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Spring cleaning for summer preening

It’s time to wash away all that grit, grime and salt after a long, harsh winter of driving in Ontario

Published April 5, 2013

Spring is here, and although it doesn’t feel like it yet, warmer weather is on the way. It’s time to prepare your car for a new season of driving, but do it yourself, or leave it to the pros? That’s up to you.

Some seasonal tasks, such as brake checks and tire balancing when you swap your winter tires for stickier summer rubber, should be left to technicians who know what they’re doing.

But basic spring maintenance is much simpler, although it can be time-consuming.

Changing your own motor oil, for example, is not a bad way to bond with your son or daughter, doing it as a Saturday afternoon project. “And you can save some money, definitely,” says Sean Martell, who is Canadian Tire’s national buyer for motor oil products.

The professional price for an oil change starts at about $40, which means the cost for labour is about $15 or $20 on top of the retail price of the oil and new filter.

If you want to save that money, or just ensure the job is done to your own standards and using your own oil, then you’ll need a place to perform the work and the time to see it through. For tools, you’ll need a wrench and a filter wrench, a drainage pan and a funnel, plus an old jug for carrying the waste oil to the hazardous waste recycling facility.

You’ll need a rag, too — maybe a big one, if you’re not the patient type. It can get messy under there.

Most people prefer to just drink a coffee for 20 minutes while the work’s done by someone else, says Martell, especially by somebody who can advise on the best oil and filter to use.

Mechanics used to recommend a different weight of oil for the spring over the winter, but improved technology means that’s not usually necessary now, he says. Even so, he adds, “you’ll never harm your car by changing the oil a little sooner, especially in the spring time.”

“The winter time’s always very difficult on a vehicle, between the cold-weather starts and the more dirt and salt and debris that’s out there. Your car just has to work harder through the winter period.”

That season’s over for now, though, and it’s time to clean away the dirt and grime. Should you do that yourself?

“It’s about the products,” says Rodway Bramble, the lead detailer at LA Detail in Scarborough. Professionals have a ready supply of tricky-to-use cleaning products that can take practice to apply properly.

“For instance, we use something called Fallout, which is a mild acid that we use if we notice that a vehicle is covered in small rust spots, from industrial fallout,” he explains. “It’s not something you can use in your driveway because it dries quick, and if it dries, it etches the paint.”

Bramble says it’s also taken him years to be comfortable with a high-speed polisher that, if used too liberally, can rub right through paint.

Most simple cleaning, though, can be done with basic products and elbow grease. Bramble says it’ll take the average person “a day, and then some” to clean a dirty car to a professional shine inside and out, using waxes and shampoos from the local auto store.

But it could also be illegal to wash your car in your driveway or on the road. The City of Toronto is one of several municipalities with a bylaw prohibiting car-wash run-off from entering the storm drains, since those sewers are designed for rain and snow and empty directly into Lake Ontario with very little treatment.

The fine is up to $50,000, no different from an industrial polluter, although it’s never been enforced against a private homeowner. Professional car washes have separate drainage systems for dirty water, and most of it is recycled.

If you do want to wash your car at home, the city recommends you park it on grass or gravel to absorb the water, or that you dispose of the waste water in your home’s sanitary drain system.

“By using a pail, washcloth and only a small amount of water, and then wiping the car dry, the waste water can be contained in the bucket and disposed of into the sanitary sewer through a laundry sink or toilet,” suggests the city’s website.

Or you can go to a car wash. An automatic wash can cost less than $10 and will include spraying the crud away from the underside of the car — often missed in a driveway clean.

Professional detailing usually starts at less than $100 for personal cleaning inside and out, and can extend to several hundred dollars, depending on just how clean you want your vehicle.

Just don’t ask Bramble to get rid of red Gatorade stains.

“That’s the worst,” he says. “It’s worse than coffee — you’re just not going to get it out.”

And if he can’t do it, safe to say you can’t, either, especially in your driveway.

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