Spring ahead with driving safety tips -
When cold weather begins to warm, motorists may think their driving cares have melted away with the winter ice and snow. Not so.
"Spring brings its own set of challenges for safety conscious drivers," says Jim Sinclair, vice president of service for Subaru of America, Inc. "Many drivers underestimate the need for control that all-wheel drive provides in slick rainy conditions -- after the snow and ice have melted."
Just as you winterized your car with an eye to safety last fall, it's time to begin work on your spring automotive safety check list. Here are some hints for ensuring your car is in top condition for safe spring motoring:
* Rain is a common spring driving hazard. While most people think of ice or snow when cautioned about slippery roads, the truth is wet roads can be just as slick. Tires can hydroplane on a layer of water, losing contact with the road and causing the vehicle to skid. Rain lifts oil and other slippery fluids, dripped by passing autos, creating a slick layer on the blacktop. Flooded roads can flood out engines. Slow down on wet roads. Consider buying a vehicle with features like all wheel drive and electronic stability control.
* Start out with a safe car. Studies show that all wheel drive and electronic stability control significantly reduce the risk of being involved in a crash. Automakers are beginning to offer the technologies on more models. Subaru offers both as standard equipment on models like its B9 Tribeca that has earned the top safety ratings from industry watchdogs such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (www.safecar.gov) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (www.iihs.org).
* Replace worn tires. Your tires are what keep the car on the road. Worn out treads provide less traction and greater chance to slide. Likewise, make sure tires are inflated properly according to your vehicle's owner's manual.
* Spring showers bring May flowers, but let this be a reminder to also check and replace worn wiper blades. Poorly maintained windshield wipers can hamper visibility in poor weather. After a long winter of salt and other road residue on the windows, wiper effectiveness is greatly enhanced by cleaning the glass with a strong glass cleaner that can remove the oily film. And don't forget the inside of the glass. Removing the film on the inside can help the defroster clear faster and reduce moisture build-up.
As part of its National Car Care month in April, the Car Care Council recommends checking tire treads and windshield wiper quality in preparation for spring driving conditions.
"In our research of vehicles brought in for their April check-up, close to one-fifth of vehicles (17 percent) had front windshield wiper failures and 12 percent of vehicles needed service on their rear wipers and/or washers," says Rich White, executive director of the Car Care Council.
* Spring rain can also dampen visibility so it is important to check all vehicle lighting including headlights, taillights, back-up lights, turn signals, parking lights and break lights. These lights are important not only because they help you to see, but also serve as a way to help you communicate clearly with other motorists.
* Take advantage of safety resources. Throughout National Car Care month, many dealerships offer free safety screenings to motorists who drive the brand of car sold at the dealership. For example, starting in April and continuing through spring, participating Subaru dealers will conduct free professional diagnostics on all Subaru models. The inspection includes a check up of all major operating systems and drivers receive a written report of the vehicle's condition. Visit www.subaru.com
to find a dealer in your area.
Top 10 ways to get your car ready for Spring and Summer -
Winter sweaters and boots have been packed away in favor of shorts and sandals. Has your vehicle benefited from the same maintenance you've performed on your closets? Warm weather means long weekend getaways and even longer vacation road trips, and taking the time to perform seasonal maintenance today can help avoid trouble later.
Here are ten tips for spring and summer car care. In some cases, you'll be able to perform these procedures yourself. Others are best done by a mechanic as part of a tune-up. Some will help your vehicle look better. Most will help it perform more efficiently and get better gas mileage.
1. Get rid of road salt on the undercarriage. Road salt can damage your vehicle by eating away at its undercarriage. Use a garden hose with as much water pressure as your system can muster to loosen winter grime and salt. Or, if you have a movable lawn sprinkler that's low enough, set that under the vehicle to wash away what you can't reach.
2. Check the tires. Tire pressure changes about 1 pound per square inch for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit change in outside temperature, so it's important to check tire pressure after weather changes. Check your owner's manual for the recommended pressure for your tire, and never exceed that. Always check pressure when the tires are cold, since driving even a couple of miles to the gas station can provide a false reading. Higher pressure generally results in improved steering response and fuel economy, but a stiffer ride, and it wears out the tread in the center. Underinflation generally provides a smoother ride, but it causes tires to wear out at the sides. It also wastes gas because tires need more power to push the vehicle.
3. Check wiper blades. Your wipers work hard all winter removing dirt and debris, including salt spray. Since the life expectancy of a wiper blade is six months to a year, check that the blades are making full contact with the windshield and have not dried out. Don't wait for a heavy spring or summer rainstorm to discover your blades aren't performing properly. Also, refill the wiper fluid reservoir.
4. Rotate the tires. This is a relatively simple car care procedure that will extend the tread life of your tires, and should be done roughly every 5,000-10,000 miles. Check your owner's manual for exact intervals. A good rule is to rotate tires after every oil change.
5. Change the oil and oil filter. Some car manufacturers recommend changing to a heavyweight oil to help the engine perform more efficiently during hotter weather. Most cars now have recommended oil grades of 5W-30, 10W-30 or 10W-40, which are all multiviscous grades -- your owner's manual will tell you which. Change the oil filter each time you change the oil, since it's obvious that a dirty filter won't keep the new oil clean.
