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Winter: the season which strikes fear into many motorists. Plummeting temperatures, freak weather and the nights drawing in mean drivers are faced with much trickier driving conditions. But what about your car? As well as keeping on top of maintenance, winter car checks and keeping a winter car kit handy, do you still keep on top of your car's cleanliness? If not, you could be damaging your paint and the car's overall condition come the winter months.

1. Preparation is Key

Your pride and joy, the workhorse, the family wagon, the A to B - whatever your car's purpose, if you take pride in its appearance and want to keep it in tip-top condition, it may be worth ensuring the paintwork is ready to deal with whatever winter wants to throw at it.

The quickest and easiest way to do this is by adding a layer of wax; such as a high-quality carnauba wax to the car's paintwork after washing and polishing.

This will ensure road salt which is much more prominent in winter cannot start eating at your paintwork, as the applied wax creates a protective coating, which, along with modern paint application techniques, will ensure your car's paintwork will look its best, even after a barrage of winter weather.

2. Get Equipped

A good basic checklist for washing a vehicle will include:

  • A quality pressure washer
  • Two buckets (One with car shampoo, one with fresh water)
  • Washmitt x2 (Less likely to cause scratching compared to a sponge, one for bodywork, one for the wheels)
  • Microfibre cloths (Ideal for drying paintwork or removing polish, wax etc.)
  • Wheel brush (Helps target all the nooks and crannies of the wheels)
  • Car shampoo, pre-cleaner, wheel cleaner, polish, wax, tyre shine
  • Cleaning gloves (optional - but good for hand protection)

Advanced car wash methods may include, but are not limited to:

  • Snow foam
  • Machine polisher
  • Metal polish, plastic treatment

All items are available via good automotive accessory retailers and specialists.

Sponge washing car

3. The Process

Search 'vehicle detailing' on the internet and you may discover there is much more to cleaning a car than first thought. For the owners of specialist cars, supercars, sports cars etc. a detail is the only route to go when washing a car.

However, if you just want to give your car a fighting chance in keeping it looking good and protecting the paint, then a good beginner's car washing process before winter will look like this:

  • Start with cleaning the wheels, letting the wheel cleaner soak for a short while before getting to grips with the inevitable grime and using the pressure washer to rinse.
  • Apply pre-cleaner to bodywork to break up road and weather contaminants such as salt, bugs, tar, sap etc.
  • Using the 'two-bucket method' begin washing the car. Rinse the washmitt in the fresh water bucket before doing the same in bucket filled with car shampoo mixture. Wash a panel or section of the car bodywork and repeat the process until the whole car is clean, using the pressure washer to rinse away the shampoo once applied.
  • The two-bucket method ensures dirt entering the washmitt is rinsed off between applications, therefore small debris collected is less likely to be scratched into the paint as it will fall to the bottom of the rinse bucket.
  • Dry with microfibre cleaning cloth - advanced washing methods will include a decontamination stage such as clay baring before drying. This ensures paint is as smooth as possible and gets rid of impurities such as ground in tar spots, but is not essential for the general motorist.
  • Once the car is dry, a polish will ensure a great shine is achieved.
  • After polishing, waxing or sealing areas of the car will ensure your hard work is not undone and ensure a protective barrier over your paintwork and wheels.
  • NB: Special wheel sealant is a good idea for keeping expensive alloy wheels looking their best, as winter salt tends to attack the finish of alloy wheels, especially those which are chrome or machine-finished.
  • Finish off by applying tyre shine, plastic detailer etc. for enhanced detail

Car tyres on snow

Double yellow line on snowy road

4. Wash at Least Every Two Weeks During Winter

'But it will only get dirty again'… Yes, this is true, especially in winter. However, by cleaning the car when possible and washing away all the contaminants such as salt will mean they will have less time to affect your cars paintwork and in extreme cases cause rust issues. Owners of classic cars tend to garage their cars over the winter months as paint finish is less advanced on these cars. Over winter, keeping any car sheltered or garaged (especially heated) will give the car a greater advantage in fighting off excess moisture, which if left or allowed to build up will cause surface corrosion aka rust.  

5. Don’t Forget the Interior!

So, you've applied a protective layer to your paint, and understand the importance of keeping the salt and winter contamination at bay in order to prevent rust, but what about the interior?

Again, preparation is key. Moisture will do its best to play havoc with the interior of your car, resulting in condensation and fogging to the inside of the windows. Therefore, keeping your interior dry is important.

Applying anti-fog solution to the inside of windows is a good preventative measure, along with ensuring the interior is kept as dry as possible - getting rid of excess water or snow before entering the car.

So, there you have it. By following these tips, you could well save the overall look and finish of your cars appearance. It will also mean that if you do decide to sell the car in the future, a well looked after car with perfect paintwork will sell far quicker than one that has been neglected.

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