often carries with it corrosive salt used to melt road ice, which can do a number on your blades. Early spring is a good time to check and replace them if necessary. Check your windshield fluid as well since there’s a good chance winter’s dirt has exhausted the reservoir.

Next, clean your vehicle’s underbody. There’s no magic solution to getting rid of the corrosive salt build-up but the best tool is a high-pressure sprayer. Pay special attention to the area around the front and rear bumpers. Once you’ve thoroughly sprayed the underbody, check for signs of rust and take the necessary steps to stop any small rust spots from eating away at your vehicle. We’ve all seen those pillars of snow that form around bumpers and wheel wells. That’s the most likely place for road salt to begin the erosion process. While you’re at it, you might as well wash the whole car. Winter is not conducive to leisurely afternoons spent hosing off your vehicle and chances are it’s been a while.

Examine your brakes. Like wipers, brakes take on a bigger role during wintertime and should be checked to ensure that they’ve survived. Listen for brake noises such as grinding, chatter, or squeals. Even if your brakes aren’t making any distinctive noises, it’s still a good idea for you or your mechanic to determine the amount of wear on the pads or drums. We often become accustomed to the feel of worn brakes, without realizing that what we’re used to is a deteriorated ability to stop.

Check all automotive fluids and top off as necessary. Winter driving conditions require your engine to work harder and condensation can cause moisture buildup in the engine that creates wear. If your car is due for scheduled maintenance, have the oil changes and be sure to use the proper formulation and viscosity recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. Many automakers now require special, fuel-conserving low-viscosity semi- or full-synthetic engine oils for year-round use.

Go over the interior of your vehicle. This includes taking out and washing floor liners. Vacuum and clean the carpets, and make sure they are dry before you put the liners back in.

Now you’re ready for warmer temperatures. Of course, soon you will need to prepare your vehicle for the long hot summer that’s right around the corner.

Summer’s heat, dust, and stop-and-go traffic, take a real toll on your vehicle. You can lessen the odds of mechanical failure through periodic maintenance.

Some of the following tips are easy to do; others will require a skilled auto technician.

  • Air Conditioning – A system that is operating marginally will likely fail in hot weather. If it’s not blowing cold air, have the system examined by a qualified technician.
  • Cooling System – The most common cause of summer breakdowns is overheating. The cooling system should be flushed and refilled with factory approved coolant at the interval specified by the vehicle manufacturer (a 50/50 mix of coolant and water is usually recommended). The coolant level, condition, and antifreeze concentration should be checked at every oil change. Remember – never remove the radiator cap until the engine has cooled! Also, don’t forget to check the condition of accessory drive belts and coolant hoses/clamps – or have a professional do it.
  •  Oil – Change your oil and oil filter at the intervals recommended by your car’s manufacturer. Many newer vehicles have in-car oil life monitoring systems that alert the driver when an oil change is due. If you use your vehicle for frequent short trips, heavy hauling or trailer towing, more frequent oil changes will be called for.
  • Engine Performance – Replace other filters (air, fuel, cabin PCV, etc.) as recommended – more frequently in dusty conditions. Get engine drivability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected as soon as possible at a reputable repair shop.
  • Windshield Wipers – A dirty windshield causes eye fatigue and can pose a safety hazard. Replace worn wiper blades and make sure you have plenty of windshield washer solvent on hand. Washer fluid formulated for summer use aids in bug removal.
  • Lights – Inspect all lights and replace any burned out bulbs. Periodically clean dirt and insects from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag. Badly weathered plastic headlight lenses can be restored by professional services or using do-it-yourself kits available at auto parts stores.
  • Tires – Have your tires rotated every 5,000 to 7,500 miles. Check the tire pressure once a month when the tires are cold. Don’t forget to check your spare as well, and make sure the jack is in good condition. Examine tires for tread depth, uneven wear, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Uneven tread wear or a car that pulls to one side could indicate the need for a wheel alignment.
  • Brakes – Brakes should be inspected as recommended in your owner’s manual, and sooner if you notice pulsations, grabbing, noises, or increased stopping distances. The brakes area critical safety systems and any problems should be addressed as soon as possible.
  •  Battery – Batteries typically last three to five years and can fail any time of year. The best way to identify a weak battery is with professional test equipment. Routine care can help make your battery last longer. Clean corrosion from posts and cable connections; wipe away dirt and oil deposits on the battery, and make sure all connections and hold down hardware are secure.  If the battery caps are removable, check the fluid level monthly. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves when working with batteries, and avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid..

