Winter Car Care
Summary: Winter often wreaks havoc on automotive paint between the ice, road salt, and frozen dirt.
Winter often wreaks havoc on automotive paint between the ice, road salt, and frozen dirt. Protect your paint and prep for the cold season with these resources.
Preparing for Winter
Winter is all about prep then maintenance. The better your prep, the easier it will be to maintain your vehicle and keep it clean (or clean-ish) in the cold months. Set aside an afternoon to do a pre-winter detail on all of your vehicles, especially daily drivers that will be exposed to dirty winter roads and snow slush.
Detailing Pre-Winter Checklist
- Washing: Do a thorough wash (either rinseless or 2 bucket method) while the temperature is still tolerable. Get in the crevices, under spoilers and around mirrors. Check out the Your First Detail guide for a beginner walkthrough.
- Polishing: Now is the time to do a paint correction if desired since polishing in the cold is miserable. Check out the Paint Correction guide.
- Rubber seals: You may not show off the rubber seals on doors and windows, but it’s important for weatherproofing the vehicle. Dress the seals to help them tolerate the freezing cold and not decay.
- Interior: Now is a great time to clean out the trash, throw the ice scraper and snow brush in the trunk, etc. Clean the interior so you start the season fresh. Check out the Interior Cleaning guide.
- Windshield: Top up your wiper fluid with one that won’t freeze and get new wiper blades seasonally.
- Wheels: If you have winter tires, get them mounted then clean the wheels thoroughly. If you have a separate set of winter wheels, clean your summer set before storing them. Check out the Wheel Cleaning guide.
How can I wash my car in winter?
Rinseless washing is the best method to use in the winter due to speed and using less water to freeze. If you have access to a heated self-serve, that’s great too!
Stay Safe and Warm
Wear long dish gloves to protect from the cold water and take frequent breaks to warm up. Use room temperature water if you can since hot water on icy cold glass can cause it to expand suddenly and crack. Be mindful of where you choose to wash – your driveway will likely ice over if you’re splashing water everywhere.
At some point it’ll just be too damn cold for detailing outside. Warm water can freeze on contact below 0F / -17C which can freeze your doors shut and make the wipers rock solid. If water freezes in your hose and spigot it can break the valve and pipe, which is an expensive mess! There will be times when your vehicle is going to stay dirty for a while, and that’s okay. It’ll live for a month or two in dirty mode until you can detail again.
Removing Salt in Winter
Salt is the accelerant of the dreaded rust monster that eats into millions of vehicles every year. If it’s too cold to do a rinseless wash outside and you live in an area with salted roads, try to use a self serve station to rinse the undercarriage and wheel arches thoroughly once a week. Doing this at home is possible, but you’re likely to ice over the driveway with how much water is used. Check out the Self Serve Guide.
Touchless Car Washes Aren’t Ideal But…
Sometimes we don’t have much of a choice and a touchless car wash tunnel (the kind WITHOUT the spinny brushes of doom) is the only option for blasting salt off the vehicle. If that’s all you have nearby and your vehicle does not have PPF or a ceramic coating, do it once a month on the lowest/cheapest tier possible. In the spring you’ll need to reapply your protection such as a coating or sealant because the touchless car washes have extra strong chemicals that eat through it. If you have PPF or a ceramic coating, hire a detailer with a heated shop or tough it out through rinseless washes to avoid damaging the film or coating.
Interior Detailing in Winter
Doing interiors isn’t so bad when it’s cold out as long as your heater works! Interior cleaners shouldn’t be allowed to freeze, so store them indoors. But you can use them in the cold the same as you would normally. This goes for cleaning glass, seats, dashboards, and carpets. You may have to wait for warmer months or an indoor solution if you want to do heavy stain removal, but basic cleaning is great in the winter.