Spring cleaning tips for your vehicle: How to avoid costly repairs following a harsh winter
By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
The winter season can take a toll on a car, both in terms of its physical appearance and driving capabilities.
While many utilize the longer days and warmer weather of spring to clean around their homes, automotive experts say this time of year is ideal for spring cleaning and routine maintenance of your vehicle.
Once the last of the cold and snow departs, a trip to the car wash is usually required to bring back a car’s sparkling shine after it's been encrusted with salt and dirt.
However, one of the main reasons it’s important to wash your car is to prevent rust from forming. Rust can form on valuable components of a car’s mechanical system, such as the brake lines, fuel tanks and exhaust systems. This can result lead to safety issues, according to experts.
Rock salt, along with other chemical solutions used by road crews in the winter, can be one of the main contributors to rust damage, which is expensive to repair.
Drivers in the United States spent an estimated $15.4 billion in rust repairs caused by these de-icing methods over the last five years, according to AAA.
“While the application of de-icing salts and solutions is critical to keeping our nation’s roadways safe every winter, it’s important that drivers pay attention to warning signs that their vehicle may be suffering from rust-related damage,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of automotive engineering and repair.
Such warning signs include a "spongey" or soft feeling when applying pressure to a brake, the smell of fumes in or around the vehicle or an unusually loud exhaust sound.
Experts say that residents who experience snowy winters should frequently wash their vehicles with a high-quality car wash solution following a snowstorm.
One area they stress washing is the undercarriage. While this portion can be difficult to reach, commercial car washes can service a car's undercarriage. A through cleansing in the spring is vital because any deposits left over from winter can lead to corrosion year-round if not properly removed.
“In the last five years, 22 million U.S. drivers have experienced rust damage to their cars due to salt and liquid de-icers,” Nielsen said. “In addition to the safety risk, repairs to fix these problems are often costly, averaging almost $500 per occurrence.”
AAA also suggests touching up paint scratches and chips which could expose bare metal and lead to rust.
In addition to monitoring for rust buildup, the end of winter is an ideal time to check the engine’s cooling system.
“As the weather starts to get warmer, the cooling system’s health is important, as it prevents overheating,” said Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com. “At a minimum, check the coolant level and eyeball the radiator and heater hoses for any obvious problems like cracked rubber, loose clamps or stains from leaks."
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Additionally, vehicles should regularly have the radiator coolant drained, flushed and replenished with fresh antifreeze once every 1-3 years, he added.
Reina explained that it’s also important to check the vehicle’s air conditioning system well in advance of when 90-degree weather returns. This can be done by running the system through all of its direction controls including the floor, dash and defrost to make sure cold air is coming out of all the vents.
Car owners should test their air conditioner to ensure that the air coming out of the vents is colder than the air outside the vehicle. If it's not, it is recommended that a professional examine the system to look for any leaks and to refill the system with refrigerant.
The end of winter is also an optimal time for other miscellaneous tasks including detailing the interior of the car and replacing wiper blades that can "take a beating" during harsh winter conditions, according to Reina.
"These are the kind of things that should almost become automatic at the end of the winter season to do to a car," he said.
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
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