Washing Your Car in the Winter is Important – Here's Why

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Winter has arrived. And it’s no surprise that it’s the least favorite season for most of us. Having to drive in winter conditions doesn’t make it any better. And with driving comes the nasty sand and salt mixture that covers our cars and cakes our windshields. Most of us will use our wipers and washing fluid to clean the windshield and ignore the rest for far too long. Why? Because washing your car in the winter is a pain! Especially when you finally decide to go through the car wash only to be splashed immediately by another car driving through a puddle. Or it snows again the very next day. But washing your car in the winter is really important! Here’s why.


How Roads are Treated


There are several ways cities and towns treat roads when it’s snowing or icy. Methods used vary by location, but many include corrosive elements like sodium chloride (road salt), sand and calcium chloride. Some states are even testing alternatives such as beet juice, molasses and beer to try and reduce the environmental impact of salt.  


While auto manufacturers have improved the corrosion resistance of vehicles in recent years, damage to your car from road treatments is still possible. In fact, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration estimates the annual cost of motor vehicle corrosion at $23.4 billion annually. Regardless of the method, road treatments can damage your vehicle, especially when you go too long without washing your car.


How Road Treatments Damage Cars


Rust can happen anywhere moisture and treatments can accumulate. There are two major areas of your car that are especially vulnerable to corrosion: the paint and the undercarriage.


Sand and salt are sprayed onto your car as you drive on treated roads. Both materials are abrasive, and can lead to scratches on your paint. They are also very “sticky,” meaning they cling to the paint and undercarriage. Road treatments can also cling to windows and mirrors, making visibility difficult and risking safe driving.


While washing your car may not be a priority during the busy winter months, leaving sand and salt sitting on your car could lead to a more serious situation in the future.


Washing Your Car in the Winter


The general rule of thumb is to wash your car whenever it’s covered with salt and sand. Regular washing prevents a damaging build-up of any corrosive element. When you take your car to the car wash in the winter, be sure to:


  • Select the undercarriage wash option. Cleaning these areas washes away unwanted elements from brake lines, mechanical parts, suspensions and exhaust systems.
  • Clean your windshield and mirrors. Dirt and grime build up can decrease your visibility. Be sure to keep these areas clean for safe driving at all times.
  • Give your tires extra care. A regular washing prevents build up on tire treads and ensures a great grip on the road when it matters most.
  • Apply wax. File this option under the “it can’t hurt” category. Wax will add a bit of extra protection for your paint.
  • Make sure the car is dry before parking it for a long period of time. You don’t want to doors to freeze after washing your car.


Finally, remember that your shoes will also track salt and sand (and slush) into your car. Invest in waterproof car mats to help keep the interior clean.


Washing your car in the winter isn’t just cosmetic, its functional. It’s important to keep up with regular maintenance throughout the winter months. Need a fast and easy way to maintain your vehicle? Openbay’s network of automotive service professionals are here to help.

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