Modern cars are more complex than ever, but there’s still plenty that drivers can do to get their vehicle ready for spring from the comfort of their driveway – and often with minimal need for special tools or equipment.
Below, we’ll cover some tips drivers can take to ensure their car is ready for the upcoming spring travel season, both in their driveway, and with the help of a technician.
A lot of things get changed in the springtime including the seasons, the clocks, the batteries in your smoke detectors, and the wintertime tires and wipers on your car or truck. This year, it’s more important than ever to give your vehicle a hearty dose of springtime TLC before you hit the road, since it’s likely been parked for extended periods of time, all winter long.
Some vehicle components like the tires, brakes and battery can take a major hit when vehicles aren’t driven regularly.
Look, the best way to make sure your car or truck is in ideal condition for safe, efficient and reliable springtime travels is to have it seen by a professional technician for a check-up. That’s especially true if you’ve noticed any fluid drips in the driveway, difficulty starting the engine, occasional warning-light illuminations, or the appearance or worsening of unusual noises.
A technician can quickly and affordably assess your vehicle from roof to floor, tip to tail, and all systems in between. Small problems can be identified or averted before they grow in scope and cost. Opportunities to improve safety, fuel efficiency, and the longevity of the vehicle can be identified.
If you service your few-year-old machine at its dealership, a regular visit makes it easy to stay on top of the software updates and safety recalls that intend to make your car safer and more reliable.
But before that professional check-up, some simple steps can help drivers to identify possible trouble areas themselves, or uncover any concerns they might want to bring to the technician’s attention. You’re taking your car to see it’s doctor—but since it can’t talk, you’ve got to track down the trouble spots yourself.
Start under the hood
Check the engine oil level and condition, following the instructions in your owner’s manual. Usually, this is a 30 second job for any adult with two hands and an old rag.
Next, remove the vehicle’s air filter. You might need a screwdriver or a small socket set. The owner’s manual may have instructions, and a YouTube search for your year, make and model, followed by the words “engine air filter replacement” will likely lead you to a follow-along video in quick order.
Check for damage or missing chunks of air filter element, or the presence of seeds, nuts, bugs, or excrement in or near the airbox. Over winter, rodents may have taken up residence in your vehicle, and the airbox is a common destination.
If your air filter is dirty, clogged, partially chewed, or being actively inhabited by a small creature, now’s the time to head to your local parts store and grab a new one.
A clogged or damaged air filter can cause poor fuel economy, engine damage, and lousy performance. A badly-clogged air filter can cause your engine to drink up to 50 per cent more fuel than it needs to, and can even cause it to burn oil.
Checking the Battery and the Lights
Next, on to the battery. This might be under the hood of your car, or somewhere else. Check the terminals of the battery for signs of corrosion, or a salt-like buildup of crystalized gunk around the terminals. Battery terminals should be cleaned about once a year, as the built-up gunk can degrade and drain the battery over time.
Batteries in modern cars can be fussy things, and modern cars are very hard on their batteries. If you needed to jump-start your car last winter at least once, and if that same battery has just spent most of this winter in your parked car, there’s a high likelihood it’ll need to be replaced.
A weak or dying battery can rapidly breed electronic gremlins, even if it’s still got enough juice to fire up your engine. A professional battery test and replacement (as needed) is highly advised, especially for vehicles that have been driven infrequently. Do not underestimate the number of annoying newer-car problems that can be solved by switching to a fresh battery.
By the way, using a battery trickle charger at all times while your vehicle will be parked for more than a few days can help prevent annoying electrical gremlins and no-start situations, while extending the life of your battery.
Next check all of your exterior lighting, including hazards, signals and reverse lights. The social distancing version of an exterior lighting check doesn’t even require a friend: simply point the front and rear of your vehicle at the nearest large window, and watch the reflections as you try each and every exterior bulb.
Sometimes changing a burned-out exterior bulb is easy. Other times, you’ll need professional help.
YouTube is a great source of how-to videos for changing exterior light bulbs (or confirming that you should leave the job to an expert).
Don’t forget your vehicle’s brakes and tires
On to the tires and brakes, next. Get a flashlight, and something comfortable to kneel or sit on, as you’ll want to be down nice and low. Check all tires for signs of uneven wear across their treads, which can indicate an alignment problem. Left unattended, a wonky alignment wastes fuel, damages your tires, and affects your vehicle’s ability to handle and steer properly.
