Winter is the harshest time of year for cars. Those of you in the snow (rust) belt have it the worst. Corrosive road salt, loose stones and road debris from snow plows, traction sand, and repeated freezing and thawing can wreak havoc on your car's body. To compound the matter, the cold winter weather probably kept you from washing your car as often as you should have. The first warm, spring weekend of the year, give your car a good spring cleaning, and check for any minor damage from the long winter before it turns into a costly or dangerous problem.

Here's what you should do:

Give your car a thorough hand-washing, inside and out, and do it the right way.

Clean and vacuum inside first.

Make sure you have soap that's specifically for cars.

Never wash your car in direct sunlight.

Use a hose with a mist-spray nozzle to wet down the car and wash away debris.

Using a bucket with tepid water and soap, sponge down all areas of the car gently, rinsing the sponge frequently. Do the fender and bumper areas last.

Blast the undercarriage and wheel wells with the hose to remove as much salt buildup as you can.

Dry the vehicle lightly with a chamois or natural-fiber drying cloth.

Remember to clean the windows and mirrors!

Stay away from automated, commercial car washes on busy, winter-thaw days. Many of them recycle a certain portion of their water, to the point that they're washing with salty water at those times. Otherwise, they're alternatives for keeping your underbody clean and for when it's too cold to hand-wash.

Look for stone chips, sand abrasions and rust. Look over the body completely for stone chips, including smaller surface nicks and scratches from traction sand thrown up by trucks. Repair them immediately with a touch-up kit (a small bottle of touch-up paint plus a special brush for application, usually inexpensive and available at the dealership). Make sure the spot is clean and dry, without any loose or sharp edges, and apply primer if bare metal is exposed. Have a body shop repair larger patches of rust.

Lubricate your locks and hinges. Consult with your owner's manual and use a graphite lubricant on your locks if recommended. Applying a small amount of petroleum-based lubricant to door and trunk hinges might also silence any creaking that started during winter.

Inspect your weather-stripping. Get any that looks mildewy, cracked, or brittle replaced right away. According to advice from the International Carwash Association, spraying weather-stripping with silicone spray will ensure that the water will bead away.

Inspect your car's underbody for rust and winter damage. If there are any suspicious areas, have a mechanic look at them, and fix them immediately if needed. Pay special attention to brake components (sticky calipers, corroded brake lines), and exhaust components (rusted clamps, crumbling tailpipes, holes forming in muffler) that might have salt or slush damage. Suspension and steering pieces such as bushings, strut mounts, springs and tie rods are also susceptible to winter damage.

These tips should help you get your car recovered from winter and ready for summer play. Now where's that Torso Track?

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