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The season of rejuvenation is upon us, so why not extend that spring-cleaning spirit out into the driveway? Some tips on how to tune up your winter-weary four-wheeler below.

Skip the carwash

A trip to the carwash is certainly better than nothing, but according to Bill Gardiner, mechanic and star of the TV show Motoring, it's important to give your vehicle a good old-fashioned hand wash a couple of times a year: "A car wash just isn't going to get into certain cracks and hard to reach areas where the bad stuff like salt and grime tends to collect," he says. To that end, be sure to open all doors, trunks and hatchbacks to get into those rust-breeding crevices.

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For the true TLC treatment, pick up a good quality wash mitt at your hardware store along with a cleaning liquid that contains carnauba wax beads (to get that new car shine). You will also want to clean the undercarriage of the car, though for that Mr. Gardiner suggests a quick trip to the car wash: "Modern cars are so low slung that getting under them can be a real hassle," he says.

Bite the brake dust

Most cars use aluminum wheels, which become covered with corrosive brake dust (that reddish-brown coloured powder) over time. "It's unavoidable," Mr. Gardiner says, "but it's also very manageable as long as you're willing to put in a little elbow grease." Begin by wiping down the wheel with a task-specific cleaning solution (available at any hardware store). Again, it's important to address those hard-to-reach places between the spokes, which may require some serious scrubbing. In cases where brake dust has been building up over a few seasons, Mr. Gardiner recommends a tool called the Magic Bullet (different from the late-night infomercial salsa maker), which is basically a drill bit covered in felt. Attach it to any drill to obliterate wheel grime in no time.

Take a load off

If you are one of those drivers who uses the trunk of your car as spare storage space, consider this the time to return that hockey bag, Shop-Vac, or rock collection to its rightful place. "Keep enough stuff in your trunk and the weight can start to affect the condition of your car and the mileage over time," says Mr. Gardiner, who also reminds spring drivers to swap out heavy rubber winter mats for their lighter carpet counterparts.

Further freshen up your interior by dusting and vacuuming. This goes double if your regular passengers include pets and/or rug rats – both natural enemies of the clean car agenda.

Brighten up

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Most headlights are made of plastic and can become dangerously ineffective around the five-year mark (the lenses get cloudy and yellowed and don't illuminate much of anything). "Obviously if you're driving, especially in stormy or difficult conditions, this becomes a serious safety hazard," says Mr. Gardiner, recommending that car owners pick up a headlight restoration kit (less than $20 at the hardware store).

Get under the hood (or get someone else to do it for you)

While DIY whizzes and amateur grease monkeys may be able to tackle their own tune-ups, Mr. Gardiner says that most drivers would be wise to bring the car in for a quick and cheap under-the-hood inspection, which includes an oil change, filter replacements, tire pressure check and various other upkeep tweaks. If you do want to try this at home, be sure to consult your car manual (most come with detailed tune-up instructions). And don't forget to remove all of the outdoor junk that comes through the wiper cowl (an area under the windshield wipers where air gets into the engine). "In about 80 per cent of the cars that I see, those things are just full of leaves and maple keys and all sorts of crap," Mr. Gardiner says.

And don't do this: Clean your car in direct sunlight. When paint gets hot it is more prone to damage.



Special to The Globe and Mail

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