Winter is an absolute nightmare on your vehicle. Living and driving anywhere that gets snow regularly introduces unique car ownership challenges that drivers in other parts of the country don't have to face.
While some recommendations in the article below are only relevant to those in snowy climates, the majority applies to anyone performing a tuneup anywhere in the country.
Wash Your Car
Winter weather, salt, and road debris are harsh on your car. There's just something about a fresh, clean car after a long rough winter that inspires you to go through the rest of the vehicle. Who wants to work on a dirty car when you could be working on a clean one? Not only that but removing the salt from your car as soon as possible prevents rot from taking over.
If you're new to hand washing your car, which you should be doing to protect its delicate paint, we have two articles to help get you going: Part one on how to wash your car using the "two bucket" method and part two on how to clay your car.
Swap Out Winter Wheels & Tires
If you've read any of my other articles that mention tires, you know that I'm a strong advocate for running separate sets of winter tires and summer tires. If you're on the same side of the argument, this major spring tuneup is the perfect time to swap your summer tires back on and remove those loud, heavy, and ill-handling winter tires. I look forward to this day every season as the handling characteristics of a good set of summer tires are unmistakable.
If you just washed your car, your wheels should now be nice and clean and ready to go directly into storage. If you skipped this step, you will probably want to clean the brake dust at least and grime off your wheels from the winter before putting them away. There's nothing worse than going to move your wheels and tires or mount them the next season and getting covered in brake dust and grease when you least expect it.
While you have your wheels and tires off, it just makes sense to take a look at a few of the other major tuneup points from the list below. To make swapping your wheels and tires a breeze, we recommend trying out these wheel hanger sets. No more having to line up and balance a wheel while fiddling with annoying lug bolts that European manufacturers love to use.
Replace Windshield Wiper Blades
Winter wreaks havoc on your wiper blades. Wiper blades are actually very precise components, and the rubber has to be in the utmost perfect condition to conform to your windshield tightly enough to clear the water away. During the winter, road salt dries out the blades' rubber, causing them not to bend as easily and potentially even crack. That coupled with the blades clearing ice and snow buildup can easily deform the rubber. Making a point to replace your wiper blades every winter is the easiest way to make sure you keep seeing clearly.
This is one of the most important parts of your spring tuneup and one that should not be overlooked. No matter how many miles you drive your car during the year, spring is the time to take care of all of your car's fluids.
Changing your engine oil regularly is the most critical factor that ensures the longevity of your engine. Depending on your car, recommended oil changes can be anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000-miles. If your car is older, we recommend every 3,000 miles, and no matter what you drive, we never recommend over 5,000 miles between oil changes.
Transmission fluid is often overlooked, even though it's important to the lifespan of your vehicle's transmission. The spring is a good time to inspect your transmission fluid or replace it if you're unsure of the last time it was replaced.
Brake fluid simply isn't replaced enough. For many people, brake fluid isn't even a thought; however, it's extremely important that it's replaced yearly. Brake fluid is hydroscopic, meaning that it absorbs water. Once it absorbs water, it becomes ineffective at its main job. Because of this, we recommend replacing it once a year. Flushing brake fluid might seem like a hassle but is made much easier using a pressure bleeder like this Motive Power Bleeder.
The last fluid you want to inspect is your coolant. First, start by inspecting your coolant level. If your level is low, it can indicate a larger issue that should be addressed. To test your coolant system for leaks and help flush and fill your system, we recommend CTA's Vacuum Coolant Fill Tool. This tool makes filling your coolant system a breeze without having to worry about airlocks in the system.
During your spring fluids replacement, we recommend this time to consider the addition of additives. LIQUI MOLY additives aren't just smoke and mirrors like some others on the market. These additives actually add beneficial properties to your engine oil, fuel, and coolant. If you'd like to learn more about all of LIQUI MOLY's additives that we offer, we have an article and video here.
