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Ah, the joys of winter — snow-covered landscapes, chilly breezes, and cozy evenings by the fire. As picturesque as it may seem, winter can wreak havoc on your car. Snow, frost, ice, and all their melting variations (not to mention road salt) conspire to ruin your pristine ride. Of course, your first instinct is to clean your vehicle. But is it safe to wash your car in the winter without damaging it? 

Temperature matters

Winter car wash
A car getting washed | Silas Stein/picture alliance via Getty Images

You might be tempted to brave the cold and give your car a bath, but it’s essential to do so at the right temperature. The magic number is 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius), the temperature at which water freezes.

“The temperature should be between 50 and 89 degrees,” Firestone Complete Auto Care recommends. Washing your car when the temperature is above freezing is ideal because water can freeze on your vehicle’s paint, glass, and other parts.

Safety precautions for winter car washing

Here are some precautions to ensure your winter car wash goes off without a hitch:

  • Wash one section at a time: To prevent the soap and water from freezing before you can rinse them off, tackle one section at a time. Start with the roof and work your way down from back to front. This method keeps each section wet for a shorter period, reducing the risk of freezing.
  • Use recommended products and solutions: Not all car wash products are created equal. Opt for winter-specific solutions designed to work effectively in lower temperatures. Also, you can find de-icing fluids at your local auto shop.
  • Don’t forget the tires: Tires are often an afterthought during a car wash, but they are crucial in the winter. Clean tires not only look better but also provide better traction on icy roads. Use a tire cleaner and brush to ensure they’re spotless.
  • Thoroughly dry your car: After washing your car, dry it thoroughly to prevent water from freezing on the surface. Pay extra attention to door seals, locks, and crevices where water can hide.

Benefits of winter car washing

A worker pours road salt onto the street during winter.
A worker shovels road salt | Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

Now, you might wonder if washing your car in winter is even worth the trouble. But it isn’t just about maintaining appearances; it’s about protecting your investment. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t skip washing your car in the wintertime:

  • Salt and corrosion prevention: If you live where road salt is used to combat icy conditions, washing your car regularly in the winter is a must. Salt can corrode your vehicle’s paint and metal components, leading to rust and damage. By washing it off, you extend your car’s lifespan.
  • Ice buildup prevention: When you wash your vehicle, you’re not only removing dirt and grime but also melting accumulated ice or snow. That reduces the risk of ice forming in unexpected places, such as under your car’s wheel wells or in your engine bay.
  • Improved visibility: Clean windows and mirrors are essential for safe winter driving. Removing the winter grime from your car’s glass surfaces enhances visibility, reducing the chances of accidents.

Embrace the winter car wash for a clean and protected ride

Washing your car during the winter can be safe and beneficial for your vehicle if you take precautions. Remember to choose a day when the temperature is above freezing, use appropriate products, wash one section at a time, and dry all surfaces thoroughly. By following that maintenance routine, you’ll not only keep your ride looking good but also protect it from the harsh winter elements. 

Embrace the winter car wash as part of your seasonal routine, and your car will thank you with a sparkling shine, improved resale value, and longevity on the road.