The winter can be hard on your car, and this year was especially bad in many parts of the country. The frigid temperatures and harsh road conditions take a serious toll on your ride. So it's important to take care of some basic maintenance issues before they turn into expensive and dangerous problems.
Here are six things that you should check now that the polar vortexes are waning. Doing so can save you time and money down the line.
1. Check your wheel alignment
Proper wheel alignment allows your car to handle properly. It also means that your tires won't wear out prematurely. If you notice your car constantly pulls to one side or doesn't drive straight ahead when your steering wheel is centered, then it might be a good idea to visit a local alignment shop.
A $75 alignment can improve your car's handling, and prevent you from having to spend hundreds on a premature set of tires.
2. Check your tire tread
Checking your tire tread is something you should do several times a year. It's important to make sure that you have adequate tire tread, and that the wear is even. To check tread depth, simply place the edge a penny into the tread of each tire, near the center. If the tread doesn't cover any portion of Honest Abe's head, you likely need new tires. Also, if there is excessive wear on the edge of any tires, it may be time for a new set and a four-wheel alignment.
3. Make sure your battery is strong
Cold weather is particularly harmful for car batteries. Your battery can deteriorate very quickly if you live in a harsh climate, becoming much less reliable as a consequence. If your battery is more than four years old and sometimes takes a few seconds to start your motor, you should take it to your local auto parts supplier to get tested and, if necessary, replaced.
4. Top off your coolant
As temperatures rise, it's important to make sure your car's engine is getting adequately cooled. If the coolant light on your dash has been illuminated or if you simply haven't checked the coolant level in a while, open up the hood and make sure the fluid is at the proper level. Most cars have a fluid level gauge, so consult your owner's manual to find out how to check the level on your particular model. Make sure you only open the coolant cap when your car is cool. Opening the cap when your car has been driven can be very dangerous.
5. Check your brakes
Before taking long road trips during the spring and summer, make sure your car has enough remaining brake life. If the brake check lamp is illuminated on your instrument cluster, or if your car's braking is noisy or rough, then there's a good chance you need new pads. If you're not sure, you can sometimes observe the level of your brake pads by simply looking between the spokes of your wheels. If you suspect your brakes may be worn out, find a trustworthy mechanic to do a thorough inspection.
Clean and vacuum the inside of your car. Cold weather has likely led to a buildup of gunk and miscellaneous items that you promised you'd clean once the weather got warmer. That time has come. Lug the vacuum to your garage, driveway or parking space and give the interior a nice big cleanse. You'll feel so much better after you do.
Next, move on to the outside of your car. If you're washing it yourself, make sure that you have soap that's specifically meant for cars and 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. Then, dry the vehicle lightly with a chamois or natural-fiber drying cloth.
Stay away from automated, commercial car washes on busy, winter-thaw days. Many of them recycle their water to the point that they're washing with a salty solution.
Stan Markuze is the founder of PartMyRide, the online marketplace for used original auto parts.