Time to get the car ready for summer

Suddenly it's spring! Getting the car ready for hot-weather driving is as important as touching up the paint on the house or plunging a spade into the tulip bed after the blooms fade. But what you don't want is a fading car.

So what better time to clean the wintertime gunk off the car, sweep out the inside, and take a look at the engine than now.

Follow the same routine as if you were preparing for a long trip.

First, make sure that everything under the hood is in shape.

Harold Kassin, assistant director of the General Motors service section, advises that motorists with newer cars equipped with electronic ignition systems should check the rotor and, if necessary, replace it. Older cars should be given an tune-up to be sure that the engine timing is correct, spark plugs are clean and have the proper gap, and the condenser and points are doing their job.

A good tune-up means better performance, a decrease in exhaust emissions, and better mileage on the road.

Next, he recommends checking the radiator hoses, engine belts, and fan and air-conditioning compressor belts to assure that they're not frayed or cracked.

"The belts have a tendency to crack from the ozone created in the running of the car," he asserts. "And even if the belts are not cracked, check them for tension. The belts need to be tight. If they're loose, they'll slip and wear out. There are slots in the brackets to increase the tension."

Mr. Kassin says that any "shade-tree mechanic," or do-it-yourselfer, can follow the owner's manual to do it.

If the engine coolant has been in the car for two years or more, it should be changed. Modern vehicles operate at higher engine temperatures than they used to and the coolant keeps the water in the radiators from boiling.

After two years, explains the GM service executive, the rust inhibitor in the coolant loses its potency. Ethylene glycol, the material used in permanent-type antifreeze, should be in the radiator all year long, he emphasizes.

"I can't stress too much the need for checking the pressure of the tires," he asserts. "This is true not only as one prepares for a change of seasons, but on a periodic basis," he adds.

When the pressure of the tires is down, it adds drag to the car and thus energy is lost. As a result, the gas mileage drops off.

"I'd recommend checking the tires about once a month when they're cold," he declares. The tires should be filled to the required pressure as indicated on the inside of the glovebox door and in the owner's manual.

Another step to prolong the life of the tread, as well as prepare the car for a change of season, is to cross-switch the tires. On cars with radial-belted tires, the tires should be kept on the same side of the car, but switched from front to back. On cars with other types of tires, the switch should be from right front to left rear, and from left front to right rear, in an "X" pattern.

Because so many drivers now patronize self-service gasoline stations, the engine oil isn't getting the attention it used to get when a service station worker might raise the hood whenever the car was filled with fuel.

"Every other time you get gas, you should check the oil," advises Mr. Kassin. "If you've not driven the car very much during the winter, there is a possibility that condensation has gotten into the engine oil," he adds. Thus, it is essential to replace it.

In changing the oil, consider the grade. "Don't buy just by the price, but choose an oil for its viscosity -- its ability to flow easily. Usually, a multiviscosity oil will be good for all temperatures, winter and summer.

It's also a good idea to listen to the motor as it starts up.

"If you hear a hissing sound, there may be a leak in the exhaust system," asserts the GM man. It could indicate that exhaust fumes are leaking into the car. Have it checked out immediately.

Tim Sullivan of the Johnson Wax Company recommends that the car be washed on the outside, with particular attention given to the underside where winter salt may be lodged.The accumulated grime won't necessarily be removed by a drive through a car wash, but may require a special hosing by the motorist himself. A high-pressure hosing in a self-service carwash is worthwhile.

Mr. Sullivan advises a warm day. Hose the wheel wells and the bumpers as well as the bottoms of the doors and door jambs where rust can begin. Use a mild detergent, such as a dish-washing liquid, or a special-purpose carwash formula.

Hand-dry the car rather than leave it to dry in the sun and air. Use an abrasive or cleaning wax, suggests Mr. Sullivan.

"Pastes work well and are easy to use," he declares.

Caution: Do not apply the wax to a car that has been sitting in the sun and is hot.

In addition to polishing the outside of the car, Mr. Sullivan also recommends using a carpet cleaner inside the car. Don't let the salt and grime of winter remain on the carpet.

"If a driver wants to use two coats of wax on the outside, he shouldn't use an abrasive cleaner the second time," concludes Mr. Sullivan.

Instead, use a noncleaner wax for the second coat .

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