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Seasonal Car Care

Seasonal Car Care

SEASONAL CAR CARE

You wouldn't dream of facing winter's ice, snow and sleet without a coat, gloves and other cold-weather gear, would you? Your car deserves the same level of protection.  This article will help you prepare your car to make it through a cold, wet winter season and a long, hot summer.

 

WINTER CARE

Your car is in for a tough time this winter.  Your car's paint, tires, glass, plastic and other surfaces will be at the mercy of the elements, including wind, rain, sleet, snow, sand, gravel, cinders, salt and road oil.  Fall is your best opportunity to inspect and prepare your car with a protective layer, giving your car a fighting chance.  Your car's paint, tires, leather and rubber trim all need touching up in the fall, even if you have cared for them all summer.

 

SEAL THE PAINT

If your car will be exposed to extreme winter conditions, the best protective coating is a good synthetic wax.  Unlike carnauba waxes, a synthetic wax provides a modest amount of protection against water and road salts.  The product I trust to hold up to winter's worst is Ultima Paint Guard Plus.

Your car is more likely to be scratched during winter due to all of the potential debris on the road.  As moisture penetrates deep scratches and chips in your car's paint and repeatedly freezes and thaws, it weakens and eventually cracks the surrounding paint.  This allows oxidation to rapidly set in.  A quick and easy way to reduce oxidation caused by winter road damage is to wash your car as often as possible, and inspect for paint chips and scratches.  When you find new paint chips, seal them with your synthetic wax.

 

TREAT YOUR CAR'S INTERIOR

Winter is also hard on leather interiors.  Cold, dry air pulls the moisture from leather, so it's important to treat leather prior to the onset of freezing temperatures.  Once the daytime temperature dips below 50 degrees (Fahrenheit), the leather will not accept conditioners.  Although the surface will look good, you have not provided moisture to the hide. 

 

PROTECT THE CAR'S TIRES

Your car's tires have a tough job in the winter, too.  Liberal use of a high-quality tire dressing keeps them looking good during the harshest weather, and provides a barrier to the elements and to the ozone that can cause rubber to deteriorate.  Tire gels are a good solution in winter, as they seem to last longer.

If you live in a region that gets snow and ice, another easy tip for winter car protection is to spray tire dressing in the wheel wells to prevent buildup of snow, ice and road salt.  Any inexpensive silicone spray dressing will do.  Although not recommended for your exterior painted surfaces (it makes body shop repairs difficult), silicone is an excellent protectant for your engine, wheel wells, and the underside of your car.  It's best to start this practice before the really cold weather hits.

 

CAR CARE FOR DELICATE WHEELS

If your car has expensive, delicate wheels, think about removing each wheel for winter preparation.  Delicate wheels should be cleaned, inspected and sealed.  Clean each wheel, front and back, with an extra-strength gel wheel cleaner.  Scrub the tires thoroughly, too.  Dry the wheels with a clean terry cloth towel.  Protect with a high-quality paste wax or acrylic sealant.  Complete the job by treating the tires (front and back) with a liberal application of tire dressing.  Allow the tire dressing to soak in for 5 to 10 minutes before wiping off the excess.

 

DON'T FORGET YOUR CAR'S TRIM

Other parts of your car's exterior, such as the bumpers, trim and rubber door seals, need extra protection when the mercury drops, too.  These materials are affected by extreme temperatures and the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation.  UV radiation causes fading, hardening and cracking, especially in the winter with a reduced ozone layer.  When properly maintained, door and trunk seals will maintain their shape and elasticity longer, providing a better seal.



PROTECTING ROADSTER AND CONVERTIBLE TOPS

If you drive a roadster in cold winter weather, now is the time to clean and protect your top.  If water penetrates your top and then freezes, your top will be prone to severe damage.  Protect your top before the first freeze.

 

INSPECT WIPER BLADES AND FLUID

Don't forget to inspect your windshield wipers.  Replace them if there's any sign of wear.  Remember, you're going to be counting on your wipers to deal with the elements.  While you're at it, check your wash fluid and add a good wash booster.  A good wash booster will help cut through road salt, road grime and mud so you can see.

 

DON'T LET CAR BATTERY DIE

If your car is more than 6 years old, think about replacing the battery.  Every January or February there comes an especially brutal subzero morning that drains the last bit of power from weak car batteries.  Even if your battery is relatively new, you should inspect it before winter arrives.  Make certain the terminals and posts are free of corrosion (clean with baking soda and water), lubricated and tight.

