You probably pay close attention to the workings and health of your car’s Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Wi-Fi hotspot, and cruise control. All the fun stuff, right? But how much do you know about your windshield wipers?
Admittedly, those aren’t as exciting as high-tech extras, but if the wipers peel apart in a rainstorm, you’ll have a new appreciation for them.
Even as a longtime automotive journalist, I’m still discovering new car checks that save time, money and headaches if you take care of them up front. Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com, a life-long auto enthusiast and one of my go-to sources, recently discussed auto maintenance with me. Here’s some of his best advice for preventative maintenance during seasonal changes each year:
Plan your maintenance in advance
Yes, that sounds as boring as the wipers, right? But you’re so busy with work and friends and kids and family, it’s easy to let things slip. One afternoon at the side of the road waiting for a tow truck will remind you, of course. Better to use autumn and spring as your guideposts and schedule service, no matter the climate in which you live, Reina said. Seasonal schedules will keep you from forgetting maintenance and also help your car recover from harsh seasons. Like any other important appointment or maintenance task, put this on the calendar ahead of time to hold yourself to it.
Change and top oils and fluids, inspect hoses and belts
Your regular maintenance schedule should include an oil and fluid change or check plus inspection of hoses (radiator, heating) and belts (timing belt, drive belt). Any cracks, holes or damage indicate that a replacement is needed. The fluid replacements and topping help ensure the engine is ready to endure any changes in heat.
Spring to early summer is perhaps the most critical time of the year to check that your car’s belts and hoses aren’t cracked, loose or broken, says Reina. One reason is that small animals often stay warm on winter nights by nesting under car hoods, and might knock parts out of place in the process.
Spot check your tires
You likely drive on all-season tires, which means you don’t have the hassle of changing tires in and out between seasons. But all-season tires can grow brittle in cold weather. Fluctuating temperatures and those nasty potholes you hit can cause cracks and other damage in those tires. Take a look for dents along the perimeter of the wheel, bubbles on the side of your tires (they look like tennis balls trying to break through, said Reina), cracks, and any kind of screws or nails embedded in a tire. If you spot any of those, repair or replace the tire. Otherwise, your tire might have a slow air leak. Hit a pothole, and it can damage the expensive wheel and even instantly flatten your tire.
Driving on a damaged tire can also result in a major blow out. If you aren’t comfortable inspecting your own tires, call a local retail service centre, many offer free tire inspections. Even if there’s no damage, don’t forget to check tire pressure. You can generally find what tire pressure you should have by looking at the sticker inside the driver’s side door. It is also listed in the car owner’s manual. If the tires are over or under-inflated they can wear poorly and even create safety hazards.
Not only will your car ride better, but it will also get better gas mileage and help your tires last longer.
Rinse the underside of the car
It’s a great idea to remove salt, mud and rocks from the underside of your car. Yes, you can do this yourself, if you use water and gently spray. But unless you can accurately define “gentle,” and follow other rules — including standing 6.10m away — you can damage paint, jolt or disconnect shock absorbers, and cause other damage.
Plus, it’s difficult to get under a car safely without a commercial lift. You eliminate those risks when you take your car to a commercial car wash and pay the few extra dollars (it’s $6 extra in my area) for an undercarriage spray.
No, you don’t have to do that every time, but certainly do it in the spring, said Reina. Yes, cars have protectants that guard against rust, but those aren’t infallible, especially on the undercarriage. The brine solution used to combat ice on many roads is even more corrosive than rock salt, according to said Reina. It works its way into the crannies of the underside, eating away at the parts.
Check your windows
Rocks, stones and road debris, including that nasty rock salt that eats at the bottom of your car, can chip your car windows, but it’s best not to wait until you have a chip to make repairs. Driving with cracked and chipped glass is dangerous and against the law in many areas, Reina said. Waiting to fix it may also increase the cost of the repair or make it impossible. That’s because dirt, grime, and even windshield wiper fluids can get into the chip or crack. Even if the glass is repaired, it may be cloudy or dark. Don’t put this one off.
Brighten those headlights
It’s scary to drive at night and realise your headlights don’t emit as much light as you need. Weather, road salt, pollution, and even certain cleaning products can cause headlamps to turn yellow and grow foggy. Headlights can be cleaned or replaced.
Prices for cleaning or replacement vary widely depending on many factors including make and model of the car. If you opt to clean them yourself, don’t wing it. Use products specifically for headlights or risk worsening the problem.
Clear the air
Does your car smell funny, even after you clean the inside? Many people don’t realise their cars have cabin air filters. Look at your car’s owner manual to locate and change it.