Primp Your Ride for a Clean, Reliable Car


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I don't know too many moms who claim to identify with their vehicles. It's not often that you'll hear a woman say, "Hey, what do you think of my new red minivan? Isn't she sweet?" However, most mothers, or other primary caregivers, do spend a great deal of time in their cars. Errands, carpools, and the daily commute keep parents on the road, up to several hours a day.

Not only is this wear and tear on the vehicle itself, but carting kids and cargo all over town also takes its toll on the interior. Ever found last week's kids' meal transformed into this week's science project? Or how about discovering that carton of sour cream you were sure you bought at the store, but somehow never made it into the house? Last year's school papers, stray lipsticks, gym socks, baby shoes, dog toys and more are hidden in the confines of the family vehicle.

If you are your family's official Queen of the Road (or if Dad is King of Carpool), it's time to take charge of the family car. The following tips will help keep your chariot neat and organized, ensuring that your ride will be a smooth one.

- Dejunk. Take an hour or two and completely empty the contents of your vehicle. Chances are you don't need five lipsticks, a sand shovel or three empty yogurt containers. Discard trash and put away the items that you won't use on the road at least daily or weekly.

- Deep clean. If getting your car detailed doesn't fit in the budget, enlist some able-bodied helpers (spouse, children, neighbor's kids, friends) to wash windows and vacuum the interior. Wipe dust, grime and goo off dashboards, consoles, armrests and cup holders. Repeat this on a regular basis to keep your interior in good condition. Likewise, regularly wash your vehicle's exterior.

- Organize. A number of organizers on the market are made specifically for automobiles. However, a plastic tote or caddy also works to hold cell phone, maps, a small makeup bag, bottled water, and whatever other small items you may need while out and about. Keep them contained so they are within easy reach. Place a similar container between the kids' seats to hold small toys and books. Encourage the kiddos to clean up their stuff before leaving the vehicle.

- Sort your tunes. Go through the collection of CDs hat has grown over time. Refresh your selection by adding new choices and taking the old ones back to the house. Situate these within easy reach inside your vehicle.  Periodically rotate your choices so that you're not bored on the road. Consider checking out audio books from the library as a way to spice up your drive time.

- Perform mechanical checks and maintenance on a regular basis. If you are not mechanically minded, make arrangements to have fluids and tires checked regularly. Have your oil changed at least every 6,000 miles. Many quick-service car centers will do the necessary checks so your vehicle stays in prime working condition.

- Be prepared for little emergencies. Stow a box in the trunk or cargo bay with a first-aid kit as well as a change of clothes for each child, a few nonperishable snacks and bottled water. If there's a baby in the house, store a spare diaper bag packed with supplies.

- Prepare for meals on wheels. Chances are you have at least one meal a week on the road. Pack a small box or basket with extra condiments, straws, plasticware and napkins. Having a plastic tablecloth along also makes it easy to stop at a park and enjoy that meal in a more leisurely manner.

- Instill good habits. Keep a stash of plastic grocery sacks or small trash bags in your vehicle for periodic cleaning. Encourage kids to remove their belongings each time you hit the driveway. Make a habit of emptying trash and washing the windows each time you stop for gas. Stock a packet of window cleaning wipes and paper towels to make this easier.

- Fill the tank. Nothing makes the morning dash for school more harried than the fear of running empty. Keep the tank filled. Stop at the filling station before you're in a hurry. Heed the warning lights on your dashboard. Check often and fill up when you hit a quarter tank.

While these suggestions won't solve traffic or mitigate road rage, making a few changes in how you organize and maintain your car can help make the drive a little more pleasant. You won't be driving the Mom-mobile forever, so enjoy the ride!

Jessica Fisher is a wife, mother of six and a freelance writer. She is also the proud owner of a '96 Dodge Caravan.

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