This past winter has certainly been inhospitable to motorists, with all 50 states suffering severe rain and snowstorms and below average temperatures that conspired to drive even the heartiest individuals into hibernation. You may think you’ve suffered, but your car could well have gotten the worst of it, being battered with ice, mud, road salt and grime. Just as you might give your home a thorough cleaning with the onset of spring, it’s likewise prudent to pay the same attention to the family fleet.
Start by vacuuming out the vehicle’s interior and shampooing the carpeting and cloth seats using a spray-foam upholstery-cleaning product. Treat the seats with a spray-on fabric protector to repel further dirt and stains. For leather upholstery, apply a leather-restoring cream using a clean terrycloth towel. Clean and treat vinyl upholstery and dashboard/trim items, with a spray-on product specifically designed for plastic and rubber surfaces.
Give the car a good exterior cleaning, but be sure to accomplish this in a shady area to prevent water spotting. Hose off the car, paying specific attention the wheel wells and the undercarriage to clear it of residual salt and muck. Wash the vehicle starting at the top and working downward using a soft rag (terrycloth or flannel work well) and an acid-free non-abrasive cleaner that’s been diluted with water according to the manufacturer’s directions. Scrub the wheels using a stiff bristle brush to remove dirt, grease and brake-pad dust.
Rinse the vehicle meticulously – again from top to bottom – and allow it to dry, removing water beads using an absorbent chamois.
Apply a fresh coat of wax according to the directions provided on the can or bottle, again while parked away from direct sunlight; it’s usually best to work on one section at a time to prevent the wax from over-hardening onto the car’s surface. Various types of waxes are available including liquid and spray-on waxes in addition to the traditional paste variety (enthusiasts prefer carnauba wax, though it’s costly and tends to be fussy to apply).
Buff out blemishes using polishing compound or a wax that takes scratches out of a car’s protective clear-coat treatment. Use either sparingly, however, as they’re abrasive. Fix slightly larger scratches immediately to prevent rusting. New-car dealers sell bottles of touch-up paint for this purpose to match original colors. If the chip or scratch has rusted, first lightly sand the area with ultrafine sandpaper; if there’s bare metal, apply a thin coat of primer before painting. Allow the paint to dry for several days before waxing or applying a thin layer of clear coat.
Be sure to replace the car’s wiper blades – they’re likely worn out after several months of clearing ice and snow from the windshield.
Treat the tires and exterior rubber and/or plastic trim with the aforementioned plastic/rubber protector. Applying a specific tire foam/shine product can give the car’s tires a wet-look shine and further protect the rubber compound against fading and cracking.
Finally, inspect the tires to ensure they’re up to the task of negotiating spring showers. Insert a penny into the grooves of the tread, and if you’re able to see all of Lincoln's head, the tire needs to be replaced. Thin tire treads can cause the vehicle to hydroplane on wet roads and lose contact with the pavement; this is similar to driving on ice. Ensure the tires are inflated according to the recommended air pressure (check the vehicle’s owner’s manual) using a good-quality gauge. In cool weather, a tire will typically lose one or two pounds of air per month; improper pressure can adversely affect both a car’s handling and its fuel economy.