Get Your Vehicle Ready for Spring and Summer

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After the winter we have had in Western Pennsylvania, performing a little spring maintenance is highly recommended. Even the mildest of winters in Pittsburgh can take a toll on your vehicle, which is likely the second biggest purchase you’ll ever make, the largest being a home.

If you really want to protect your investment, the first thing you should do is to wash your vehicle and have it detailed. Failing that, a trip through an automated car wash or some time at the local self-service spray and wash is a must to knock off all the grime, salt and dirt.

The next thing to do is to remove unnecessary items from your trunk, especially if you drive a rear wheel drive vehicle and have added any weight in the rear for additional traction in winter. You can also remove items related to surviving in colder weather, such as extra blankets, energy bars or even kitty litter, which some people use to provide extra traction in case they get stuck in winter. Remember, every item you remove only adds to increased fuel economy in the warmer months ahead.

As summer approaches, there are some obvious things to check under the hood and under the carriage. If you’re not a do-it-yourselfer, it’s always advisable to have your vehicle serviced at a franchised new vehicle dealer, especially if you purchased your vehicle there.

They have technicians that are factory trained. They also have access to your vehicle’s service history and are aware of any recalls or other service issues there may be with your specific make of vehicle.

If you choose instead to use an independent repair shop (and there are hundreds of excellent shops in the Pittsburgh area) make sure you choose one with a good business reputation. If you are performing preventative maintenance, you have a little time so you can shop.

The folks at the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (A.S.E.) advise that when you have your vehicle serviced, make sure you do so at a repair shop with A.S.E. Certified technicians, which is not bad advice. The A.S.E. also recommends that you take your vehicle in for a little preventative maintenance this time of year to prevent any potential breakdowns as the weather gets warmer.

Start with the air conditioning system. Don’t wait until you’re stuck in traffic on I-376 on a hot May day to find out it doesn’t work, unless you need to lose weight and feel like a sauna.

A marginally operating air conditioning system will fail in hot weather. Have the system examined by a qualified technician. Newer models have cabin air filters that clean the air entering the heating and air conditioning system. Check your owner's manual for location and replacement interval.

The greatest cause of summer breakdowns is overheating. The cooling system should be completely flushed and refilled about every 24 months. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically. For DIYers, never remove the radiator cap until the engine has thoroughly cooled.

Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your owner’s manual or even more often if you make frequent short jaunts, extended trips with lots of luggage, or tow a trailer. Replace other filters such as the air, fuel, and PCV as recommended, or more often in dusty conditions.

A dirty windshield causes eye fatigue and can pose a safety hazard. Replace worn blades and get plenty of windshield washer solvent. Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean dirt and insects from all lenses.

If you’ve been driving in the Pittsburgh area for the last four or five months, you probably need to have your tires rotated. That should happen about every 5,000 miles, or so. The average driver travels between 12,000 and 15,000 miles a year, which comes out to between 1,000 and 1,250 miles per month.

Check tire pressures once a month as well. Make sure you check tires while they're cold before driving for any distance. Examine tires for tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping. You should also check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. This is something you can do yourself.

Use the “penny test” to check for minimum tread depth. This old test still works: place a penny in a major tread groove of a tire with Lincoln’s head facing down. If the top of Lincoln’s head is visible at any point in any major tread groove, it’s a good sign that the tire needs to be replaced.

Make sure you inspect your spare tire, too. Many people forget to regularly check the condition of their spare tire, including the inflation pressure, until one of their regular tires is not working, and then, it’s too late. If you have a hard tire donut or a tire inflator kit, makes sure they are in working order, too.

Brakes should be inspected as recommended in your manual, or sooner especially if you notice pulsations, grabbing, noises, or longer stopping distance. Batteries can fail any time of year. The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment.

Franchised new car dealers, independent repair shops and even auto parts stores can now tell you if your battery is nearing the end of its life.

Routine care can be easily performed if you have the time and inclination. Just remember that you’re working with some pretty nasty materials so use good work gloves. Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces and re-tighten all connections.

Naturally, all of these services can be performed by franchised new car dealers or reputable independent repair shops. If you have the money, don’t skimp. If you are on a tight budget, you should at least perform a visual inspection of your vehicle at this time of year.

Remember, the money you invest in your vehicle now, may go a long way toward preventing a more catastrophic vehicle breakdowns in the warmer months ahead.

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