When a driveway needs resealing, it will be obvious: The surface isn’t as black and shiny as it used to be, there are some cracks and even potholes, it just generally looks worn. These are signs that shouldn’t be ignored; it’s not a matter of esthetics, it’s about preventing a major expense. If you let a blacktop surface go without maintenance too long, it can become so weathered, worn and torn up that a complete replacement needs to be done. And that would cost a lot more than resealing it.

The process isn’t all that difficult, strenuous or time-consuming, and it doesn’t have to be particularly expensive if you do it yourself. The best part about blacktop resealing is that it results in a dramatic improvement in the appearance of your home. Think of it as getting a large improvement return on your investment.

1. Assess the job. Walk the length of the driveway and look for weeds or moss, cracks and potholes and places that have a rough surface that might develop into potholes. Measure the dimensions of the driveway and mark problem areas on a drawing.

2. Clear the area. Use herbicide on the weeds and moss. It might take more than one application, but after they are dead, make sure they are pulled up or scraped off the surface, out of cracks and along the edge. Use a very stiff broom and even a stick or piece of steel rod to clear out leaves, dirt, pebbles and pieces of crumbling asphalt from cracks, potholes and low spots. If an area seems crumbly, keep working at it until all of the weak material has been removed and only sound asphalt remains.

3. Fill and patch. Home improvement stores usually have an asphalt care section, including filling and patching material. Crack-filling compound comes in plastic jugs with a spout that looks one on a caulking tube. Patching material is packaged in 40 to 60-pound bags and contains aggregate (bits of crushed gravel and sometimes sand) so it will hold up to traffic over time. The bags should say that it is “cold” patching; that is, it does not require heating.

Before beginning work, determine that the weather forecast is for sunny weather for at least the next 24 hours. Fill smaller cracks (no wider than your finger) with the compound. Most of the ones on the market are some type of acrylic, so they have to be applied about a quarter inch deep at a time. Let it set for half an hour between applications. Fill the cracks to the top, to allow for settling, but try not to over-fill, as the excess can be tracked all over the place. If necessary, use a whisk broom to clear any excess off the surface of the driveway.

Fixing larger cracks, low spots and pot holes requires patching material. Use a bricklayer’s trowel, or even a gardening trowel, to apply it. Poke it as far down as you can into cracks. This time, you do want to over-fill a bit, just so it mounds up a little. For low areas and pot holes, apply the patching material in layers, pressing and smoothing it after each application.

After you have used the patching material in all the areas that need attention, you’ll need to pack it down and smooth the surface. A packing tool (which is basically a thick metal plate with a wooden handle sticking up out of the middle) will work, but a roller will make a firmer, smoother surface. Most rollers have a drum designed to be filled with water to give the necessary weight. You’ll need to clean patching material residue off the drum when you’re done, particularly if it’s rented, since they are also used for rolling lawns.

Once you have finished filling, patching and packing the surface, it is best to let the material “cure” for at least a week. Some manufacturers suggest as long as six weeks.

Special warning: Don’t even think of doing the next two steps unless you can rely on at least three days of warm, sunny weather. This is important. Rain will do more than ruin your day; it will make all the work and expense you’ve gone to a complete loss. A certain freelance writer is still reminded by his spouse at least once a year, more than twenty years after the event, of a driveway resealing project that was finished just minutes before a record-setting five-hour deluge began.

4. Clean the surface of the driveway. Even if you don’t notice it, cars and trucks will drip oil, brake fluid and antifreeze on a driveway over time. All of that – and anything else that would prevent blacktop sealer from making a good bond with the asphalt surface – has to be cleaned off. This step should be done the day before you’re ready to apply the sealer.

If you have areas where you can see standing materials, they can be cleaned with absorbent material; even kitty litter works. After that, use a cleaner/degreaser specifically made for asphalt, so you won’t damage the surface. If there are shrubs, flowers or other plants growing along the side of the driveway that you want to protect, lay a barrier of rolled-up burlap or other materials to keep the cleaner from running off. There are some biodegradable cleaners available, but they may still affect the plants. Once you have applied and washed off the cleaner according to the manufacturer’s directions, allow it to dry overnight. Keep any vehicles off the surface until you are ready to apply the sealer (ideally, the next day).

5. Apply the sealer. This material usually comes in five-gallon pails. When you buy it, make sure that all of the pails are the same brand, from the same batch and were manufactured this year (last year’s may have frozen and thawed the previous winter in a warehouse). Depending upon the brand, the coverage estimate on the label will range from 250 to 350 square feet per bucket. If your driveway hasn’t been resealed in a long time, and particularly if you had to do extensive patching, you should assume less coverage than that.

You will also need an applicator (it looks like a stiff-bristle push broom) per person working on the project, several stirring sticks, a wall paper brush and some tennis shoes (not sandals or rubber shower clogs) and clothing you are willing to sacrifice. If you get sealing material on clothing, it is impossible to launder out and will ruin a washing machine if you try.

Start at one end of the driveway (furthest from the road is the usual pattern) and open the first pail. Most pails open with a pull-strip along the edge, but you may need a small pry-bar to get the lid off. The oily part of the mixture will almost certainly have risen to the top and will need to be stirred. Try to get the material mixed as thoroughly as possible.

Since the pail will weigh at least 45 pounds, it’s unlikely that you will be able to pick it up and pour some compound onto the driveway. Tip the pail a little – carefully – and “slop” some out onto the driveway. Make sure that you are out of spatter range of any driveway edges, particularly next to the house, garage or any other painted or sided structure.

When spreading the sealer with the broom, don’t just spread it over the surface: Work the sealer into the asphalt. Before you get too far along, move around the edge of the puddle and use the wall paper brush to spread the sealer up to the edge of the garage or house; brooms are just too big and clumsy to get a sharp edge, and you don’t want to get the tar on the buildings. After you’ve finished a stretch of the driveway, pour more (a little less than the first time) on the same spot and work it in another direction, ideally perpendicular to the first application.

As each bucket is emptied, try to scrape the residue out of the inside and pour it onto any areas you patched. Patching material will absorb an amazing amount of sealer. After the bucket is truly empty, put the lid back on (to prevent neighborhood pets and toddlers from getting into them) and place it at the end of the driveway to block traffic.

The work should go pretty smoothly, if your prep work was thorough. Be sure to take a break occasionally, not only to rest your muscles but to get away from the petroleum fumes. Eating, drinking and smoking while standing in the middle of a freshly sealed area is not a good idea.

Use the wallpaper brush to finish off the last edge at the end of the driveway. This may sound like an obsessive-compulsive detail, but it will make a difference in the appearance of the project. Cover the last bucket and go lay down in the grass under a tree for a while.

After the coat of sealer has had a chance to dry for a couple of hours, walk along the side of the driveway to look for spots that didn’t get enough coverage. Rougher spots, particularly areas where you had to fill cracks or patch, may need an additional application. Allow the driveway to “cure” for two days, and avoid any traffic on the surface during that time.

And that’s it. You’re done. Cleanup consists of disposing of the brooms, brushes, the buckets and possibly some clothing. Dispose of all of the materials and the buckets according to local ordinances, since blacktop sealer is sometimes treated as a low-level hazardous material.

Enjoy the new look you’ve given your driveway and your entire property. It not only improves the appearance, it will also help your driveway last longer.