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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

April 19, 1996

I suppose we're all glad that winter is over and we can get busy with the important things in life - like getting the garden back in shape or even more pressing, getting a good tan. But nice as the weather is, and as tempted as we are to engage in more pleasurable pursuits, we should take the time to spruce-up our faithful mounts after the difficult months that lay behind them. These are the areas that require attention:

INTERIOR - When my kids were young, we would periodically "flush out" the interior of whatever vehicle was being pressed into service. Early on I learned that dust, dirt, Cheerios and other debris left under the seats could hold moisture for a long time. Pull up the seats and you may find enough change for a quick lunch but the real purpose of getting under there is to vacuum out all that dirt and dust. There's always a lot of superfluous "junk" in the glove box, too, so clean it out and make sure that your registration is up to date along with proof of insurance. But avoid keeping your driver's license, auto club I.D. or gas company credit card there. Breaking in is too easy. If the permanently installed rugs are damp to the touch, you may have trouble getting them dry. I had to use a kerosene space heater on a Mitsubishi that was caught in a rainstorm with a broken windshield not long ago. If the interior is really soaked, it's possible that rain water was forced up into the interior through floor pan seams that aren't completely sealed. The only cure is to pry up the rugs, scrape the floor pan and repaint it. The underside should then be re-coated with underseal.

UNDERCARRIAGE - The contaminates left on the underside of your car from running through rain puddles or over icy roads that have been chemically treated get into everything and start corroding the body. Spraying off the underside with a garden hose is better than nothing but the only way to really get it really clean is by running hot, soapy water through a pressure washer. I bought a "cheapie" from a mass-merchandiser for around $30. To get to the suspension and running gear, you have to get the vehicle up high enough to get underneath with the hose. If you're short on equipment, you can jack up a corner, remove the wheel, rest that corner on a jack stand and wash off that part of the chassis and suspension. You can use a pressurized can of emulsifier (there are lots on the market) to soften the grease if a cleanup hasn't been done for a few years - and check out the brakes while you're at it.

TRUNK - Usually the older the car, the worse the trunk condition. Clean it out thoroughly (under the spare tire, too), air-dry it, check your tire-changing gear and air up the spare. If your tire chains are getting rusty from non-use, spray them down with some kind of light lubricant and store them in an old athletic bag. If you don't, they may be a pile of rust next winter. Make sure everything in your emergency equipment bag is working, too.

ENGINE COMPARTMENT - An engine cleanup should start with the removal of the battery and its thorough cleanup with soap and water. Its terminals and cable ends should also be cleaned and then wire brushed with a battery terminal cleaner, a cheap device available at any parts store. Then the engine should be soaked-down with another can of emulsifier followed by a hot water wash-down. Make sure that you mask off the engine air intake and the distributor cap area (if your car is old enough to have one) to keep it from getting wet - or it may not restart. If you can reach them, get the areas that are hard to reach (front pulleys, underside of the intake and exhaust manifolds, etc.) and pinch the radiator and heater hoses while you're there to see of they're soft or brittle. Shoot the area under the battery with spray paint or underseal to retard the action of battery acid "mist" that accumulates there. It has a tendency to eat up the inner fender wells if left untreated. If it's kept clean, the car will last lots longer.

EXTERIOR - The last thing to do is to clean the exterior. After washing and polishing, a coat of hard wax will help avoid rustout. Do the inside edges of the fender wells too, and also the areas around the windshield and rear window trim. Brush out the groves with an old tooth brush and force hard wax in the space. Replace the wiper blades if they're more than two years old. Use a window cleaner on the windows inside and out and you're done.

GENERAL SERVICE - Needless to say, the car should be serviced if it's been neglected for a while. Oil, filters, vacuum hoses, etc. are cheap compared to engines, transmissions and the rest, and lots less scary to have done than breaking down on the highway at night.

If your car is a 1989 model with around 85,000 miles on it, it's average, but this also means that there's lots of vehicles on the road that are much older. If you go through this cleanup routine annually, your '89 may last well into the next millennium.