Winter, known for holidays and frosty beauty, has a dark side. According to AAA, winter’s road salt costs Americans $3 billion annually. Fortunately, you can take steps to protect your vehicle throughout the cold winter months.
To protect your car from snow: Find a day with ideal washing conditions, rinse the vehicle, apply a car soap and wipe, dry thoroughly with a microfiber towel, and apply a wax or sealant product.
- Car soap
- Two buckets
- A wash mitt
- A minimum of 10 microfiber towels
- A wax/sealant product
Find a day with ideal washing conditions.
A typical winter day creates problems for detailing without precaution. Washing your vehicle at or below freezing (32℉) can make your locks or doors freeze shut.
Find a day with conditions above 50℉, with little to no wind, to prevent water spots from forming or soapy water drying prematurely. A day with partial to full sunlight helps with visibility, allowing you to see any imperfections in the exterior coat.
Prep your tools before cleaning. We recommend utilizing a two-bucket wash system for any winter detailing job. Use one bucket for clean water and the other for dirty rinse water to avoid the reapplication of salt or debris onto your exterior.
Rinse the vehicle
Before applying any cleaning products, conduct a rinse down by spraying the vehicle top to bottom with a hose. This step serves two purposes:
- It removes light debris and dust that cause damage with scrubbing in the following steps.
- It helps rinse away corrosive, lingering salt.
Don’t worry about any stubborn debris with this step; the soap in the next step will address that. While you have the hose out, consider spraying the vehicle’s undercarriage. The underside of your car takes the brunt of salt and snow spray, and lingering salt will eat away at your metal over time. The undercarriage is a problematic area to spray, but even a quick rinse helps remove buildup. If you can’t get to this area easily, consider placing a garden sprinkler beneath the vehicle or going to a traditional car wash.
Apply a car soap and wipe
After completing the initial rinse down, apply car soap. Dip your wash mitt in the designated clean water bucket and wipe down the roof area. Continue down the exterior, working from top to bottom to ensure no dirty run-off drips down over previously-cleaned surfaces.
Use minimal pressure as you go. The car soap should do most of the work for you, lifting stubborn dirt. If you have trouble removing debris, refrain from scrubbing with force; instead, apply additional cleanser and let it sit for a minute or two. As you continue cleaning, frequently rinse and re-lubricate your wash mitt.
Car paint is the area most focused on for detailing, but precipitation and road salt reach all exterior surfaces. Target often-neglected areas such as the wheel well, gas cap, and door jambs for a thorough clean.
Dry thoroughly with a microfiber towel
Once the exterior is completely cleaned, follow up by wiping down with a dry microfiber. Use long strokes in a back-and-forth or side-to-side motion. Avoid using circular motions – these can lead to water spots and streaks on your newly cleaned exterior.
Lingering water won’t just cause unsightly water spots – it has the potential to freeze your door jams or locks. Both factors make this a crucial step that requires proper care and consideration.
Apply a wax or sealant product
Nothing stops salt, snow, and other debris from contaminating your newly-cleaned exterior. We recommend taking an additional step of protection with a wax or sealant product. These products provide a temporary buffer between your paint and whatever the outside world throws at it.
Apply wax or synthetic sealant to your exterior. It will temporarily protect your exterior and help future cleaning efforts as debris, snow, and salt won’t easily stick to the surface. Wax and synthetic products each have respective benefits, and their selection comes down to user preference.
For in-depth information on wax and synthetic products, check out our blog on exterior detailing. A product comparison summary is below:
|● Natural ingredients
● Main ingredient is typically Carnauba wax, derived from Brazilian palm trees
● Provides a deep, warm shine
● Gives underlying color depth and vibrance
● UV protection degrades over time
● More susceptible to wear over time
|● Synthetic ingredients
● Made from petroleum derivatives, polymers, and resins
● Stronger and more durable than most waxes
● May last up to a year
● Greater resistance to UV rays and chemical erosion
● Higher surface tension
● Forms a hard, glass-like shell
● Glossy shine
Pick the product that best suits your needs and apply it according to manufacturer instructions. Taking the time to do so will protect your car from damage and save you costs and repairs down the road.
Additional tips for winter
Winter is rough on vehicles. Here are a few additional tips on how to best protect your car throughout the coldest months of the year:
- Routine washing is critical.
Finding suitable days to wash may be challenging, but regularly rinsing your vehicle is crucial. The more time road salt clings to your car, the more likely it will result in corrosion and damage. Washing once every week or two will go a long way in maintaining your paint, clear coat, exhaust, brake and gas lines, and undercarriage.
- Keep an eye on tire pressure!
Tires take a beating all year round, and the drastic temperature changes in winter affect them. As the temperatures drop, the air within your tire compresses – lowering it to below suggested PSI levels. Ensure your tires remain close to or at the recommended PSI – this will improve overall safety and fuel efficiency.
- Winter tires may be a wise investment.
Seasonal snow tires truly provide superior steering and braking. Generally, they’ll cost around $150 per tire, and the improvement in handling is well worth the cost if you live in an area with wintery weather. Consider purchasing winter tires if you frequently encounter snow, sleet, or ice.
- Keep tabs on your battery.
A car’s battery is crucial to nearly every mechanical function. Cold winter weather stresses this component and can sometimes lead to rapid power loss. Batteries work through an electrochemical reaction that sends power signals to your terminal ends, powering your mechanical functions. This chemical reaction, however, slows down in colder weather – Freezing temperatures drain battery power by roughly 30%-60%. Be mindful of your battery’s age and strength to ensure that you don’t need an unexpected tow.
“Sleigh” the snow!
Winter and road salt will do their best to dampen your holiday spirits. Fortunately, a few preventative steps will protect you and your wallet: Find a day with ideal washing conditions, rinse the vehicle, apply a car soap and wipe, dry thoroughly with a microfiber towel, and apply a wax or sealant product. Maintain your car and its components, and you’ll be merrily dashing through the snow to spring!