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Do’s & Dont’f of driving

Go easy when you’re stuck

When stuck in mud or snow, don’t make the problem worse by damaging an expensive component. Gently rocking in an attempt to free the car is fine. But if it looks as though you’re really stuck, don’t keep at it. Throwing your car from forward to reverse repeatedly, as well as spinning tires at high speeds, can generate lots of heat and spell trouble for transmissions, clutches, and differentials. It may be cheaper in the long run to call the tow truck rather than risk big repair bills down the road. It’s a good idea to carry a traction aid in the trunk, such as sand, gravel, or cat litter.

Lighten up your key chain

Does your car key share a chain with a dozen or more other keys or key fobs? That’s a pretty heavy load hanging off the car key when it’s in the ignition. The weight, combined with bouncing while you drive, can wear out the inside of the ignition and eventually lead to ignition switch failure. To add years of service to your ignition switch, purchase a lightweight key chain that allows you to separate your ignition key from the others. Drive with only the ignition key in your ignition. If your ignition key “sticks” when you try to turn on the car, it’s a warning that your ignition switch is about to fail. Replace it before you get stranded.

Park in the shade

Of course, a garage is always the ideal place to park your car. But if one isn’t available, minimize interior damage from UV sunlight and heat by always trying to park your car in the shade. If no shade is available or if you find parking under a tree results in bird droppings, use a car shade to minimize the sun’s impact. As a bonus, you’ll have a cooler car to step into on hot sunny days.

Clean the inside, too

Vacuum and sponge your interior every time you wash your car. Dirt particles are abrasive, and spilled liquids, such as soda, can be corrosive. Vacuum your interior thoroughly with a powerful vacuum (small cordless models are generally too weak). Sponge vinyl surfaces clean with a solution of mild detergent and water to allow them to “breath” and avoid dry cracks.

Clean dash gauges carefully

Use a soft dust cloth to lightly wipe dust from the clear plastic lenses or screens on your dashboard. Too much pressure will scratch them. Too many scratches can make it difficult to read your gauges under certain lighting conditions.

Let floor mats take winter’s beating

Use floor mats to protect carpeting. The best type for controlling salt, slush, and mud in winter are rubber waffle-style mats. They stay in place, don’t allow the water to seep through, and are easy to wash clean. Carpet-style mats are helpful, too. Shake, vacuum, or wash as needed; replace them as they wear through.

Preserve door and window seals

Wipe a rubber protectant (such as Armor-All) or silicone on door and window weatherstripping to keep it in good condition. Don’t use an oilbased product, such as WD-40, because the oil will damage the rubber. Regular cleaning and treatment of your car’s weatherstripping will also lessen the likelihood of your door sticking to its rubber seal in cold weather, a common cause of damage to the rubber.

Fix bad weatherstripping immediately

If your weatherstripping is letting rainwater leak into the interior of your car, take a look at it and decide if you can repair it or if it needs to be replaced. Small leaks can be handled with brush-on seam sealers. Resecure loose sections, not otherwise damaged, with trim adhesive. Torn sections may be repaired with special caulking available at auto parts stores. You may also be able to extend the life of worn-but-intact sections by inserting foam rods, available at automotive stores, into the hollow section of the weatherstripping.

Keep leather from drying out and cracking

Leather cars seats are durable and don’t require a lot of maintenance. After a few years, however, the seats can become soiled. Use a leather cleaner to remove dirt and stains. Then apply a leather protectant formulated for pigmented or top-coated grain leather (the leather used for most leather car upholstery). Protectants will resist stains and make the upholstery easier to clean in the future. Choose a protectant that includes conditioners to keep your leather supple.

Use upholstery cleaners on soiled seats

The same upholstery cleaners you use at home can be used on your car’s upholstery. Use them sparingly, however, to avoid saturating the fabric. Use a clean cloth to wipe away the foam. On velour seats, brush the fibers gently to avoid matting them and to preserve the original texture of the fabric.

Renew fabric upholstery

Spraying fabric car seats and carpets with a fabric protectant, such as Scotchgard, will make them resist dirt and stains, and make them easier to clean. Thoroughly clean the fabrics before using one of these products and then test the product on an inconspicuous place to be sure the treatment will not discolor the fabric.

Place a towel under baby seats

All manner of food bits and liquids can accumulate under a baby seat, where they can permanently stain the upholstery. Place an absorbent towel under the seat to prevent damage, and re-secure the seat according to the manufacturer’s directions. This will also help to protect the seats from leaving an imprint in the upholstery.

Touch up nicks sooner rather than later

Touch-up paint won’t adhere well to rust. So be sure to keep some matching touch-up paint on hand so you can touch up any minor nicks or stone chips, often found around door edges and in the front of the car, before rust has a chance to form.

Tape saves light covers

A cracked taillight or turn-signal cover, if left alone, may allow your light compartment to fill with water and cause some real damage. A good short-term fix is to tape over the crack. Use the red or orange tape that’s made for this purpose.You can purchase it at many automotive parts stores.

. Fix small windshield chips

Got a rock chip, crack, or ding in your windshield? Bring your car to a windshield repair shop. For far less cost than replacing the windshield, they can fix chips and cracks, even quite long ones. The repairs not only keep the chips and cracks from spreading and restore structural integrity, they also improve clarity. Also this service may be covered by your auto insurance!

Fill with washer fluid only

Don’t add water to the windshield washer reservoir. It won’t clean as well as washer fluid, and it may freeze in cold weather and damage the system. Don’t try to run your windshield washer system once you suspect there’s no more fluid in the tank, or you may damage the washer fluid pump.

Wash in winter, too

If you rarely wash your car during messy winter weather, you are not alone. The cars you see on the road make it obvious that lots of folks figure, “Why bother? The car is going to look awful the next time I drive it.” The problem with this thinking is that washing is more important in the winter than other times of the year. All that sand, slush, and ice mixed with road salt is exactly what makes your car rust. The fastest corrosion occurs when the temperature repeatedly rises above and then falls below freezing. Especially during the messy months, be sure to rinse the undercarriage and hard-to-reach areas that are susceptible to rust, such as the bumpers and inside the wheel wells. If the temperature outside is going to stay above freezing long enough for your car and driveway to dry, fill a bucket with warm water and tackle the job at home. If not, pay a visit to your local car wash and be sure they dry the car thoroughly.

Wax to protect your car’s paint job

Waxing the car may be difficult but it’s satisfying work that will help keep your car looking new. Car wax preserves paint by slowing oxidation and forming a barrier against bird droppings, sap, and pollution. Plus driving a nice shiny car is just plain fun.

Here’s what to do to ensure the maximum in protection:

  • Liquid and spray waxes are tempting to use — they make the car shiny with less work than rubbing in paste wax. They are a good quick fix but there’s still no beating paste wax for the hardest, longest-lasting finish. Look for paste with a high carnauba wax content.
  • Apply a thin, even coat of wax to the car’s surfaces with a damp sponge. Avoid applying too much, or it will be difficult to remove and some residue will inevitably mar your finish.
  • To avoid fine scratches, use a clean, soft cotton or microfiber cloth to remove wax once it has dried.
  • Apply an extra coat of wax to the nose and hood. The wax film in these areas wears away quickly.