Cabin fever? Cars get it, too. And just like us, if they haven’t moved much all winter they’ll need a little prep work before rushing out into the warm weather. Here are some tips to get your car ready for the road:
Check the fluids. Check the oil, transmission fluid, brake fluid, power steering fluid, and coolant to ensure they are at the proper level. If any of these fluids are low, top them off or have them changed. This is a good time to fill up on windshield wiper fluid, too.
Inspect the tires. Check the tire pressure and look for any signs of damage of wear. If the tires look worn or damaged, have them replaced. This is especially important for cars that have been sitting in storage over the winter, because their tires sometimes develop flat spots. If the tire pressure is low, first seal any leaks, then inflate tires to the recommended level.
Be sure to check the tread depth, too. A good trick is to take a standard U.S. penny and insert it into the tread with Lincoln’s head facing downward. If you can see Honest Abe’s entire face including the top of his head, the tread depth is too shallow and it’s time to replace your tire. Remember to check multiple places on all tires. Of course, you can always use a standard tread depth gauge if you prefer – if the depth is below 2/32 of an inch (16 mm), your tires need to be replaced.
Charge the battery. If the car has been in storage for a long time, the battery may have lost its charge. First make sure the battery is clean, then use a battery charger to charge the battery before attempting to start the car. We like trickle chargers because they don’t overcharge the battery, which makes them great for cars that have been in storage all winter.
Check the brakes. If you notice any build-up, brake fluid residue, grease or other gunk on brake parts, make sure to clean them thoroughly. Since the wheels and brake parts will be cold, this is also the optimal time to check the brake pads for wear and damage. Your brake pads are located inside the wheel, so grab a flashlight and look at the brake pad through the wheel spokes. If it looks thin (less than a quarter inch or 6 mm), have the pad replaced. Be sure to check all wheels. Some brake pads have small metal tabs called wear indicators that are designed to make noise when the pads are worn down. If you see these tabs protruding from the pad, it’s time to replace the pads.
Test the lights. Turn on the headlights, taillights, signals, and brake lights to make sure they are all working properly.
Check the belts and hoses. Inspect the belts and hoses for any signs of damage or wear and replace them if necessary. (Like replacing your headlights, this step usually only applies to older model cars.) Always check your manual or online guides for more tips on evaluating and replacing worn parts.
Start the car. Once you have completed all the above steps: open the garage door, start the car and let it idle for a few minutes to allow the engine to warm up. Listen for any unusual noises or vibrations. (This is also good moment to evaluate whether your car might benefit from an air freshener.) Now move the car a few feet so you can check the ground beneath where it had been parked for any spills, leaks or greasy spots.
Detailing. Want to go the extra mile and really do a thorough spring cleaning? We’ve got tips for that, too!
By following these steps, you should be able to get your car ready for the road after being in storage all winter. And remember: if you notice any problems or concerns, it’s always best to have a professional mechanic take a look.