Spring Maintenance Checklist for Car Owners
Winter is finally over. Jack Frost received his marching orders, and it won’t be long until we're all gearing up for summer road trips.
With nothing but sunshine (and the odd shower) on the weather forecast, it might feel like you don’t have to be quite as vigilant on the road. But spring driving also comes with potential hazards, and Canadians need to be aware and alert to them.
With warmer weather, you start to see more pedestrians crossing the street and cyclists on the road. Wildlife comes out of hibernation around this time of year, and animals will often cross busy highways and freeways as they forage for food.
The melting snow and ice of the previous season make way for spring rains and sometimes severe flooding across the country. When it rains heavily, large puddles form in parts of the road. Driving through deep puddles can cause your tires to lose traction with the road. This loss of traction is called hydroplaning. It can be dangerous but is highly avoidable with extra caution and good tire maintenance.
As you can see, spring presents new challenges to be aware of. Ensuring your vehicle is in tip-top shape is a good way to stay safe on the road in spring. Otherwise, you may end up in a situation that could put you and other passengers at risk of an accident. Besides safety benefits, Canadians who actively take care of their vehicle at the start of the season could save a noticeable sum on maintenance costs.
The following checklist includes maintenance tips for your vehicle when the first signs of spring start to reveal themselves.
Remember: If you're planning to DIY any of these tasks, always follow the guidelines in your owner's manual.
1. Swap out your winter tires
Around this time of year, you should be thinking about taking off your winter tires. There are mandatory dates for some regions in Canada, but this change generally happens when temperatures start rising above 7 degrees Celsius. Summer and all-season tires are more rigid and designed for better handling and performance on snow- and ice-free roads. The flexible tread rubber on winter tires that deliver more traction on ice and snow isn't as effective once spring comes around and will wear out faster in warmer conditions.
Once you replace your winter tires, remember to spray or wash them before you store them away. Removing excess salt off your winter tires will prevent corrosion. Make sure to store your winter tires in a cool, dry area to keep them in top condition and ready for next winter.
2. Rotate your tires
Since you're already swapping out your winter tires, it might be a good time to rotate your tires too.
Tire rotation involves switching the back tires to the front, and vice versa.
Because the weight of a vehicle isn’t distributed evenly on tires, the treadwear on each is impacted differently. Front tires almost always carry more weight because they direct the vehicle’s steering and also hold more weight during braking as a car shifts forward.
Rotation is one of the easiest and most effective things to do before spring hits as it can extend the lifespan of your tires while also improving gas mileage.
To avoid tires wearing out too quickly, bring your vehicle to an auto mechanic and have them assess the air pressure in your tires and conduct a routine tire rotation. This regular maintenance will help prevent any hydroplaning mishaps that we discussed above.
3. Any alignment issues?
Potholes, curbs hidden in snowbanks, icy ruts – they all contribute to wear and tear on your suspension, most notably jolting your wheel alignment out of spec. You might find the steering wheel off-centre or feel it pulling to one side at highway speeds. Alternatively, the only symptom could be uneven treadwear. At that point, you may need to change the tires.
Once the roads are clear of ice and snow, it’s a chance to have a mechanic perform an alignment check on your car. Many tire shops and dealerships nationwide offer free alignment checks with red, yellow, and green indicators of the condition. If any specs are any colour other than green, you should have an alignment performed.
4. Wash away road salt
If you’re an active driver during winter, the chances are high that the exterior of your car is coated in salt. Road salt can lead to rusting and other damage to the body and undercarriage of your car.
If your vehicle hasn’t been washed recently, the arrival of spring is the perfect time to do it. Most car washes have spraying machines that target underneath vehicles with enough force for effective salt removal.
It’s never a bad idea to get a routine vehicle wash, even in the dead of winter. It will ensure that your vehicle’s body and paint job stays pristine.
5. Replenish the fluids
Always check your owner's manual, but vehicles typically require an oil change every 8,000 to 16,000 km. Although, with more modern models, some vehicles can last up to 24,000 km without an oil change. Your owner’s manual will tell you how frequently various fluid checks need to be done, and spring is a good time to do a quick check-in under your hood.
An oil change ensures adequate lubrication of moving parts and that all internal components of the vehicle are working well together.
If you’re planning on changing your vehicle’s oil for spring, it’s also a good idea to check the transmission fluid. The transmission fluid is often neglected when it comes to regular maintenance, which is surprising considering a vehicle’s transmission can be expensive to repair.
While your bonnet is lifted, you might also check coolant levels and brake fluid, and top up your windshield wiper blade fluids too.
6. Check the brakes
Neglecting your brakes after the winter season could result in costly repairs down the road, not to mention potential safety and driving issues.
Have a mechanic check your vehicle’s brakes, including the pads and rotors. Winter road conditions can do some serious harm to your braking system, so making sure your brakes are in good shape for the spring will benefit your vehicle, as well as other drivers and pedestrians.
7. Change the air filters
Most vehicles are equipped with both an air filter for the engine and a cabin air filter. After a long winter combined with the preceding seasons, dust, mildew, mold, and other allergens can be activated in the cabin air filter that causes an unpleasant odour and poor airflow. Debris in the engine air filter restricts its ability to adequately mix fuel and air for combustion.
Once winter waves goodbye, it’s a great time to replace both the engine air filter and the cabin air filter, helping you and your engine breathe better.
8. Replace worn wiper blades
Wiper blades get trashed from the snow, ice, and freezing weather throughout the winter months, not to mention abrasive sand and salt. If you see streaks across your windshield after the thaw, it’s likely because your wipers have little nicks or tears in the rubber edge, or the pivots could be seizing up from salty corrosion.
Check that your wipers are clearing properly. If they haven’t been changed in the past year, springtime car care is a great time to schedule it. There’s no need to pay a shop to do it since each wiper takes only a minute or two to change.
9. Test the battery
Winter can be tough on a battery. From -40C to above-freezing temperatures, your car battery goes through extreme fluctuations from season to season.
Most car batteries last between three and five years; anything more is borrowed time. If yours is getting to that age, rent or borrow a battery load tester from a local parts store. In seconds, you can determine whether your battery is healthy or needs to be changed soon.
Read more: Ultimate Car Battery Guide: How to Charge, Maintain, Replace, and more
10. Belts still need attention
Although virtually every vehicle has switched to a serpentine belt system, it can and does still need replacement eventually. Slushy, salty, and sandy roads can contaminate the belt which can cause it to deteriorate or squeal.
Check the serpentine belt for cracks or segments of its ribs that are missing altogether. Checking is the easy part; you may need to take it to a professional to change the belt if you aren’t comfortable doing it.
11. Light checks
The days are getting longer, but it’s still just as important to be seen on the road when you’re driving.
Perform some quick checks of your:
- turn signal bulbs
- brake lights
- marker lights
- daytime running lights
- headlights (both low beam and high beams)
to ensure they’re all functioning as they should. Don’t forget the license plate bulbs too.
If you see a bulb that isn’t working, it’s likely easy to change. Find an appropriate replacement bulb on Amazon or your local parts store, matching the type and wattage so it doesn’t change the light’s performance, and swap it out. If you don’t know how to, check your owner's manual, and there are videos on YouTube for virtually any minor repair.
Is spring a good time to buy a new vehicle?
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