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Feature Story


by Bob Hagin

February 27, 1998

I don't think that there's an section of this country that hasn't been adversely affected by the winter of '97. Hurricanes; heavy snows; torrential rains; floods; we've had them all. And in most cases, our everyday vehicles have had to stand outside in the elements.

But like most disagreeable things, winter will soon pass and it's a good idea to plan ahead for the time that we can give a spring cleaning and a sprucing up of our vehicles after the difficult months that they've been through. These are the areas that need attention:

INTERIOR - In a cramped space like the interior of the family vehicle, it's hard to keep everything neat and tidy when the weather is miserable outside. Start with the glove box. Lots of "stuff" accumulates there so clean it out and make sure the registration form and proof of insurance you keep there are up to date. But don't keep your driver's license, auto club I.D. or gas company credit card in there because these items are useful to car thieves.The dust, dirt, Cheerios and other debris is deposited under the seats will hold moisture for a long time and that leads to rust so vacuum it all out. If the permanently installed rugs are damp to the touch, you may have trouble getting them dry. Some household vacuum cleaners have an attachment that uses the hot exhaust as a blower and it can be used for drying the interior. If it's really wet, you can rent a kerosene space heater and it does the job in short order. 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 remedy is to pry up the rugs, scrape the floor pan and repaint it with a rust-sealing paint. The underside should then be re-coated with underseal.

UNDERCARRIAGE - Icy roads are tough to drive on and in some areas, chemicals are sprayed on the roads to melt the ice. The residue of these chemicals left on the underside of your car from running through rain puddles or over icy roads that have been so treated can get into everything and start corroding the entire underside of the body. Spraying off the underside with a garden hose is OK but the only way to really get it clean is by running hot, soapy water through a pressure washer. I bought a "cheapie" from a mass-merchandiser for around $30 and it workS fine. To get to the suspension and running gear, you have to get the vehicle up high enough to get underneath it with the hose. You can jack up a corner, remove the wheel, rest that corner on a jack stand (they're inexpensive at an auto parts store) and wash off that part of the chassis and suspension. Use a pressurized can of grease emulsifier (there are lots on the market) to soften up the accumulate oil and road grime if a cleanup hasn't been done for a while and while you're at it, check the brakes.

TRUNK - Trunks are often neglected, especially on an older car. Clean it out thoroughly (under the spare tire, too), air-dry it, check your tire-changing gear to make sure it's usable and air up the spare. If you carry tire chains back there, 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 that emergency equipment bag we had you assemble last year is usable too.

ENGINE COMPARTMENT - In the engine compartment, remove the battery and give it a thorough scrub-down with soap and water. Its terminals and cable ends should also be cleaned, soaked in a solution of water and baking soda and dried. The battery terminals or threaded connector holes should be wire brushed with a cheap battery terminal cleaner. After removing the intake air filter, the engine should be soaked-down with another can of emulsifier and this should include hard to reach areas like the engine pulleys, the underside of the intake and exhaust manifolds, etc. This should be followed by a hot water wash-down but 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 them it from getting wet. Pinch the radiator and heater hoses to see of they're soft or brittle. Seal the area under the battery with spray paint or underseal to resist the battery acid "mist" that accumulates there. Over time, it could eat through the inner fender wells.

EXTERIOR - The exterior takes the worst beating so do a meticulous job on it. After washing, a coat of hard wax will help avoid rustout and do the inside edges of the fender wells too. The areas around the windshield and rear window are particularly vulnerable so 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 - This is a good time to service the vehicle even if it isn't due for a while since it gives a servicer (and maybe that's you) an excuse to go over everything else. Oil, filters, vacuum hoses, etc. are cheap compared to engines, transmissions and the rest.

The new millennium is just a few months away and if you take care of your present vehicle, it has a good chance of getting there under its own power.