Time flies by quickly; it seems like only yesterday that I booked an appointment for my car's annual winter checkup and tire change. Well guess what? Springtime is right around the corner and it's time to pay your mechanic yet another visit. But most of us dislike mechanics because they end up costing us an arm and a leg every time we drop by for a simple checkup.

Before you bring your vehicle in for a full inspection, carry out these simple cleanup and repair tips. They'll give you a good idea of what needs fine-tuning (or not). That way, you'll know exactly what to ask your mechanic when it's time for your annual summer checkup. Furthermore, you'll be introduced to simple tips that will help spiff up your car's aesthetics, so that you can drive in style all spring and summer long.

Mechanical Tips

Servicing your old car can be dreadful. You're always wondering how much you'll have to dish out. Most often, you just hope your muffler, clutch and tire threads will last you for at least another season. Here are a few quick tips to help you figure out what car parts will need fine-tuning.

Recognize, however, that these tips will never replace the expertise of a trained professional. They'll only help you pinpoint car problems before they get worse, as well as help you learn your way under the hood.

· Clutch

How can you tell if your clutch needs to be replaced? Start your car in top gear with the hand brake on, then slowly try to let the clutch out. If your engine stalls, it means your clutch is OK. On the other hand, if your car doesn't stall, it probably means your clutch will need to be replaced.

If that's the case, research the costs of labor and parts that you'll incur to replace your clutch. Use that information to your advantage when negotiating prices.

· Spark plugs

Worn-out spark plugs can drastically reduce your fuel efficiency. Check your spark plugs systematically before the winter and summer seasons and replace them if needed. You can easily shave off a few dollars in labor and part costs if you know how to replace them on your own.

· Wheels and balancing

If you notice that your steering wheel shudders a lot, it probably means that your tires need balancing. Generally, the price of alignment is included in that of the tire change. If you still notice that your car quivers or swerves after your tires have been balanced, it usually means that your front end will have to be worked on. I know you don't want to hear this, but you'll need to rely on your mechanic's opinion and pay extra for his repairs.

· Brakes

At this stage, you're probably wondering what kind of stunt you'll have to pull off in order to test out your brakes without actually running anybody over. It's quite easy; speed up in an empty parking lot and step on the brake pedal abruptly. Calculate how long it took for your car to come to a complete stop.

To gauge if the braking time is adequate, take note of the braking time when your brakes are new. This way, you can just compare the two times. Also, listen for any irregularities in sound; when your brakes are older, you'll generally hear a much louder sound compared to the smoother sound you get when your brakes are new.

This method of measuring your brakes is not scientific, but it is usually a very good indicator to gauge whether or not your brakes need replacing.

Aesthetic Tips

All through winter, men generally tend to care less about the look of their vehicles. It seems like the fierce weather leaves them oblivious to cleaning both the interior and exterior of their cars.

The warmth and charm of the spring sun, however, seems to really motivate us to keep our cars looking spotless. Here are a few simple tips to help keep your car sparkling clean.

· Remove Stains

The first step is to make your cloth seats look great by absorbing as much of the dirt on them as possible. Use a sponge or a spray with dry-cleaning fluid, and wipe off any apparent stains. You can also apply warm water and vinegar, and rinse off any residue with water afterward. Keep repeating the procedure until all the stains are gone or at least less visible.

For oil stains, sprinkle the area with cat litter and rub the surface with a soft cloth. You can also sprinkle dry sand over the stain to absorb as much oil as possible. Brush it off and wash the rest with simple dishwasher detergent.

Another way to remove stubborn oil stains is to apply kerosene. Rinse it with a soda-based solution very thoroughly in order to dilute it and remove all traces of the caustic liquid.

· Paint touch ups

If you notice any sign of rust, remove it immediately by smoothly sanding it off, and by making the appropriate touch ups with paint. You'll obviously need to purchase a good-quality paint that matches the color of your car.

Also, make sure to paint over any small scratches that tarnish the look of your car, and that may also turn to rust in time.

· Keep it tidy

Finally, always keep your car garbage-free and clean both the inside and the outside. Organize your CDs, as well as whatever else is lying around so that your car looks orderly.

As for the outside of your car, you don't have to spend hours waxing it every day. Simply make sure the exterior always looks clean and relatively shiny. Shining your tires with Armor All is a quick and easy way to make your car look like a collectible. Well maybe not, but it will sure help embellish your car's overall appearance. Also, remember that taking care of small details will make the difference between an average and a quality cleaning job.

Spring cleaning

Winter can sure do a number on your car; from tire alignment to rust problems, you'll need to make sure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape for spring. Have it checked by a mechanic and make it sparkle with some scrubbing and it'll be ready to face the warmer weather.


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