Check all tire sidewalls, both inside and out, for signs of rips, tears, cuts, or lumps. The flashlight comes in handy, here. If you notice any damage, seek professional assistance and replace tires as needed. Driving on a damaged tire can result in a dangerous blow-out that could cause an accident, killing you and others.
Properly inflated tires handle better, use less fuel, and last longer. Using a tire pressure gauge, check each tire’s pressure according to the instructions in the owner’s manual, adjusting as necessary. A proper tire pressure reading is typically performed on a cold tire, that is, a tire that hasn’t moved in an hour or two.
Remember: tire pressure cannot be properly assessed by simply looking at the tire, or kicking it with your foot. Use a gauge and be precise, for best results. If you’ve got a pressure gauge and a portable air compressor nearby, checking and adjusting the pressures of all four tires takes less than 5 minutes.
On some cars, you can see the brake discs sitting just behind the wheels. These should be smooth and shiny, with a flat, ring-shaped surface that’s clean and smooth from inside to out. Grooves, rings of rust, and excessive corrosion buildup on nearby parts are all great reasons to have your brakes inspected and serviced professionally.
Left unchecked, brakes in sub-par condition will offer limited safety and stopping ability, and may cause additional wear and damage to other system parts. A few bucks spent on regular braking system checks and servicing can go a long way to fending off more major repair bills.
Finally, go for a road test. If your car’s been parked for some time, check and adjust tire pressures before you set off. Tires tend to lose air over time while the vehicle sits, and driving on improperly inflated tires is dangerous.
On the road, you may notice some unpleasant vibrations and sounds for the first few moments of driving. This is often caused by things like flat-spotted tires and rust buildup on the brake rotors. Usually, going for a 10-minute drive sees these issues disappear. If not, be sure to mention it to the attending technician when you head in for your check-up.
An hour’s worth of driveway TLC ahead of a professional check-up can go a long way to enhancing safety, confidence and efficiency for the warm-weather travel season ahead. Regular maintenance and care are vital to ensuring your vehicle lives a long and healthy life, and keeps you and yours as safe as possible along the way.
I asked Shafin Perwani, the owner of an OK Tire store in Pickering Ontario, for some quick tips to help drivers ensure their tires are in tip-top shape for the travel season ahead, and as unlikely as possible to cause any issues or headaches.
“Automobile health starts from the ground up – in this case, a properly inflated tire. The only thing standing between your car and the road is tires, so it’s easy to see why proper tire maintenance is so essential” Perwani says.
His best tips for tire health are highlighted below:
Check Your Tires Regularly
Make sure to check your tire pressure at least once a month to stay on top of things. Remember, an under-inflated tire will result in premature and uneven tread wear, creating drag and greater fuel consumption.
Rotating your tires is an essential part of the regular maintenance of your vehicle. The purpose of rotating the tires is to achieve a more uniform wear for all of your tires, saving you money in the long run. The more you pay attention to tire rotation and tire inflation, the longer the tires will last.
Are Your Tires Tired?
Have a certified technician look for uneven tread wear, shallow tread, punctures and damaged valve caps. If any of these elements are not up to par, tires should be replaced. Remember, when the tread wears down, your vehicle has less traction to adhere to the road. It is imperative to check your tire treads for signs of wear. Good treads allow for normal handling of your vehicle and help prevent skidding and hydroplaning.
Feeling a vibration in your steering wheel? This could be a symptom of improperly balanced tire and wheel alignment. When wheels are misaligned, your tires will drag instead of rolling smoothly—again, causing your tires to wear out quickly and unevenly, as well as increasing your fuel consumption. Most tire and automotive service providers will recommend a wheel alignment with the purchase of new tires. While it may seem like it is a costly up-sale, wheel alignments are recommended to protect your new purchase from premature wear, as well as ensuring the best possible ride comfort.
Remember, your tires are the only point of contact your vehicle has with the road, so don’t overlook them. When purchasing new tires, factors such as durability, tread, handling, traction, comfort, drag, and noise are what you should consider before making your purchase.
Don’t Overlook the Alignment
Alignment is one of the most often overlooked services. Poor alignment can increase driver fatigue, reduce fuel economy, and result in uneven and premature wear of the tires. We recommend having your alignment checked on an annual basis or every 20,000 km.