 

CHANGE YOUR ANTIFREEZE AND OIL

Have the cooling system checked for the correct concentration and level of antifreeze.  If your vehicle needs additional antifreeze, follow the manufacturer's recommendation for the ratio of water to antifreeze.  If your antifreeze is more than 2 years old, it should be flushed and refilled.

Changing your car's oil and filter is the best way to prolong engine life.  If you live in a harsh winter climate, late fall is the best time to change your oil to be ready for winter.  Most manufacturers recommend an oil change every 5,000 to 15,000 miles or once a year, whichever comes first.  Your oil service interval will depend on the age and manufacturer of your car.



COLD START PROBLEMS

If your car starts reluctantly or stalls in warm weather, the problem will only worsen when the mercury plummets.  Get it checked now, and have the PVC, fuel and air filters replaced if necessary.  Don't wait until you're out in the cold.

 

CHECK YOUR TIRES FOR WEAR

Worn tires won't give you the traction you need on wet, icy roads.  If your tires are worn, replace them with a good set of all-weather radials.  For extra grab in the snow, get a pair of snow tires.  If you live in a rural area, you may want to keep a set of tire chains in your trunk.

Snow tires should always be used in complete sets of four.  I know that it's common practice to place just one pair on the drive wheels, but this is a recipe for disaster, especially on front-wheel-drive vehicles.  If the tires with the most grip are placed on the front, the rear will be more likely to lock up during braking, resulting in fishtailing or a possible spin.  Although it's not as dangerous when a pair of snow tires are placed on the rear axle of a rear-drive car, those tires will only provide accelerative traction.  They will do little for cornering or stopping.

Correct tire pressure ensures optimum handling, stopping and wear.  Remember to check pressure frequently, because cold air causes it to drop (one pound for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit).

Winter preparation, especially in cold climates, will help your car make it to spring in good condition.  If you take a weekend before the cold weather sets in to change the oil, check the tires, change your wiper blades, check your battery and coolant, and polish and wax your car, you'll be ready for winter.



SPRING MAINTENANCE

Winter is finally over!  Yahoo!  If you're like me, this means a couple of things.  Like once again it's time to clean up the garden for spring flowers.  And the car needs a good checkup and cleaning in preparation for warmer weather.

 

SPRINGTIME MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST

When the weather begins to change from winter's gloom to the glory of spring, most of us get more active outside and begin using our cars more.  Before getting into the full swing of warm weather, take time out to give your car a good spring cleaning and a maintenance checkup:

  • Wiper blades - Your wipers got you through winter, wiping away rain, sleet, snow, leaves, mud and more.  Consider replacing your wiper blades now so you can drive squeak and streak free during April showers and summer thunderstorms.
  • Grille and under-the-hood cleanliness - Check your radiator grille and the cowl (hood area just ahead of the windshield) for accumulated debris from winter.  Remove leaves and other trash.  Buildup in these areas may cause your engine to overheat or your air conditioner to blow warm air.
  • Cooling system - Lift your hood and check your antifreeze.  Fresh antifreeze is vivid in color (usually bright green).  Dirty antifreeze looks dull or rusty.  In most cases, you should flush your antifreeze every 24 months.
  • Belts and hoses - Winter is very hard on belts and hoses.  The cold, salt and dirt make rubber hard and brittle, so it's a good idea to check your belts and hoses every spring.  I suggest cleaning your engine each spring to remove winter's grunge.  After cleaning, treat all hoses, belts and other rubber parts with a generous helping of rubber dressing.
  • Brakes - Spring is a good time to check your brakes.  The most obvious warning sign is brake noise, squealing, screeching, chatter or grinding.  Your brakes should also be checked for corrosion, which can lead to premature brake failure.
  • Air conditioning - Spring is the best time to check your air conditioning (A/C) for proper operation.  Most people forget to run their A/C during the winter months, which can result in premature failure of seals and compressors.  I recommend running your A/C all winter.
  • Oil change - Many of us change our car's oil before winter to get ready for the cold.  With the coming of spring, you should dump the old winter oil and top off with fresh oil for warmer temperatures.  Many people think that summer months are the hardest on the engine.  In reality, cold winter starts cause the most damage to moving parts.  Flush the winter oil as soon as possible.

