Winter has just about disappeared for a couple of months – bring on ‘The Great British Summertime!’ Warm roads, windows down – it’s motoring bliss, until you get stuck behind a caravan… or your car cops the effects of a harsh winter. My own Puma’s just back home after costing just shy of four hundred quid to get through its MoT. Road salt had eaten the sills, endlessly common potholes warped an alloy (also half-knackering the tyre) and there was a grabby front brake to deal with. Avoid these big bills by getting your hands dirty this weekend – your ride will thank you for it.
1. Get rust-proofed
Even if your car lives in a garage overnight, months of spray, freezing temperatures and salt-encrusted roads will have played havoc with your underbody, opening cracks and starting an MoT timebomb. In the same way you come back from a beach with sand trapped in areas of your body you didn’t even know you had, your car will be coated with potentially fatal salty grime, and Your Ride Needs You to save it.
Jack your car up as best you can, and break out the high-pressure jet washer. Rinse the underside, let it dry, and then apply a hefty dose of Waxoyl. It’s nasty brown foamy stuff that’s not much fun to apply, but this magic-in-a-can attacks rust that’s already eating your car, and forms a seal against more metal cancer attacking. Think of it as an invisible antiseptic bandage for your chassis – it’s only about five quid a can too. No-brainer.
Time required: 20-30mins
2. Check your tyres
Did you let air out of your tyres to give more grip in the snow? Has hitting frost-induced potholes given you a slow puncture? Or is it just the severe cold that’s stopped you keeping an eye on your car’s boots? Whatever your excuse, chances are your tyres are a bit on the soft side after six months of wintry punishment. Look up your recommended pressures and get them topped up next time you fuel up.
Time required: 1 minute per tyre
3. Crank up the air-con
Bit optimistic, using the A/C when we’re barely into spring? True, but I’ll bet you a few quid the A/C button has been left well alone for most of the winter, while the heater did overtime. This can lead to your A/C getting sick. Seals go hard and perish, and micro-organisms and fungi can grow inside the filters, loving the cool, dark, damp conditions. That nasty smell when you start up an old car’s A/C? It’s basically rotting vegetation and bacteria poo being blown into your face. So, start easing your A/C back into operation now so it’s in tip-top nick for the summer. If a re-gas is needed, it’ll cost you anything from £30-£100 at a local garage, depending on labour rates and how tricky your system is to take apart.
Electric window motors can also go ‘weak’ over the winter, thanks to lack of use and dampness trapped inside the doors. The driver’s side one might still feel perky, but watch out for passenger-side/rears and sunroofs being sticky. Don’t get sweary or try and lube them up (it’s been known) – just make a mental note to drop all the windows at least once a journey. It’ll wake the mechanisms gently and stop everything seizing up.
Time required: 5 seconds (seriously, how long does it take to flick a switch?)
4. Check your fluids
During the cold spell, only hardcore car lovers will have spent much time poking around under the bonnet. So, it’s time to sort out your car's vital fluids – starting with your oil.
Months of cold engine starts and sitting in sub-zero temperatures will have made your engine oil do overtime. So check your level and add a top-up of manufacturer-recommended black stuff, but if you’re really serious about looking after your wheels and avoiding wear, go for the full oil change. Don’t wear designer clothes, do try your best to stop used oil flowing off down the street, and make sure you change the oil filter while you’re poking about. Come August and a sunset B-road hoon, you’ll be glad you can chase the red-line guilt-free thanks to your new oil.
Don’t forget coolant levels as well, and washer fluid – maybe dilute the mix to be kinder to your paintwork. Power steering fluid and brake fluid shouldn’t have suffered, but if you’re feeling handy, take a look.
Time required: 2 mins for an oil top-up, 30 mins for a change, 5 mins for the other juices.
5. A good clean – before it’s too late
Cars tend to get neglected all over in the winter – frankly, you’d be looking in a shoddy state if you’d not washed since October. If you’ve not rinsed brake dust off your alloys since the clocks went back, or flushed the gunk out front around your spark plugs, it’s time to blow away the cobwebs. Peel off your modern plastic engine cover (if you’ve got one) and get to work dislodging the worst the winter has thrown at you. Polish off that brake dust, tar and muck before summer sun bakes it on, and get any scratches or scuffs polished out so you’re looking concourse quality in time for the summer, which is, when all said and done, the best time to be a driver.
Time required: 60 mins (do it by hand – don’t cheat with an automated wash, or ‘scratch-o-matic’)
Do most of your fondest memories from being in a car or behind the wheel come from those endless sunny days? ‘Course they do. Most of these jobs take less than 10 minutes, and none more than an hour. Treat your ride to some post-winter care and make sure it looks after you through the summer of ’13.
Got any other post-winter car-care tips? Share your tricks in the comments!