Maintenance tips to prepare your car for spring driving

Maintenance tips to prepare your car for spring driving
spring auto maintenance

What a welcome respite spring will be for drivers who’ve endured one of the harshest winters in years. Once you’re certain that the season for potholes, snow and ice is finally over, consider springing for some special attention to your hardworking vehicle.

First, make sure your exterior gets a good cleaning. Be especially careful that the undercarriage is washed clear of corrosive road salt. Then, give your car’s systems a thorough review, or take your vehicle to a reliable auto service shop for a spring checkup. Prices for this kind of service vary, as does what’s included.

Here are things a checkup should include, according to auto service pros who are highly rated by consumers:

Tires: Check pressure on all four and the spare. Make sure tires have sufficient tread for safe travel: Insert a quarter into the tread of a tire that’s not warm from recent driving. Put the quarter upside down so the top of George Washington’s head is in the tread. If you can see the top of his head, the tread is too worn. Or, with newer tires, it’s time to replace when flat rubber bars, perpendicular to the tread, begin to appear. If tires have sufficient tread, but it’s been 5,000 or more miles since they were rotated, get it done to ensure even wear. Tire rotation can cost around $20, though it’s sometimes included in an oil change. The price for both services can range from $25 to $60.

Brakes: Winter takes its toll on your brakes, and your safety depends on them being in good shape, so have a technician check the pads and rotors.

Alignment and suspension: In addition to turning roads into obstacle courses, potholes can damage your car’s alignment and suspension. If the steering wheel vibrates or the vehicle pulls to one side, that’s a sign of possible alignment problems.

Fluids and more: In addition to checking window washing, power steering, brake and cooling system fluids, determine if your car is due for an oil change. Experts say oil should be changed about every 5,000 miles. It’s a good idea to see if it’s time to have your transmission fluid flushed; it’s generally recommended at 20,000 to 50,000 miles. Flushing costs $100 to $200 and pros say drivers who neglect this maintenance put themselves at risk for paying thousands of dollars to repair or replace the transmission. Also, a spring checkup is an ideal time to check lights, belts and windshield wipers.

If you need to find a reliable mechanic, look for shops that have good reviews on a trusted online site and offer warranties, are appropriately insured and licensed and employ technicians that are certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence.

Angie Hicks is the founder of Angie's List, the nation's most trusted resource for local consumer reviews on everything from home improvement to automotive repair. Follow Angie on Twitter @Angie_Hicks.

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