6. Change the air filter. The air filter prevents dust and other impurities from getting into the combustion chambers of the cylinders, resulting in wasted gas and weaker engine performance. According to the Car Care Council, replacing a clogged filter can improve mileage by as much as 10 percent. The time-honored way to check for dirt is to hold the filter up to the light, but since many new filters show light when dirty, or show no light when clean, it is more reliable to change the air filter every six months, and more often in dusty locations.
7. Flush and fill your cooling system. This is cheap insurance against engine failure. The Car Care Council recommends flushing every two years, or 24,000 miles for most vehicles. Simply draining your radiator is not enough; you need to flush the system with a radiator flush product, not just plain water, to remove stubborn rust, grease and sediment. Then, refill with a 50/50 mixture of coolant and water. (If you live in a more severe climate, increase the percentage of coolant to about 70.)
8. Check the radiator and gas caps. A snug radiator cap helps raise the cooling system pressure, giving added protection against boil-overs. Radiator caps don't last forever, so replace yours whenever you flush the cooling system. Pressure recommendations vary, so get the right cap for your vehicle model. With gas at record prices, be sure there's a tight seal on the gas cap, too, to prevent that high-priced octane from vaporizing. Nearly 20 percent of vehicles have gas caps that are damaged, loose or missing altogether, wasting some 147 million gallons of gas every year.
9. Check the battery and spark plugs. Make sure battery posts and connections are secure and free of corrosion. Spark plugs fire as many as 3 million times every 1,000 miles. That's a lot of heat and wear and tear in the form of electrical and chemical erosion. Dirty spark plugs cause misfiring, which wastes fuel. If you're planning a long trip, consider replacing the battery and spark plugs if they are more than two years old.
10. Clean the cabin. Appearances are important, no matter what the season. Discard the debris that's been hibernating under the seats all winter, then attack the cabin with the most powerful vacuum cleaner you can find. Remove the floor mats to vacuum or wash outside the car. Open the trunk, remove the spare tire and jack and vacuum here, too. Before returning the spare, check its pressure. Most likely it will need air, so remember to do that the next you time you fill the tank. Road dust, coffee stains and fingerprints have no appeal any time of the year, so after vacuuming, use a spray vinyl cleaner and a soft cloth on the dashboard, steering wheel, door panels and seats. That also helps protect against cracking, sun damage and fading. A good household upholstery cleaner is fine for fabric seats; for leather seats, follow manufacturer's recommendations. Next is an aerosol silicone spray to treat the weather stripping around the outside of doors, windows and the trunk. Be sure to wipe away the excess.
Finally, you're ready to wash and wax. Ordinary dishwashing liquid in a bucket of water and a clean, soft sponge will do nicely for the washing, using a different sponge for the body and the tire rims. Then buff dry to a sparkle worthy of spring sunshine, apply a protective coat of wax if necessary and treat yourself to a leisurely ride. You've earned it.
How to get your car ready for spring -
The mammoth potholes, return of motorcycles and cars driving by with their windows rolled down are proof spring has arrived. Besides getting your snow tires swapped for the summer variety, here's what needs to be done to get your vehicle ready for the warmer climes.
Time to chisel off a few layers of winter salt from both the outside and inside of the car. Floor mats are easy enough to bring back to life with a generous hosing from a self-serve car wash pressure wand, but what about the floor carpet? Don't apply any water directly to your vehicle's flooring. There tends to be a lot of sensitive body electronics and wiring under the carpet that don't do well in water. Some car makers even put on-board computers under seats and floor panels. A lot of elbow grease, a stiff nylon brush, and a vacuum should get rid of most salt stains (don't blindly poke the vacuum nozzle under seats; some wiring is on top of the carpet). For those really stubborn spots, try a brief shot with a home steamer wand. If the flooring is soaked through, remove one of the front door plastic scuff plates that hold the carpet down at the door opening. Then gently lift the carpet high enough to lay newspaper under the wettest area (be careful not to disturb any wiring or electronics you might find). Change the newspaper daily until dry.
When cleaning the trunk, remove the spare tire and clean and dry out its storage well.
If your windows need cleaning, remember to use only a household glass cleaner or some warm water with a good splash of vinegar. Use paper towels or newspaper, especially on the rear window, to avoid damaging the defroster grid lines.
Winter's slush and salt take their toll on many moving components on any vehicle. Disc brake mechanisms are some of the most critical parts affected. If your auto's brakes haven't been checked in a year, now is the perfect time. Have your tech ensure that the brake caliper sliders are moving freely and are well lubricated. If these stick or seize, they can cause a hard brake pedal and accelerated lining wear.
Frost-heaved roads and the odd curb hit can loosen up important steering and suspension parts such as ball joints and tie rod ends. Have these systems checked too. Listen for any unusual or new clunks or noises when going over bumps or around corners. Do your own shock absorber test: Push down on each corner of your vehicle and when you release your weight, the car should stop bouncing after one or two rebounds of the suspension. Any more and you may have a leaking shock or strut.
There's no real need to change most vehicle fluids or oils just because it's spring (follow your owner's manual schedule by mileage and time). But if you haven't had the brake fluid changed in the last two years or so, now is the time to have it done. It removes the water content caused by cold weather condensation, thus protecting hydraulic parts from rust.