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Winter car-wash tips

Intentionally applying a significant quantity of water to the body of your vehicle when it’s very cold will quickly open a portal to a world of icy frustration, broken parts, cursing, and Russian-level anger.

Get things wrong, and you can experience ice buildup that will render your windows, wipers, squirters, fuel filler flap, doors, and even climate control system useless. In some cases, operating parts of your vehicle that are iced-up can even cause wear or damage.

That is, unless you know a few top tips to follow in the all-important moments after a wintertime car-wash.

After all: regular winter cleaning and rinses help fend off rust by removing corrosive salt and moisture-trapping dirt and sand from the various panels, nooks, crannies and (especially) crevices, on and beneath your machine.

Based on my experience as a cold-blooded northerner who has washed hundreds of vehicles in extreme cold, I’d recommend the following steps during and immediately after a wintertime car wash. These tips relate to coin-operated car-washes with the user-operated wand, but some still apply if you’ll bring your salty chariot to your friendly gas-station scrape-and-wash, too.

You just need to bring three things: a clean towel, some lock de-icer or WD40, and a full supply of winter-appropriate washer fluid in your ride’s reservoir.

STEP 1: Crank the Heat

Before exiting your vehicle to wash it, crank the heat as high as it will go, and turn on the front and rear defrosters. This will come in handy, later as it can slow or stop water from freezing to your windows, weather seals, and more.

STEP 2: Rinse, Don’t Scrub

TLC doesn’t want no scrubs, and neither does your ride’s clearcoat when it’s 20 below.

Instead, focus on rinsing away salt and sand, blasting winter gunk out of the wheel wells, rinsing the vehicle undercarriage as best you can, and blasting any ice or snow out of your wheels. This prevents vibrations that’ll make your Camry drive like an unevenly-loaded Maytag on high-speed spin.

Using the sand-impregnated wash brush to hurriedly scrub your paint (as ice is forming on it) is a one-way ticket to scratch-ville – and unless you want your clearcoat looking like it just had a visit from Freddy Kreuger, we’d recommend skipping it.

Finally, blast every molecule of snow and ice out of the area where your wiper blades park, between the windshield and the hood. Your vehicle pulls air into the cabin from a vent in this area. If it gets blocked by ice or slush, your heat and defroster won’t work properly.

STEP 3: Handle the Wipers

The millisecond after you hang up the wash wand, get inside of your vehicle, close the door, and let the washer fluid rip. Don’t be shy to use a whack of fluid – 10 seconds or more – as the wipers are in motion. The washer fluid soaks into the wiper blade assembly and prevents ice formation on the blades and wiper arm hinges. This also clears away fresh water that could ice up the small openings in your washer nozzles. Now, you’ll be able to see – and that’s pretty swell.

STEP 4: Windows and Doors

Remember when we turned the heat up back in Step 2? It was for this part. Immediately after you’re done with the wipers (or simultaneously, if you’re good at multitasking), roll each of your vehicle’s windows down a finger-width or two. Open the sunroof the same amount. Time is of the essence, so work fast! This step drastically reduces the amount of ice that’ll form between your windows and their seals, making it more likely that your windows will work properly without borking your (expensive) window regulator. Leave the windows and sunroof open a few minutes, perhaps until you get home, then close them.

STEP 5: Fuel Filler Door

Open the fuel filler door to your ride as soon as possible, and for the same reason. You’re trying to keep the water from freezing it shut, which it can’t do, if it’s open. If feasible, use your clean towel to wipe this area dry.

STEP 7: Open the Doors

Open every door, as well as the trunk or tailgate. Next, locate the rubber weather seals on the inner edges of your doors and trunk, as well as the ones that line the door openings. Wipe these dry with your towel, and wipe them all before you close any. This prevents your doors from sticking when ice glues the seals to the body of the car. It can also prevent weather seal damage that’s likely when trying to force open a frozen door.

STEP 8: Door Handles and Locks

Finally, work each door handle a few times, while the door is open, to help prevent thick ice from building up within the mechanism. A few pulls on each handle should suffice to spread out any ice that forms, weakening its grip. With this completed, spray some WD40 or lock de-icer into the keyholes, if applicable.


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