Replace Air Filters
Cabin Air Filter
We've talked about how important cabin air filters are time and time again. They're not just a luxury but absolutely necessary when it comes to keeping you healthy. If you want to learn more about this, you can read our article or watch our video about the air you breathe inside your car.
Engine Air Filter
Just as a cabin air filter cleans the air you breathe inside your car, the engine air filter cleans the air the engine breathes. A clogged filter not only doesn't allow air to flow as easily to your engine but also filters less effectively, allowing dirt and debris to potentially reach your engine's internals.
Inspect & Replace Brake Parts
Since you should be swapping your winter wheels and tires back to your summer setup, now is a good time to do a full brake inspection. I drive my cars hard, so I go through brakes probably a bit faster than the average driver. During my spring wheel & tire swap, I'm typically replacing my brake pads and checking my rotors and brake lines for signs that they need to be replaced.
Inspect & Replace Suspension Parts
If you live anywhere that it snows regularly, it's a fact of life; your suspension is straight-up assaulted by the roads. Salt and chemicals plus the incessant pummeling by plow trucks leave the road surface tattered and strewn with potholes. We recommend taking a good look at your suspension during your spring tuneup. Catching issues now means an optimally handling and safe vehicle for the upcoming warm weather, as well as not having to deal with issues when snow is on the ground next season. To inspect your suspension, look for:
- Obviously broken or bent suspension components. New suspension components are engineered to bend when faced with major potholes or curbs. It's not uncommon to find bent control arms or tie rods.
- Leaking shocks or struts. When struts and shocks blow out, they typically leak their hydraulic fluid. If you see these leaking, they should be replaced immediately. You can usually tell when they're no good by a bouncier than typical ride in your car.
- Bushings and ball joints. You want to be looking for rubber bushings that are cracked or separated from their housings and ball joints with excessive play. This is pretty straightforward, and all you need is a flashlight and a pry bar or long screwdriver.
- CV Axles. Check your CV axle boots for tears or escaping grease. Road debris can easily cause these boots to tear, and if you had water intrusion all winter, the bearings of your CV axles could be toast. If they're torn, you will want to remove your CV axle and inspect the bearing before deciding to replace the axle entirely or simply repacking the bearing with grease and replacing the boot.
Inspect & Replace Hoses & Belts
A quick inspection of your hoses and belts never hurts during this time. Road salts and fluctuating temperatures can be detrimental to the rubbers that hoses and belts are made of. Inspect all of your hoses and belts for cracking, and also check the belts for stretch.
Test & Replace The Battery
Your car battery is put through its paces in the winter. Unlike in the summer, your battery has to work much harder to start your car. Chemical reactions are slowed, and your engine oil is more viscous, all of which adds extra strain. Since you'll be under the hood, now is a good time to take a look at your battery and test its voltage while the car is running and while it is off. If you've never done this before, we have an easy-to-follow guide on how to test your car's battery and alternator.
Inspect & Replace Exhaust Parts
Your exhaust system can actually take a bit of a beating during the winter. If you drive a low car and live in a place where you get considerable snow accumulation, there are times that your exhaust can be sitting in the snow or get dragged through it. Leaving driveways or parking lots where snow has been plowed and left to build up and become hard can easily get jammed underneath your car and tear exhaust hangers or worse. A quick visual inspection will ensure that your rubber exhaust hangers are still in one piece and that the exhaust system itself is all intact.
Tools To Have On Hand
When completing your spring tuneup, there's nothing more frustrating than not having the tools you need and right when you need them. We could list out every single tool there is, but instead we've put together a guide with our favorite tools here at FCP Euro.
The points above cover all of the basics of a spring tuneup that we recommend. While you can go more in-depth, this is a good starting point and should show you the signs of needing to dig deeper. If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Writer/Editor at FCP Euro and owner of a daily R53 MINI Cooper, a track-built R53 MINI, and a 1997 Dakar Yellow E36 M3 Sedan. ••• Instagram: @evan.madore