Winter isn’t the same in all of the States, so this article might not be very accurate for some readers but just before I start, I want to point out that most of the tips here will be directed to people with cars who live in areas where it snows and roads are treated with chemicals or even just salt and sand. Knowing how to wash your car in winter, and more specifically – when exactly to wash it is a skill which every driver should have as it will not only prolong the life of the vehicle but also keep the car happy looking throughout the darker months.
The first thing you have to do when you get on with cleaning your car in the winter is choose the right car wash. Avoid no-contact detergents and older drive through car washes. Secondly, always clean up the undercarriage of your car as this is the place salt and dirt builds up the most and usually where rust starts from. Lastly, make sure you dry your car properly, as the remaining water can freeze and work against you in the morning when you try to get in your car.
In this article I will speak mainly about which car washes you should pick, where to emphasize on your car when cleaning off the dirt from the roads, and most importantly – what steps to go through every time you pay your car attention.
Choosing The Right Car Wash
There is a reason I am listing this tip first. What many people do not know is that some old drive-through car washes still use more abrasive brushes which, don’t get me wrong, are ideal for removing every inch of dirt from your car but can also damage whatever coating your paint has on it. Newer drive-through car washes have softer brushes that aren’t as damaging to your paint as the older ones.
Another type of car washes you can avoid are those “touchless” ones. They are good for a quick wash but the type of materials they use are very powerful. That, again, is very good for cleaning but also bad on the long-term for your coating, be it wax, ceramic, or the original one you have on the vehicle.
The best car washes are the ones that allow you to use your own materials and wash your car at your own will.
Pro Tip: A few years ago, I bought my own water pump and for all those car washes I’ve done in front of my house, I am 100% positive I’ve got my money back and have the convenience to wash my car whenever I like for basically pennies.
If you live in an apartment block, then the car wash which allows you to treat your car the way you like are the ones you should go for.
If you also want to learn how to treat your car’s leather interior, check out my dedicated article on the topic.
Now, let’s move to the next important section:
How To Actually Wash The Car
There are a few guidelines you should always remember when washing your car be it in a car wash or in front of your house. First, never wash it after a long drive. In those cases your breaks will still be hot and suddenly cooling them won’t be ideal for the metal they are made of. Secondly, if the temperatures are below freezing try to postpone the wash. Even a well-dried car can sometimes freeze around the doors or worse – the door locks themselves. That situation feels very bad, trust me.
Once you get to the cleaning there are steps you need to go through every time you wash your car, with an extra one for winter
- Soak up your car. That cleans all the dust and dirt from it so that you can move on to the next step
- Get two buckets and fill one of them with water and the other one with water and shampoo mix
- Use a sponge to shampoo your car and rinse in the bucket with water only (don’t mix the two buckets)
- Emphasize on the undercarriage of the car as this is where salt and dirt builds up
- Clean the car again with water
- Dry it well
The reason you are priming your car with a pre-wash first is to take all the particles that can later on scratch your paint. This is also exactly the reason why you are using two buckets. Once you rinse the sponge you will take dirt particles from the car and put them into the clean water bucket. They will fall on the bottom and your shampoo bucket will stay without any particles in the water.
Drying the car isn’t mandatory during summer but is a crucial step during the cold months. The worst thing that can happen to your car when not being dried out properly in the summer is for drop marks to be left behind. In winter, on the other hand, you will have to deal with frozen doors and windows if you wash the car and leave it wet.
Pro Tip: Always bring a few microfiber or drying cloths to the washing party.
If you also want to learn how to clean up your garage to get your clean car inside, I have written an article on that very topic.
Have Your Car Protected
There is one simple thing that many drivers do not know. That is the fact that you can protect your car and its paint by having a protective layer of extra coating. The most common one is liquid wax or ceramic coating. Both of these give your car an extra layer of protection against nature’s elements. Ceramic coated cars have a harder time catching dust, dirt, or having water on them. Those coatings are very hydrophobic so you won’t have trouble drying the car at the end of the car wash either.
The only downside of those options is that they can cost you some money especially if done by a professional. Still, you can do them once per year (before winter) or twice per year – before the winter season and when winter ends. If you plan on keeping your car that is one of the best ways to keep it shiny and protected.
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How Often Should A Car Be Washed?
There are countless of pollutants out there that can be extremely harmful to your car’s paint such as:
- Road cleaning chemicals
- Airborne contaminants
All these adhere and damage your paint and finish over time. This is why I along with most car detailing experts recommend washing your car at least once per week to prevent long-term damage. Sometimes, even a small rinse is good enough, trust me. Also, don’t think that the rain is “washing” your car. More often than not, rains carry a lot of chemicals and pollutants in their drops, even dust from the Sahara Desert!
How Do I Stop My Car From Rusting?
There are a lot of steps you can do to prevent rust building up on your car. Some of the most important ones are washing your car on a weekly basis without forgetting to wahs the undercarriage of your car (as it is the place where rust starts from most often). Rinse the vehicle well after winter drivings as salt tends to prime the metal for rusting.
Another tip I love giving and feel like every driver should know is to wax your car. Seriously, waxing it even twice per year is enough to keep it clean and safe for years to come!
Do Car Washes Scratch?
Yes, some of the older drive-through car washes can leave tiny scratches in your car’s finish. That is because they use abrasive brushes. Those are great for a thorough clean of your car but as I said aren’t ideal. New drive-through car washes use cloth brushes which are absolutely safe for your car. A safer bet is to just wash your car on your own.
Try avoiding no-contact car washes as they use a very strong detergent that will really clean your car well but will also remove your wax or ceramic coating (if you have any).
Some Final Words
There are a lot of essential tips new drivers need to acquire before they start driving on a daily basis. Knowing how to wash your car in the winter is sadly left out as it falls into the “cosmetic” category of car ownership and many owners simply do not care about this aspect. Still, there is a financial side to all this. If you don’t take good care of your car, the depreciation you will experience will be bigger. Not washing your car will ultimately lead to a bad paint and/or rust buildup which on its own will make the price you ask of the car dip. This is why I wanted to put this article out there and let people know that a few extra minutes every week can pay out greatly on the long run, especially if you want to keep your car for yourself for a bit longer.