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Getting Ready for Spring Driving

Spring is coming - and while several of us on the Southern coasts will only have to deal with moderate variances in temperature, the Midwest and Northern folks will be going through a more drastic thermal shock. While most Americans will likely welcome this seasonal change, let’s not allow Spring fever to cause us to ignore some routine maintenance that should be performed on our daily-driven cars. 

Dandelions in the shape of a carTemperature and Fuel Economy As the weather starts to reach a more optimal level for driving, you’ll most likely start to see better fuel economy as well. However, if you followed our advice in our Winter Driving article, and partially covered your radiator for those wintery-cold months, make sure to remove the cover as spring approaches.

Cooling System - If you live in an area where extreme cold is prominent in winter, you probably ran a higher anti-freeze-to-coolant ratio in your cooling system. A year-round 50/50 ratio is common, however that protects your engine up to -35°F in the winter (which is overkill in most areas) and actually hinders optimal cooling during the hotter months. If you are prone to driving slowly in traffic with the air conditioner turned on, you may want to alter the coolant ratio to be more water-dominant so that you lower the risk of overheating. Keeping at least 10% anti-freeze will help control corrosion in the system.

Battery - A car battery can take quite a beating over the cold winter months, especially if the car it’s in is parked outside overnight. Therefore, make sure your car’s battery is fully charged. Also keep in mind that while a car battery may show a full 12 volts, it doesn’t necessarily mean it has a full, 100% charge.

Make sure your battery’s terminals are also free of corrosion. Sometimes, a battery can be fully charged but not start the car, due to the blue and white powdery corrosion that builds up around the terminals, especially after the cold winter months. Make sure to pull the terminals and clean the insides of the connection points (the ones coming from the car), along with the battery’s terminals themselves, with a simple battery terminal cleaner. A light grit piece of sand paper, or some baking soda applied with a toothbrush, should also do the trick. Having the terminals clean will ensure a good connection between cables and battery, and it will allow the alternator to do its job as well.

Windshield Wipers - In various parts of the country, spring is usually accompanied by rain (how does that saying go - April showers, May flowers…). Your wipers likely took a beating over the winter as they scraped over those rough and bumpy windshields from the snow and frozen rain. This makes spring a perfect time to replace your wipers.

Tires - Tires are one of the most important things on a vehicle. They affect handling, braking, acceleration, ride quality, and fuel economy. They only work well when properly inflated, and improper inflation will also drastically reduce tire life. Just like our Maintaining Fuel Economy in Cold Weather article stated, a tire’s pressure will increase roughly 1 PSI with every 10°F rise in ambient temperature. The sun’s radiant heat can raise this figure even more.

In some parts of the country, residents can see up to nearly 100°F temperature changes throughout the year. If they filled their tires to 38 PSI on a -15°F night in the winter, and today they are seeing 85°F in the shade, this can mean the tire is now at 48 PSI, and more if it’s sitting in the sun! Therefore, be sure to check those tire pressures. And yes, this goes for you nitrogen users as well.

If you used winter-specific tires for the winter, it will be good to mount the all-seasons for the spring. This will ensure better wet handling in warmer weather, and not prematurely wear your winter tires, which ideally should be used in less-than-42°F weather.

Alignment - Even a vehicle with properly inflated tires will not handle well, and suffer premature wear, if the alignment is off. During the winter months, especially when driving around in the snow, drivers are more likely to slide into curbs and run over things they otherwise would have seen, such as small boulders or other objects in the road. When hitting these objects, the alignment can become slightly altered. Therefore, ensure your vehicle’s alignment is up to par by taking it to an alignment shop.

Oil - Over the winter months a daily-driven vehicle (especially one that is parked outside each night) can have extra moisture built up in the oil system due to condensation. Moisture reduces the lubricious properties of the oil until it’s burned off during normal driving. However, if your drives are constantly short, the chances of having more moisture in the oil is likely, and an oil change can be a good idea. One way to check the oil for excessive moisture is to remove the oil cap or dipstick and make sure there is no mustard-like residue on them.

If you used a lighter weight oil for the winter, remember to switch to a slightly heavier weight oil during the hotter months for better engine protection. Check your vehicle’s requirements in the owner’s manual.

Salt - As you may have noticed, municipalities will treat road surfaces with salt to prevent ice buildup in cold-climate areas where snow is prevalent. Unfortunately, salt is very corrosive and encourages rust build-up underneath the vehicle. Make sure to hose the car thoroughly underneath with a power washer, or at your local DIY car wash.

We hope these tips helped. Now go out and enjoy your long-lasting vehicle!