Trying to keep your car clean during winter is a noble, yet tragic calling. Those that are called must persevere in the face of certain defeat.

We tip our tuques to them.

These winter-washers only have fleeting respite from the enemy, but at least they have respite — and their dignity. The rest of us just hang our heads in shame as we approach our salt-encrusted chariots.


But maybe you've suffered long enough the slings and arrows of outrageous salt stains on your pant cuffs and black overcoat, and are finally ready to make a “clean” start. Well good on you then, and to help you in your noble cause, we present these winter car cleaning tips, gleamed from recent conversations with a couple of battle-tested experts.

Winter adds two obvious wrinkles to the car washing exercise — freezing temperatures and salt. David Lee is the owner-operator of L.A. Detail, which shines up vehicles for many national accounts, including Toyota Canada and Mazda Canada. If you’re hand washing your vehicle, he cautions to keep an eye out for when the water starts to ice up on your vehicle or on your brush.

“You don’t want to be scrubbing frozen grit and salt over your car,” notes Lee. He adds that you are probably better off holding back on any mitt or brushwork entirely during winter, and just let soap and water do their thing.

If fact, he recommends no-touch or soft-cloth automatic washes, for the convenience, for the non-scratch safety factor, and for the better job they do on vehicle undersides.

Either way, as soon as you're done, he advises to get out some terry cloths and wipe down the door and trunk jambs, so that ice doesn’t freeze them shut. To keep door locks from freezing up, Lee also suggests that winter-washers apply lock deicer as soon as possible post-wash.

“And while you have the cloth out, don’t forget the wipers,” says Lee. “Grit and salt will build up on that top layer of the wiper. So wipe it clean and wipe it dry. Same thing for the wiper arm. They need to be flexible to work, but after a car wash they can freeze in one position.”

After the wash, also be sure to set your HVAC system to defrost, which utilizes the car’s air-conditioning system to remove the extra moisture the wash has just introduced into the car, otherwise you will immediately “fog” up.

Reg Pizzimenti is a well known anti-rust advocate. His auto refinishing shop in Scarborough, Ont. was one of the pioneers of “wet” rust-proofing treatments. If your vehicle received such an annual treatment, Pizzimenti advises not to pressure wash the underside — leave the oil there to do its job.

But he’s all for weekly body panel and wheel well rinsing during winter: “Salt doesn’t really hurt paint. Humidity and condensation makes unprotected metal rust. Salt accelerates the process.” For that reason, he suggests getting salt off your vehicle whenever you can, especially as every vehicle has its share of rust “entry points.”

“Pay attention to any paint nicks, gaps, seams, and where parts are bolted onto the body. These are the entry points for rust. It gets under the paint and grows from there.”

Both Pizzimenti and Lee both caution about getting too caught up over winter cleanliness — it’s an unwinnable battle that will just drive you nuts.

Lee says save your energy for the major spring cleanup, when your efforts will have some staying power, and give you more satisfaction. And don’t wait too long. By early spring there will be more salt and more moisture on the road than at any time during the winter.

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