Spring is fast approaching. With it comes the need to start cleaning after a long and dirty winter. And few things need a good scrub as much as your car. Vehicles go through a punishing time during winter — snow, ice, salt, sand, dirt, slush and gravel all conspire to leave cars filthy inside and out. From the exterior body of the car to the floor mats, every nook and cranny of a vehicle needs a good cleaning come spring. Even if you don’t live in a snowy part of the world, your vehicle will appreciate these then tips for spring cleaning your car and getting it to look good again after the dark days of winter.

Clean Under the Cloth Floor Mats

The easy and obvious thing is to hose off the rubber floor mats in a vehicle. Many people also vacuum and clean the cloth mats that rest under the rubber mats. But very few people take the time to lift up the cloth floor mats and clean underneath them too. This is a shame, because under the cloth floor mats is where a lot of salt, dirt and gravel collects.

If you’ve never lifted up the cloth floor mats in your car before, give it a try. You’ll be shocked and surprised by what you discover under there. It’s important to clean under the cloth mats too, as the salt and bits of gravel that collect there can eventually work through the mat and corrode the body of the vehicle. Clean under the cloth mats and you’ll be doing yourself a huge favor.

Wash the Headlights and Taillights

Few things on a car get as dirty during the winter as the headlights and taillights. Come spring, the headlights and taillights on most vehicles are pretty filthy and foggy. Yet, most motorists pay little attention to them. As long as the lights are on and a bulb isn’t burnt out, we don’t worry about it.

Yet headlights and taillights are extremely important in terms of visibility at night, and for safety. Taking a warm, damp cloth and giving the headlights on the front of the car and the taillights on the back a wipe in spring can do wonders. The range of the light coming from your car will improve, and so will your vehicle’s visibility. Other motorists and pedestrians will be able to see you coming from a distance, and you will be able to see them better too. Washing the headlights and taillights is a simple thing that can pay big dividends.

Remove the Winter Tires

This might seem like a no-brainer, but plenty of people leave their winter tires on their car all year long. Kind of like people who never take down the Christmas lights on their house. But it can be extremely dangerous to drive on winter tires in the warmer weather. The tread on the winter tires will wear down quickly and make the tires practically useless when winter rolls around again.

Also, winter tires do not grip the roads well when they are dry and clear of snow and ice. Taking the tires off yourself or having them taken off and stored at a garage is a good idea. It’s always best to use all-season tires in the spring and summer months when pavement and asphalt are hot and tires are susceptible to melting.

Clean Out the Trunk

A lot of stuff can accumulate in the trunk of a vehicle during the winter. From ice scrapers and snow brushes to empty windshield washer fluid bottles and old blankets, there can be a ton of crap in the trunk of a car when the grass turns green. Best to clear all this stuff out.

Recycle the empty plastic windshield washer bottles, put the ice scraper in the basement, and wash that old blanket. Make room for new things in the trunk, like picnic baskets, folding lawn chairs, and beach umbrellas. Be sure to give the trunk a good vacuum as part of this transition. Trunks attract their fair share of salt, dirt, and other debris. Keeping this seldom seen area of the car clean is important too.

Check Under the Seats

If there’s a general theme to cleaning a car, it’s to look in hard-to-see areas. This definitely includes underneath the seats. From loose change and kid toys, to lost mittens and old coffee cups, people are always amazed at the things they find underneath the seats in their vehicle. Under the seats is also where a lot of dried salt and dirt lives.

Stuffing a vacuum hose under there is a great idea and will help to get a lot of unwanted stuff out of the car. Be sure to move the seat forward and backwards as far as it will go when cleaning under it. Better yet, remove it altogether if possible. This will give you the best exposure to what is lurking under there.

Wax the Car’s Exterior

It’s good to wash the exterior of a car and get the corrosive salt off the body. But it is also advisable to wax the entire outside of a car. We’re not advocating that people apply wax after every wash. But doing it once or twice a year — particularly in spring — is a good idea. Wax, after all, has many benefits. It seals the paint, adds a shiny coat, and repels water beads—getting rid of problematic water spots in the process.

If you take your car to a professional car wash rather than clean it yourself, select a wash option that includes a wax spray or coating at the end. This can help your car as much as the soap and water that’s used to clean it. Of course, you can always find wax at your local hardware store or automotive garage and apply it yourself.

Don’t Ignore the Seats and Fabric

While some luxury vehicles come with leather seats, most of us drive cars that are upholstered with fabric. Don’t ignore the seats or other fabric in your vehicle. They need to hold up as much as any other part. A lot of salt and mud can go from jackets and pants to the seats of our cars. Be sure to wash the seats with a hot, wet cloth.

We don’t recommend using a lot of fabric cleaners and other chemicals on car seats as this tends to just add more gunk to the material. Water is the universal cleaner, and for good reason. It works wonderfully and is harmless on almost every surface. Nothing cleans in a car quite like hot water. For a really stubborn salt stain, you can use a little dish soap. But emphasis on a “little,” or you’ll end up with soap stains in your car.

Windex Is Your Friend

It’s amazing how simple cleaning a car can be. It’s often the simplest cleaning steps that can yield the biggest rewards, and improve the safety of your car. Just as it is important to clean the headlights and taillights on a vehicle, so too is it important to clean the mirrors — both the side mirrors and the rear view mirror. For this, we turn to Windex.

A spray of Windex and a wipe with some paper towel, and Voila! Suddenly you can see what’s behind you when driving. This is critically important. Especially given how filthy side mirrors and rear view mirrors on a car get during the harsh winter months. There are many times when people can literally see nothing out of their mirrors, and that is never good. Taking a few seconds to spray the mirrors with some Windex will dramatically improve the safety of any vehicle and make the driver feel more at ease. It’s also worth taking Windex to the inside of all your car windows. Yes, even the windshield itself. It makes a huge difference.

Look Under the Hood

We almost never clean under the hood of our car. To be sure, there’s not much point in trying to scrub the engine block. But it is always a good idea come spring to lift up the hood and take a peek inside. Leaves, sticks, debris, and dirt can get into the engine area and lead to big problems if left there for an extended period of time. Simply picking out these items can make a big difference.

While you’re there, you could also wipe down the edges around the engine or some of the bigger engine components. There are garages that will professionally clean your engine for you. But, of course, this costs money. A lot of money in most cases. Typically, removing the debris and giving the engine a quick wipe will suffice.

Clean Underneath the Whole Car

The best way to avoid rust on a car is to clean underneath the vehicle. Cleaning beneath a car after winter is the best time to do this. All sorts of damaging crud gets trapped underneath a car — around the muffler and exhaust, as well as the axles and wheel wells. Blasting this crap off with a high pressure hose or having it cleaned off at a professional car wash is the way to go here.

In fact, it never hurts to take your car through a professional, automated car wash at least once in the spring to ensure that the vehicle gets one thorough cleaning, and that the undercarriage gets clean of all the stuff that can be corrosive and cause rust to form and spread. Once rust gets hold, it is literally like a cancer on the body of the car. It spreads and eats the vehicle alive. Keep the underside of your car clean and the vehicle will last a lot longer.


This article was worked on by a variety of people from the Autoversed team, including freelancers, editors, and/or other full-time employees.