The pros and the non-profit National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) advise that the beginning of every season is the time to give your vehicle a checkup.
First things first. Read your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommended service schedules. There are usually two schedules listed: normal and severe. Most vehicles fall under the severe use maintenance schedule.
General Service Recommendations
Have engine driveability problems (hard starts, rough idling, stalling, diminished power, etc.) corrected at a good repair shop. Existing problems only get worse. Replace dirty filters, air, fuel, PCV, etc.
Change your oil and oil filter as specified in your manual, more often (every 3,000 miles or so) if your driving is mostly stop-and-go, rush hour commutes or consists of frequent short trips.
The cooling system should be flushed and refilled as recommended. The level, condition, and concentration of the coolant should be checked periodically (a 50/50 mix of anti-freeze and water is usually recommended.) If you’re doing your own work, allow the radiator to cool down completely before removing the cap. (Newer vehicles have coolant reservoirs.) The tightness and condition of drive belts, clamps, and hoses should be checked by a certified auto technician.
The A/C and heater must be in good working condition for driver and passenger comfort. Replace dirty inefficient cabin air filters. Run the A/C at least 5 minutes every month. Use the A/C to defog windows faster.
Replace old blades. Stock up on windshield washer solvent you’ll be surprised how much you use.
The only accurate way to detect a weak battery is with professional equipment. But do-it-yourselfers can do routine maintenance. Scrape away corrosion from posts and cable connections; clean all surfaces; re-tighten all connections. If battery caps are removable, check fluid level monthly. A word of caution: Be sure to avoid contact with corrosive deposits and battery acid. Wear eye protection and rubber gloves. Note too that removal of cables can cause damage or loss of data/codes on some newer vehicles so refer to your manual for instructions.
Inspect all lights and bulbs; replace burned out bulbs; periodically clean road grime from all lenses with a moistened cloth or towel. To prevent scratching, never use a dry rag.
Your vehicle should be placed on a lift and the exhaust system examined for leaks. The trunk and floorboards should be inspected for small holes. Exhaust fumes can be deadly.
Examine tires for remaining tread life, uneven wearing, and cupping; check the sidewalls for cuts and nicks. Check tire pressure once a month. Let the tires “cool down” before checking the pressure. Rotate as recommended. Don’t forget your spare, and be sure the jack is in good condition.
Carry gloves, boots, blankets, flares, a small shovel, sand or kitty litter, tire chains, a flashlight, and a cell phone. Put a few “high-energy” snacks in your glove box
One last note…a lot more kids will be out and about as the weather improves. That means be extra aware for often distracted children.
Get a vehicle check up at the end or beginning of every season.