Cape Town - Spring has sprung, as the Ogden Nash verse has it, along with hayfever, nesting birds and tree sap, any or all of which are as bad for your car as parking it next to the sea.

Here are five tips from BP for spring-cleaning your car to keep it looking (and smelling) like new all year round.

Wash your car often

Believe it or not, the acidity in tree sap and bird droppings will eat through the clear coat on your car's paint and damage the paint underneath - and it can happen quickly, especially if you accelerate the process by leaving the car out on the sun.

Insect splatter can also cause damage if left to harden completely, because removing it causes fine scratches in the finish. So wash your car often, and wax it at least once every six months; an evenly applied coat of wax on the paint will prevent scratches from bug-splat and provide some protection from organic acids.

Clean out the cowl screen

The cowl screen is the gutter that runs across the bulkhead when the windscreen and bonnet meet, below the windscreen wipers - and like any gutter, it's a favourite habitat of second-hand leaves.

These break down over time to form an evil-smelling fine compost that retains water, causing rust where you least want it - in a place where it usually can't be repaired - and can clog the evaporator drain from the aircon system, which can result in a costly and time-consuming repair job.

Check the air filters

Every car has an air filter on the engine intake to keep abrasive dust out of the works, and many newer cars have an air filter on the aircon intake to keep the same dust out of your works.

Pollen particles, however, are sticky - it's nature's way of getting them a free ride on the legs of bees and other flying insects - so when they get sucked into pleated-paper air filters, they can seriously restrict the airflow, giving your car the mechanical equivalent of a bad case of bronchitis.

And because they're sticky, blowing out the filter element with compressed air won't help; it will have to be replaced, to get your car running sweetly again and the aircon blowing sufficient quantities of cool air so that you can keep your cool when you're stuck in traffic on a hot day.

Clean the upholstery

One of the major culprits causing unpleasant smells in your car is the seat upholstery, which is where the leftovers from spills, pets and people are deposited.

Leather seats are actually more practical than fabric because they're easier to clean, using a damp cloth and a bit of neutral detergent (not dishwashing liquid; it contains salt, which will make the leather dry out and go hard).

Fabric upholstery is best cleaned with a trigger-spray bottle filled with warm water and the same neutral detergent, for the same reason. Scrub the worst bits lightly with a brush (a brand new, never-been-used shoe brush works well) then wipe immediately with a damp cloth, followed with a dry cloth.

Then leave the windows open for a while to allow the upholstery to dry completely.

Clean the heater

Clean out the vents with a dry cloth and cotton earbuds from the bathroom cabinet (you didn't hear that from us) to prevent bronchitis from dust blown into the cabin.

If you smell something nasty when you switch on the heater, it's usually either a fungus or some organic material stuck in one of the vents. Either way, the trick is to dissolve some mustard powder in hot water and use the trigger-spray bottle to spray small amounts as deep into the vents as you can.

Then start the car and run the heater for about five minutes on its hottest setting with the fan running flat out, preferably with the door open and you not sitting in the car.

After all, you don't want to ruin all the hard work you put into cleaning the upholstery by drenching it with sweat.

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