SPRINGTIME CLEANING CHECKLIST


In addition to basic mechanical checks, spring is a good time to clean up your car and give it the protection it deserves.  Here's what I recommend for spring cleaning:

  • Undercarriage flush - With the onset of spring, all car owners should have their car's undercarriage flushed.  The easiest way to do this is to find an automated, touchless, carwash with an undercarriage wash feature.  If you drive on salted roads, I recommend going through the wash twice.  I also recommend thoroughly cleaning your wheels and wheel wells.
  • De-grunge - No matter where you live, if you drive your car in winter weather, your car gets covered with grunge.  To remove the grunge, you need to wash your car with a strong detergent; most car wash solutions do not have the strength to cut through the dirt.  I recommend using a solution of 1 ounce of Dawn dish-washing detergent to 3 gallons of cool water to wash your car.  Rinse thoroughly.
  • Clean and seal - A strong detergent solution cannot remove all contaminants from your car's paint.  To bring your car's paint back to life and repair minor surface damage, use a pre-wax cleaner or fine polish.  My personal favorite pre-wax cleaner is Sonus Paintwork Cleanser.  If your car's paint feels rough, you need a cleaner.  If your paint has scuffs and scratches, you need a heavier polish.  To recondition paint by hand, try Sonus SFX-1 Restore Polish.  After cleaning and polishing, protect your car's paint with a good wax or sealant.
  • Treat - If your car has a leather or vinyl interior, it needs to be treated before the onset of summer's heat.  Cold winter weather dries leather and vinyl.  Adding heat and UV radiation to dry leather and vinyl causes the material to break down until it eventually fades and cracks.  It's not necessary to clean your leather and vinyl before treating, but running a damp towel over it to remove dust and dirt is a good idea.
  • Glass and chrome - Winter makes its mark on glass and chrome, too.  Both glass and chrome should be polished in spring.  Using a good glass polish on your windshield and windows will remove the winter grime and buff out water spots and minor surface abrasions.  Likewise, chrome needs to be cleaned and polished.  Chrome will rust quickly if it is not kept polished and treated. 

 

GARAGE QUEEN CARE

Do you own a garage queen?  You know, a car that you pamper and don't take outside during inclement weather?  If you do, your garage queen may need extra special care.

I took my garage queen out today, just before sitting down to write this chapter.  It's not that we have winter weather in my home town; far from it.  I simply had other projects that occupied my time this winter.

When I finally got around to taking my car out for a nice Sunday drive, I found it dead as a doornail.  The battery was history.  No amount of electrolyte or charging would bring it back to life.  So, I broke down and replaced the original battery with a heavy-duty unit.  Lesson learned,  again!  I'll be in the market for a good trickle charger.

After getting the new battery installed and the car started, I took her out for a warm-up around the block.  I was horrified to feel my car going "thump, thump, thump" as the flat spots on the tires slapped against the pavement.  It figures, doesn't it?  I didn't take my own advice to over inflate the tires before putting her away for such a long time.  Strike two!

I was lucky we had a warm day.  I came back to the garage and filled the tires to 50 PSI and went for another drive.  After 10 minutes the car was running smoothly again, and I returned home to adjust the tire pressure to normal inflation.

You might have already guessed that my bad news was not over.  I hadn't fired up the A/C yet.  I was crossing my fingers before flipping the switch, because twice before I had allowed a car to sit, and the seals or A/C compressor failed.  Who would guess that the A/C needs to be run regularly to keep from failing?  Phew!  At least I didn't have that problem this time.  But, yuck, what's that smell? 

Strike three, I had mildew.  Mildew is one of those things you really hate to get in your A/C system.  The only good way to kill it yourself is with a quality A/C and heating system cleaner.  The product I prefer is Wurth A/C & Heating System Cleaner.  It quickly eliminates odors caused by bacteria, fungus, mildew and stagnant water.  Professionals seal the car and pump a gas through the A/C and vent system to kill the mildew.

Learn from my mistakes.  Properly prepare your car before putting it away for winter.  The best advice I can give is to drive your garage queen on dry days to keep the battery charged, tires round, A/C fresh and functioning, and moisture out of the crankcase.

SUMMARY

Winter preparation, especially in cold climates, will help your car make it to spring in good condition.  If you take a weekend before the cold weather sets in to change the oil, check the tires, change your wiper blades, check your battery and coolant, and polish and wax your car, you'll be ready for winter's worst.  Likewise, after winter it's important to clean your car thoroughly, treat and inspect.




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