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Can You Wash Your Car in the Winter?

BY: Keith Benline
A man washing his car during the wintertime.

Waking up during the winter months to fresh snowfall and freezing temperatures is enough to make anyone want to stay in, get cozy and enjoy the comforts of the inside. For car owners, though, just as you should take care of yourself when the temperature drops, you also have to take care of your car. After all, proper car care helps keep your car running and reliable, and a reliable car in the winter is essential if you want to avoid getting stuck on the side of the road in snowy or icy conditions. 

When it comes to winter car maintenance, however, one thing often needs to be clarified for some car owners: whether or not they can (or should) wash their cars during the winter. So to help you, let’s take a closer look at this winter car care question and learn more about how winter weather affects your car and how washing it can help keep your car running and you safe this time of the year.

Can I Wash My Car During Winter?

Not only can you wash your car during the winter, but it’s highly recommended that you wash it just as much, if not more, than you would in the spring, summer or fall. In the wintertime, your car will be exposed to snow, sleet, hail and possibly rain, plus the mud and gunk that comes with it. You’ll also have to deal with the chemicals and road salts used to help de-ice roads and driveways. Regularly washing your vehicle will ensure that you don’t end up with this debris clogging or sticking to your car’s frame. 

How Winter Weather Affects Your Car

The time of the year always has a direct impact on any vehicle. Cold weather, in particular, can severely affect your vehicle in several ways. Regularly washing it will allow you to give it a visual inspection and ensure that everything is in top shape. 

Here are a few of the main ways winter weather can impact your car: 

  • Road Salt: Perhaps the most hazardous thing for your vehicle in the winter months is the road salt used when streets, sidewalks and driveways freeze over. Road salt, also known as Sodium Chloride, is incredibly effective when it comes to melting ice and making sure that cars don’t slip and slide all over the road, but it can also wreak havoc on your vehicle when left on for too long. Regularly washing your car will eliminate any salt deposits that might develop and cause corrosion on the frame or body panels during the winter
  • Rust From Moisture: While road salt can cause corrosive issues, the snow and ice clinging to your vehicle can cause rust, which is incredibly detrimental to the body and frame. The water that comes off the road in winter also carries large amounts of dirt and other contaminants, which can quickly deteriorate any vehicle’s metal components and panels, especially if the car is covered in snow for prolonged periods. Washing your vehicle will help eliminate this hazard. 
  • Mud: In the winter months, mud can build up on the streets, get tossed into the underside of your vehicle, and eat away at your car’s frame and suspension. By keeping your vehicle clean, you can be sure that any mud that has built up will be washed away and won’t cause any problems. 
  • Deflated Tires: No matter if it’s hot outside or below freezing, the temperature will always impact a car’s tires. In the winter, the cold air will start to cause your tires to lose tire pressure (also known as PSI) at a rate of up to two PSI every 10-degree drop in temperature. In the winter, washing your vehicle, especially hand washing, will allow you to inspect your tires and ensure they are at the proper pressure. 

How to Wash a Car in Winter

Knowing why you should wash your vehicle during the winter is important but knowing how to properly wash it is essential. Taking extra steps to ensure your car is protected during the harshest months will increase its longevity and performance when the snow starts to fall. 

Also, try to wash your vehicle in a heated garage. This will ensure that ice doesn’t form and sit on the vehicle’s body. Not to mention it’ll help you be more comfortable. 

Use a Vehicle Cleaning Solution

Sometimes, you may be tempted to use dish soap to wash your car. However, dish soap does not have the additives and paint-protecting compounds that a specialized car cleaning solution will have. Using one of these specially-developed solutions, you can be sure that you will protect your car’s paint from harsh road conditions and winter weather

Wash the Exterior Thoroughly

Cleaning cars may seem like a simple, straightforward task, but you must do as thorough a job as possible. Clean the tires, the undercarriage, the bumpers, and the inside of the wheel wells, Be sure to also get the outer panels and windows. This will ensure that you get all the mud and grime out of the cracks and crevices of the vehicle, so it doesn’t cause serious issues. However, never use hot water when washing or trying to de-ice your vehicle, as the sudden temperature change could end up cracking (or shattering) your car’s windows or windshield.

Use Wax

Mr. Miyagi wasn’t just teaching Danny LaRusso the art of Miyagi-Do karate with the famous “wax on, wax off” scene. He was also giving him some excellent car care advice. While a coat of wax can help keep your vehicle glossy, it can also protect the finish from ice and snow coming up off the road. Check your car’s owner’s manual for the recommended frequency with which you should wax it. Most will recommend that you do it every two to six months, so doing it at the beginning of winter should keep your car protected throughout the season. 

Use the Proper Tools

When washing your vehicle, ensure you are prepared and have all the right tools for the job. This should include two buckets for water and cleaning solution, a soft sponge or wash mitt, and clean microfiber towels for drying everything off when you are done. This will ensure that you won’t be fumbling for things once you start. 

Avoid using tools like a pressure washer, however, as you could run the risk of further damaging your 

Wash One Section at a Time

As you work, wash one section of the car at a time, working through each quadrant of the vehicle. Apply the cleaning solution and scrub that section thoroughly, then rinse it off with your bucket of clean water. Then move to the next section and ensure you hit every inch of the car and do not miss any critical areas.

Clean the Interior

A man dressed in a winter coat and hat vacuums out the trunk of his car.

A sparkling exterior means nothing if the interior doesn’t match. Once you’re done cleaning the outside of your car, give the interior a thorough deep cleaning. Vacuum everything thoroughly and scrub any upholstered surfaces with a specially designed cleaner, such as a leather cleaner. Don’t forget all the nooks and crannies, like between/under the seats, inside your center console and more.

A DIY car wash at home can give you an up-close look at your car to ensure everything is running and looking as it should be. But, if you cannot wash your car during the winter, it’s recommended to take it to an automatic car wash at least once every two weeks to help you get rid of that winter grime and gunk that could end up harming your vehicle in the long run. Some dealerships may even provide free car washes for a few years after your purchase if you have a relatively new car.

Protect Your Car Year-Round with Endurance

Keeping your car clean is essential and can do much more than keeping it looking nice. A vehicle that gets regular car washes will have more longevity and perform better, especially when the weather gets extremely cold. Even though your vehicle will get dirty again, washing it regularly is just as important as the routine maintenance and service you give it throughout the year. But If you want to keep your vehicle in the best possible shape and get help paying for the unexpected breakdowns and repairs that can still pop up, a vehicle protection plan from Endurance is your best option. 

Endurance offers a wide range of plans starting at just $79 per month for basic powertrain protection. There are even plans for vehicles that are not traditionally eligible for extended warranty plans, including high-mileage vehicles, older vehicles, cars with rebuilt or salvage titles, and cars used for delivery and rideshare services. All plans include complimentary benefits such as 24/7 roadside assistance and towing, rental car reimbursement, and trip interruption coverage, and are backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can even take your car to any ASE Certified mechanic or repair facility, including your car’s dealership.

All new Endurance customers also get access to our award-winning customer service and the exclusive Endurance Mobile app so you can get to your plan anytime, day or night. Plus, for a small activation fee, you’ll get access to a full year of FREE Endurance Elite Benefits, which include extra perks and savings like tire replacements or repairs, collision discounts, and more.

Protect your vehicle from costly repairs any time of the year by requesting a free, no-obligation quote or calling our customer care team at (800) 253-8203 to learn more about how Endurance can help you. By visiting the Endurance blog, you can find more answers to your biggest car maintenance FAQs and other articles on topics like extended warranty coverage comparisons, vehicle buying guides, and much more.

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