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Seasonally Maintaining Your Car

Posted on Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The first falling snowflake sends several vehicle owners to their local big box department store or mechanic to prepare the family car for winter driving. What many of these drivers don’t realize is the importance of maintaining their vehicle throughout the remaining three seasons. Don’t be complacent and suffer the fate of the approximately 9 million motorists that AAA estimates get stranded during the warmer months each year. Keep your car maintained through all four seasons to ensure you and your fellow motorists remain safe on the roads, no matter what the conditions.

The days are becoming warmer and longer. Spring is the time of year to examine the damage caused by harsh winter driving and correct any visual and mechanical issues before they worsen. Start by checking the battery, which along with the alternator and starter, suffers the greatest damage during the winter months. Head to a local chain automotive supply store or to your own mechanic to have the battery tested. Continue the trend of spring-cleaning your home into the winter-neglected interior of your car by removing the excess clutter and cleaning the rubber mats and upholstery. Spring is commonly the rainiest season of the year. Check and replace the windshield wipers, if necessary, in preparation for spring’s notorious pop-up showers or torrential downpours.

For many Americans, summer is the time of year to hit the open road and enjoy a long-needed vacation. Before you load up the family and head to the beach, take your vehicle to a certified mechanic to have the air conditioner inspected, repaired or recharged to ensure the trip is cool and comfortable. Have the radiator flushed, the air filter replaced, and instruct the mechanic to check the vehicle’s fluid levels, including the brake fluid, power steering fluid, transmission fluid, engine oil and windshield washer fluid. Prepare an emergency survival kit in the event you become stranded on a lonesome highway during your summer road trip. The ideal emergency kit should include:

• Tire inflator
• Jumper cables
• First Aid kit
• Necessary performance fluids, including transmission fluid, engine oil and coolant
• Flashlight
• Flares
• Blankets
• At least one to two days’ worth of water and food
• A jack

Fall weather is unpredictable, requiring motorists to prepare for almost every eventuality. Begin by giving your spare tire a once-over to ensure its road-ready for the freezing-rain and frost that occur as the temperatures begin to drop. Check your vehicle’s heater and defroster to ensure both components are fully operational. Don’t wait until winter; have your tires’ tread inspected now. This procedure is commonly free at most automotive supply stores and private or chain mechanics. Otherwise, perform the “penny test” to ensure your tires’ tread is street legal. Place a penny, Abraham Lincoln’s head down, into several of the grooves on the tire. If any section of Lincoln’s head is obstructed by the tire, your tread depth is acceptable. If you’re unsure, or the tires are past their prime, don’t hesitate to have them replaced.

Any motorist living in a cold-weather state already knows the importance of preparing a car for winter’s harsh driving conditions. Begin your vehicle’s winterization checklist by adjusting the engine oil to accommodate for the cooler temperatures. A less viscous, or thinner, oil is recommended if you live in an area that consistently hits below-freezing temperatures. Consult your mechanic or the owner’s manual to locate your vehicle’s recommended engine oil. Maintain your vehicle’s coolant levels with a mixture of 60% coolant and 40% water. Choose an anti-freeze that features the ingredient ethylene glycol to protect your engine. Consider replacing your all-weather tires with models equipped to handle winter’s icy road conditions. Refill your windshield wiper fluid with product that contains anti-freeze. Use this fluid with caution as the corrosive effects of anti-freeze can damage your vehicle’s paint. Lastly, wipe down the sides of the vehicle to remove damaging road salts, and don’t hesitate to rush to a nearby car wash on the first warm day to protect your vehicle’s paint job.

Storing a Vehicle
That extraneous, classic or convertible car probably isn’t seeing too much road action during the cooler winter months. Even if the vehicle is only sitting idle in the garage for two weeks, it requires extra care to ensure it starts once the snow thaws. Top off the vehicle’s fluids, including the gas tank, and clean the exterior and interior to ensure that any potentially dangerous chemicals, including road salts, don’t sit on the vehicle and eat away at the paint during storage. Hook the battery up to a trickle charger, which supplies it with a constant source of power to keep the advanced computer systems functioning correctly. Cover the car with plastic tarp, and pay attention that the windows are closed to protect the interior from unwanted squatters, including rodents and insects. Before you close the garage door, hop inside the vehicle to make sure the parking brake isn’t engaged in order to prevent wear and tear to the brake pads, rotors and drums.

This post was written and contributed by Edson Farnell. Edson writes about various automotive topics for a variety of publications, like this piece on discount auto parts. Edson is also constantly looking for Land Rover parts for his countless restoration projects.

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