Mechanical failure – an inconvenience anytime it occurs – can be deadly in the winter. Preventive maintenance is a must. Some of the following tips can be performed by any do-it-yourselfer; others require the skills of a professional auto technician.

  • Oil – Change your oil and oil filter at the intervals recommended by your car’s manufacturer. Many newer vehicles have in-car oil life monitoring systems that alert the driver when an oil change is due. If you use your vehicle for frequent short trips, heavy hauling or trailer towing, more frequent oil changes will be called for.
  • Engine Performance – Replace other filters (air, fuel, cabin PCV, etc.) as recommended – more frequently in dusty conditions. Get engine drivability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected as soon as possible at a reputable repair shop. Cold weather makes existing problems worse. Replace dirty filters-air, fuel, etc.
  • Cooling System – The most common cause of summer breakdowns is overheating. The cooling system should be flushed and refilled with factory approved coolant at the interval specified by the vehicle manufacturer (a 50/50 mix of coolant and water is usually recommended). The coolant level, condition, and antifreeze concentration should be checked at every oil change. Remember – never remove the radiator cap until the engine has cooled! Also, don’t forget to check the condition of accessory drive belts and coolant hoses/clamps – or have a professional do it.
  • Windshield Wipers – A dirty windshield causes eye fatigue and can pose a safety hazard. Replace worn wiper blades and make sure you have plenty of windshield washer solvent on hand. Washer fluid formulated for winter use has special anti-freeze properties. If your climate is harsh, purchase beam-type or rubber-clad wiper blades that help prevent ice build-up. And, don’t forget to carry an ice-scraper and snow brush.
  • Heater/Defroster – The heater and defroster must be in good working condition for passenger comfort and driver visibility. Newer models have a cabin air filter that should be checked and replaced as needed. Check your owner’s manual for the location and replacement interval.
  • Battery – Batteries typically last three to five years, and winter time failures are common due to increase cold-starting electrical loads. The best way to identify a weak battery is with professional test equipment. Routine care can help make your battery last longer. Clean corrosion from posts and cable connections; wipe away dirt and oil deposits on the battery, and make sure all connections and hold down hardware are secure. If the battery caps are removable, check the fluid level monthly. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves when working with batteries, and avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid.
  • Lights – Inspect all lights and replace any burned out bulbs. Periodically clean dirt and insects from all lenses. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag. Badly weathered plastic headlight lenses can be restored by professional services or using do-it-yourself kits available at auto parts stores.
  • Exhaust System – Engine exhaust contains deadly carbon monoxide gas that should not be allowed to enter the passenger compartment. Have your vehicle’s exhaust system examined for leaks, and the trunk and floorboards inspected for small holes.
  • Tires –. Have your tires rotated every 5,000 to 7,500 miles. Check the tire pressure once a month when the tires are cold. Don’t forget to check your spare as well, and make sure the jack is in good condition. Examine tires for tread depth, uneven wear, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Uneven tread wear or a car that pulls to one side could indicate the need for a wheel alignment. Tires with minimal tread depth perform very poorly on snow and ice. If you live in a harsh winter environment consider a set of dedicated snow tires for maximum traction and safety.
  • Carry emergency gear: gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, and a flashlight. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box.

To learn more, visit www.AAA.com or call (800) AAAHELP.
To locate an AAA Approved Auto Repair shop, visit www.AAA.com/repair.
To locate a AAA Spokesperson, visit www.NewsRoom.aaa.com

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