For those of us that can remember, the arrival of spring came with two key events.
Mom opened as many windows as possible and was busy mopping and sweeping away the mustiness compiled over the winter. Dad, meanwhile, was outside on the driveway. Armed to the teeth with oil and grease cans, he vigorously put his Ford, Chevy or Oldsmobile through the ritual spring tune-up.
He changed the oil, greased the rods and ball joints and replaced the plugs. It was the era of the “backyard mechanic.” Since then, vehicles have become more complex in design and structure. Some tune-up procedures have either become unnecessary and some have become so technical, they should be handled by a professional.
Yet, the spring tune-up and inspection remains as vital as ever. The maintenance of tie-rods can serve as an example. It used to be that they needed to be greased each spring. Today, sealed-in grease systems alleviate the need to do so. Still, nothing lasts forever and those tie-rods, along with other components, will wear out and need to be replaced.
Will Gimblet has been in the automotive technician game for years; twenty of which have been spent as owner of Midtown Auto Repair in Arthur. Noting that parts on newer vehicles are designed to “go a little farther and are a lot more technical,” Will has also found leaks to be more prevalent.
“We are seeing them more with newer vehicles than with the older ones.”
While there may be discernable differences between later model cars and older ones, winters are the same as they have always been. They can be brutal to any vehicle, regardless of the year or make.
During the cold months, cars are slugging it through heavy snow and rain, getting jolted by potholes that inevitably appear on the road, and absorbing grime, sand and salt. “Salt gets in everywhere,” says Will, “from the brake lines to the steering joints, and as we all know, is very detrimental.”
It also goes without saying that salt and grime buildup is very corrosive. It would certainly help to hit the car wash, or break out your own soap, bucket and sponge and give the paint a good once over. For a nice and reassuring final touch, apply a nice coating of automotive wax to seal in the shine and protect the finish.
A spic and span body won’t take care of the engine damage winter driving can do to the inside parts, however. Salt, gravel and slush can wear the seals of your vehicle’s suspension components, such as ball joints and tie rods, and can also wash away lubrication on suspension points.
It pays to have a qualified pro give an expert inspection and assess what needs to be done.
The potholes and other detrimental road conditions can also cause havoc to a vehicle’s alignment. Worn components can separate and affect your ability to control your vehicle. Alignment problems caused by potholes can result in vibrations, steering issues and overall unsafe handling.
Will says that a tire inspection could also reveal alignment problems. “You can often see (alignment problems) in the way your tires wear.”
An engine’s first line of defense against winter grime is clean, properly installed filters. A clean cabin air filter, often overlooked, improves effectiveness of heating and cooling for improved defrosting and visibility.
Even though your vehicle probably has an on-board oil reminder system, monthly checks of the fluid quality and quantity are important. An engine oil change is usually prudent at this time.
Drivers tend to put their brakes to the test over the winter to reduce sliding. As part of a spring tune-up regime, it’s a good idea to inspect brake pads and rotors to ensure optimum performance. Worn shocks can also have a dramatic impact on emergency braking distance.
Another vital part of a vehicle that experiences stress over the winter is the battery. The chemical reactions that generate electricity slow down at lower temps, and there is more strain placed on it when starting in a cold environment.
As a rule, automotive batteries last approximately three to five years. Most shops should have the equipment to test the voltage and overall health.
Then there is always the good old oil change. There was a time when it was religiously done every six months. In spring, the custom was, and remains for the most part, to replace that thinner viscosity oil used for better cold ignition starts, with thicker stuff that keeps the engine cooler in the summer.
What might have been conventional wisdom in the past, does not necessarily apply today. For example, it was often considered a given that 10-30, the “one-size-fits-all” motor oil, was the one for the summer.
Today, manufacturers are much more specific in the oil they recommend. Some late models may call for 5-20 to be used all year round. It pays to know the specs.
Finally, winter weather’s assault on the windshield means the wipers have likely been working overtime. The icy mornings can also wreak havoc on the rubber blades making them less effective. This is evident when they make that loud, squeaky noise as they streak their way across the glass. They are an inexpensive and easy item to replace and, while doing so, pop the hood and top off the windshield washer fluid.
The car put up with a lot as it helped you through the winter. Treat it right, tune it up and let it enjoy the summer as much as you do.
Written By: Dan Pelton