Spring Cleaning Tips for Your Car

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The snow has melted away in most areas, the cold is fading and spring is in the air. That means it's time to clean up from the harsh winter months. Spring is the perfect time to clean up your car, getting it ready for the warmer seasons ahead. To help motivate you, here are some tips on what to tackle and how to do it.

The Interior

Start by throwing out the trash and removing unneeded items. Then organize what’s left in the car by putting things away in the side pockets or compartments. After all is tidy, use a mild spray with a microfiber cloth to remove dust and grime off the dash and consoles.

After the inside is clean and dust-free, use a vacuum to remove debris and dirt from the seats, floor mats, rugs and trunk. If you have stains on the upholstery, a steam cleaner is a good option, but could be expensive. You can also use a spray-on carpet cleaner. For leather trim, use a leather cleaner. Next, clean the inside windows with glass cleaner, but spray directly on a cloth to avoid streaking.

The Exterior

Never wash or wax a car in direct sunlight or if the paint is hot to the touch. The sun can soften the paint and make it more susceptible to scratching. Use a dedicated car-wash soap designed for use on automotive paint. Apply the suds with a large, soft natural sponge or a lamb's-wool mitt — making sure they are clean, so as to avoid potential scratches from embedded particles. Wash the car from the roof down. Use a separate sponge to clean the tires and wheels as they could be coated with debris that could harm the vehicle’s finish. Don’t let the car air dry when done — use a soft towel to dry.

Waxing a car can provide a good shine and some protection for the paint. Car waxes come in three forms: liquid, paste and spray.

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Overall, we have found that paste waxes are easier to use than liquid waxes; liquid waxes cleaned the best; and spray waxes were easiest to use and left the fewest stains on plastic parts, but they didn’t last as long as other waxes. With any wax you choose, we recommend you first try using it on an inconspicuous area such as a clean doorjamb. And regardless of how hard you work, how much you spend, or what longevity claims manufacturers make, don't expect any wax to last all that long. All of the products we tested showed a significant loss of protection within about five weeks. (See our advice on choosing a car wax.)

Maintenance checks

After the harsh winter, it’s a good idea to check your windshield wipers for wear and tear. If they are leaving streaks of water, it’s time to replace. However, before you replace, clean the blade first to see if that does the trick. (For Ratings and advice, see our windshield wiper report.)

The winter months can also give your tires a beating. Inspect your tires to make sure they have proper tread. If you notice that your tires have less than 4/32-inch of tread left, then it’s time to go shopping. In addition, check to make sure the tires are properly inflated. In our tests, we noticed a decrease in highway fuel efficiency when tires were underinflated by 10 psi. More important, underinflated tires compromise handling and braking, and wear faster. (See our tire ratings and buying advice.)

For more on maintaining your car inside and out, see our guide to car maintenance.

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