Vehicle Maintenance Checklist: Spring Edition

If you were holding off on performing some much-needed vehicle maintenance because it was just too cold, dark, snowy, windy or wet, there's good news headed your way. Winter is officially over, temperatures are rising, and there's noticeably more daylight every day as part of the annual march toward spring.

This also means now is the time to plan your spring vehicle maintenance strategy, first by identifying which projects you want to tackle, and then developing a checklist of exactly what you'll need to complete the job and ensure your vehicle remains a reliable, peak performer.

Here are some suggestions to get the wheels turning.

Car on sunny road | Getty

PERFORM AN OIL CHANGE

As the engine's lifeblood, oil has to be at the top of every list when it comes to vehicle maintenance. Checking the oil level regularly and changing both the oil and oil filter at vehicle manufacturer-recommended intervals is a great start, but is that enough?

If you're still using conventional oil, it might be time to look at the benefits that come with using full synthetic or full synthetic high mileage motor oil. Full synthetic oil lasts longer because it doesn't break down as fast as conventional oil, and the interval between oil changes is longer. It also flows easier at start-up in cold temperatures for improved protection against engine component wear and does better at high temperatures without a loss in performance or protection.

Older vehicles with 75,000 miles or more can benefit specifically from full synthetic high mileage oil because it contains special additives that help recondition hardened gaskets and seals, preventing or stopping oil leaks that occur as a result of the rubber shrinking and becoming brittle as it ages.

WASH AND WAX

Winter can be tough on vehicles — not just because of harder starts and weakened parts that are more likely to break in cold temperatures, but also because of the toll that accumulated dirt, grit, tar, salt and other road-treatment chemicals exact on a vehicle's exterior. Vehicles also tend to be washed less frequently during winter, compounding potential damage to the paint and underbody. Stop the damage and protect the vehicle's finish first by cleaning it with a high-quality exterior car wash solution. Follow that up by using a clay bar and/or a bug and tar remover to eliminate any stubborn, stuck-on materials that will eventually eat away at the clear coat before moving on to waxing all painted and chromed surfaces.

Whether you're using good old-fashioned elbow grease or an orbital polisher for applying and removing wax, know that today's modern waxes are easier to remove and offer better protection than traditional automotive waxes from 20-plus years ago. Helping make the job easier are ceramic waxes as a solid choice because of the ease of use, protection and durability they offer.

Pro Tip: Keep the PB B'Laster Handy

Time, moisture and road salt are the perfect trifecta for producing rusted nuts, bolts and other metal parts that simply won't budge no matter how much force is applied. Give them some encouragement, save your knuckles and prevent broken parts by first reaching for a can of PB B'laster penetrant. It quickly frees rusted, frozen, corroded parts, acts as a lubricant, and also helps prevent future rust and corrosion.

REPLACE THE WIPERS

Wiper blades should last a minimum of six months, unless it's winter and you accidentally tear them away from a frozen windshield — leaving pieces of rubber still stuck there — or repeatedly pass the wipers over an ice and snow-covered window, instead of first using the defroster. While rubber's pretty hardy, it's no match for the wear-and-tear that often occurs over the winter months.

Be prepared for spring showers and have the wiper blades replaced if they're six months or older, if they're showing signs of the rubber cracking or wearing, or if they're just not wiping effectively — chattering and leaving streaks of water with each pass instead of a clear windshield.

CHANGE THE SPARK PLUGS

Ask three different people how often spark plugs should be changed, and you'll likely receive three widely differing answers. While the general rule of thumb often is a 30,000-mile interval, some vehicle manufacturers recommend replacing the plugs only every 100,000 miles, with many service professionals specifying somewhere in between. This range is going to be dependent on the type of plug (and there are several), including copper, single and double platinum, and iridium. But more importantly, you should stick with the same type of plug recommended by the vehicle manufacturer.

What's most important to remember is that spark plugs are a maintenance item because they wear out and need to be replaced, just like your vehicle's belts, hoses, filters and fluids. Rough idling, lack of power, trouble starting the engine or an engine that knocks or misfires are all signs that one or more spark plugs could be bad. These symptoms will often also be accompanied by a check engine light, which can be diagnosed for free by having the codes read curbside at most Advance Auto Parts stores.

Under the hood | Getty

REMEMBER THE CABIN AIR FILTER

Many owners know their vehicles have air, oil, transmission and fuel filters that need to be changed or cleaned regularly. There's a fifth filter though that's often overlooked and kind of like the distant, forgotten cousin of the filter family. It's the cabin air filter. This filter, frequently located behind the glove compartment door, under the dash, or even in the engine compartment, traps outside contaminants — leaves, bugs, dirt, dust, pollen, mold and exhaust gases — and prevents them from entering the passenger compartment and the air that occupants must breathe. For top-of-the-line performance and the cleanest air possible, choose a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) cabin air filter as it removes nearly 100 percent of contaminants

The cabin air filter should be changed around the 15,000-mile mark or at least annually. A clean filter makes the job easier for a vehicle's heating, air-conditioning and blower-motor system, and helps prevent a foul-smelling interior.

CHECK THE BRAKES AND ROTORS

On many vehicles, you can gauge the condition of the brake pads simply by looking at them. Just grab a flashlight and look to see how much of the pad material remains. If it's a quarter inch or less, it's time for new pads. Some pads also have a wear indicator running down the pad's center. If this indentation is almost gone or barely visible, it's another indicator that new pads are needed. A good strategy is to keep track of the number of miles driven since both the front and rear brakes were serviced, and also to know the warning signs that new brake pads and/or rotors are needed.

Longer stopping distances, a grinding noise or squealing when pressing the brake pedal, and vibrations or the vehicle pulling to one side when braking are all signs that the brakes need attention. And remember to also track how long it's been since the brake fluid was replaced. Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it attracts water. Over time, water that's accumulated in the braking system can damage metal parts and lower the brake fluid's boiling point, both of which hurt braking performance.

Plan and perform your spring vehicle maintenance now, because instead of it being too cold outside to get under the hood, you might soon be saying it's just too hot!

What's on your spring maintenance to-do list? Let us know in the comments.

Last updated March 22, 2022

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