That neglected car. You know the one we mean. It was your shiny fun summer car, but now it’s an eyesore in the driveway. Or sitting beside the garage. Maybe you drove it last summer, maybe it’s been a couple of trips around the sun, but it’s lost some of its shine. There’s nothing wrong with it, but instead of climate control storage and a trickle charger, it’s covered with leaves and maybe there was something living inside of it. But it’s ok. It’s not too late.
Despite your best intentions, it’s easy to let your fun summer ride get a little worn down over the winter. You saw that the inside windows were covered with water, and you knew you’d have to deal with it, but tomorrow. Always tomorrow. You’ll put the cover on and put it in the garage, too! Except tomorrow never happens, because life always does. That’s ok. You can spend a long weekend getting your summer ride back into summer shape. And there are still a couple left this summer. There’s still time! So here’s our guide to help conquer procrastination, get your ride cleaned up, the smells and the acorns removed, and back on the road.
You’ve Got to Charge it Up
Start with the battery. Because if it somehow managed to survive a long winter nap with some voltage left, that voltage will be gone if you leave the doors open for more than a couple of minutes.
If you have a charger, take the battery out and hook it up. If you don’t, many major parts stores do free battery testing. Part of that test is that they have to charge it up. So you can drop the battery off to charge and check while you get started on the rest of the car. And if you need a new one, they’ll help you out.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Next up is the tires. You’ll want to fill them up with air in case you need to roll them around. If you don’t have a home compressor or a 12-volt tire filler already, grab one while you’re at the part store. But remember you might not be able to use it until you get that battery back. While you’re at it, check the date codes on those tires. If they’re more than about six years old, regardless of tread depth, you’re going to want to look at replacing them.
The Dirty Work
Now it’s time for some cleaning. I started with the inside, because around here early May doesn’t mean warm days. And cold fingers plus car washing isn’t fun. That’s right, I originally started this in May. Like I said, procrastination dooms the summer car. But push past that, and enjoy the driving dividends.
Thanks to humidity, snow, and a bit of a water leak, the inside of my car was musty, mouldy, and unpleasant. It’s very likely that if your car was stored outside all winter it’ll look much the same. And smell much the same. So start with a vacuum. If your car has signs of mould, though, you’ll probably want to use one with an excellent filter. And consider respiratory protection. Mould can be serious business.
Mice, Mice, Baby
A good vacuuming might reveal one of the big dangers of improper storage. Something has moved in. If you find piles of poo, seeds, shells, or bits of your interior fabric, you’ve probably got a mouse, rat, or some other fun guest.
That’s when you might want to consider more than just vacuuming. My car had signs of mice in the glovebox. So I removed the glove box and found signs of mice behind that too. I went all the way and took out the entire interior. You might not need to go that far, but if your summer car is an older one, it can be surprisingly easy. Find a shop manual, either at a store or online at your local library, and it can be as little as a few dozen screws and some seat bolts to take the whole thing out. Which makes it an easy job. Even seats are easier to remove than you think, often having just four nuts or bolts and one wiring plug.
It’s also easier to wipe down interior parts when they’re on a table in the garage. I was looking for a product that would help deodorize the interior, plus kill the possible fungus. And the mildew from the carpet that was wet all winter long. I found a product called OdoBan from Clean Control through some forum posts and got a few bottles. I took the spray version and went to town inside the car. Soaking and wiping per the directions on the bottle. This car has smelled bad for the six years I’ve owned it, despite many cleanings and countless air fresheners. Not anymore. I’ve tried many interior smell killers, and none have worked this well.
Take Things Apart
I started cleaning with the inside of the car. The parts that remained inside the car, that is. That meant I could let it sit and air out while I cleaned the removed parts, like the carpets and seats, in the comfort of the garage. It’s also a good time to consider throwing a trap or two in the car in case the mice stuck around after you took everything apart. And don’t forget the trunk, especially up under the rear parcel shelf, which was the dirtiest part of my car.
Once everything’s clean, then assembly is the reverse of disassembly. Which glazes over it, but if you’ve taken the car apart you shouldn’t have trouble putting it back together.
Now that the interior is back together, it’s time to do the inside of the windows. I did this after the interior was back in because sitting in the seats to wipe the windshield is easier than sitting on the jagged bare floor. And yes, you need to clean those windows because they’re probably completely hazed over.
Outer Beauty: Wash and Wax Time
The exterior might not have as many parts to remove, but that doesn’t make it easier. Because if you’ve been parked in the yard, the car is probably covered with leaves, needles, and whatever’s been blowing around. All of that debris gets into the seams and crevices and stops water draining properly. Which is why my car had water under that carpet. The vacuum works well to remove most of that muddy mess. If you have a big air compressor, forced air can work too. But you might have to remove some of the small parts, like the head and taillights, and the cowl at the base of the windshield, to make sure everything’s cleaned out. It’s a good chance to get rid of that green stuff growing in the seams.
Once it’s washed and dried, its time for wax. And probably a polish. Especially if it’s been sitting under a tree. It takes more work, but using a polish, with a scratch remover before it for the big scratches, followed by a separate wax offers the best results. There are dual-function polish/waxes, but I’ve found that the best results come from separate products. Because they do different things. A polish removes imperfections from the surface layer to give a better quality finish, but a wax smooths and enhances that. And it’s the wax that protects it.
Hit the Road
Now the last step. Put the battery back in. We won’t get into how to do fluid changes, but you should take the opportunity to change the oil and any other older fluids. Now you can start the car. At least, if the fuel isn’t too old. If it’s very old and you didn’t add a fuel stabilizer, then it’s going to run poorly. Or not at all. If it won’t run on the old fuel you’ll need to drain it, but that’s outside of this scope. If it starts, then that’s it!
Time to go for a drive. Burn off that old fuel, have fun, fill it up, and have even more fun. And get that neglected car out of the doghouse and back into your heart. Where it belongs. Don’t forget to let your insurance company know, and make sure that registration’s still valid.