Pro Tips Make Your Vehicle Shine All Winter Long
A few preventative steps can protect your vehicle no matter what weather you encounter on your travels this winter--and provide a healthy cabin for you and your passengers.
“Those first rains of autumn are oily and greasy and grimy,” said Mike Pennington of Meguair’s car care products. “The contaminants cling to the surface of your vehicle and get into the cabin through wet clothing and dripping shoes.”
The problems are especially pronounced if your family lives or travels in areas prone to harsh weather--the frigid Northeast and East Coast, mountainous regions and extreme cold in the Midwest.
Yet, drivers in places like Florida and the southwest need to prep their vehicles for winter as well.
Subtropical thunderstorms in summer created the kind of problems other areas face in winter--roadway slosh clinging to the sides and underbelly of their vehicles, soiling the interior cabin and creating a hazy film on windows. Protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays help protect vehicle surfaces from ultraviolet rays during warm tropical winters.
Removing Summer’s Dregs
For Pennington, pre-winter car care begins with removing remnants of summer driving. He rattled off a list of the usual summer suspects--sap, bird droppings, pollen, road tar.
Those contaminants can embed themselves in all surfaces of your vehicle throughout winter months. They cause rough, dull surfaces on the exterior and create odors on interior surfaces such as carpeting.
Pennington lives in Southern California where winters are mild, typically balmy. Dry roads tend to accumulate vehicle fluids and dirt. Occasional rains leach out road grime and splash caustic chemicals across side panels, undercarriage and wheels.
The vehicles in Pennington’s household get a thorough washing before he adds a coat of wax. That goes for his commuter vehicles and what he likes to call “weekend rides”—a 1967 Chevy Nova and a German sports car.
Pennington uses a power washer on his vehicles to spray the undercarriage and wheel wells--places where road grime can accumulate and cause corrosion.
“Remember to thoroughly remove heavy duty build-up,” said Pennington, who has worked with Meguiar’s since 1989. “Bug goo is especially harmful.”
Any remaining film and residue is eliminated when Pennington hand-washes his vehicles. He’s particularly careful about insect slime, which is acidic and can cause permanent stains.
Summer camping and off-road adventures encounter insect clouds. Same is true for drivers who live in agricultural areas of the Midwest and insect-prone areas of the Gulf States.
For instance, love bugs in Florida can coat a vehicle grill and hood with thousands of insects. They adhere readily and harden quickly in the warm, sunny climate.
Insects find their way into all vehicle crevices and stick like glue. A simple automated car wash may not remove built-up residue in hard-to-reach places.
Pennington suggests using a coin operated or drive-through car wash for heavily soiled vehicles.
“Afterward, run your hand across the surface of your vehicle,” Pennington said. “Do you feel any rough spots? Take a clay bar and remove contaminants that have bonded to the paint.”
Clay bars are made specifically for use on automobiles. The synthetic, putty-like material gently pulls contaminants off painted surfaces like a magnet picking up pieces of metal.
“Any contaminants left on the surface of the vehicle prevent wax from adhering properly and reduce its effectiveness,” Pennington said. “After your vehicle is clean, then apply wax protection.”
Pennington has a simple way to see if the coat of wax on his family vehicles is working as designed.
“Does water bead up and roll off the surface?” Pennington said.
If his vehicles fail that test, Pennington brings it back to his garage for another cleaning and another coat of wax. Different climates and driving conditions affect how long the wax remains effective.
A Clean, Healthy Cabin
What about the interior?
“Moisture accumulating on and under carpeting can cause mold and odors,” Pennington said. “That’s really tough to eliminate once it starts growing.”
Mold thrives in warm, dark and moist environments—the kind of places found in vehicle cabins. Also, mold spores contribute to allergens and can create an unhealthy cabin environment.
Moist places such as the Eastern seaboard and wet southern climates provide breeding grounds for mold. Yet, mold may occur in any vehicle cabin where moisture accumulates. Common causes include spilled beverages and soiled or wet sports gear.
Also, moisture accumulation may occur anytime drivers keep vehicle windows rolled up for hours or days. Air inside the cabin can get warm, humid and musty.
“Eliminating moisture and summer grime are two easy ways to keep your cabin healthy,” Pennington said.
Carpets may be treated with protective sprays, but Pennington prefers rubber floor mats during winter months. Mats prevent water from winter hikes, trail-running and skiing from coming into contact with carpeted surfaces.
Soiled clothing and gear create a mold breeding ground in vehicle cargo areas. Pennington likes to cover it with a cargo liner to prevent moisture and grit from seeping into carpet fibers.
“Winter excursions can make a hot mess of your vehicle cabin,” said Pennington, who prefers stowing gear in a roof rack.“
The choices drivers take in November reduce cleaning chores throughout winter and make it easier to brighten your vehicle come spring.
“For most places winter care is about protection, not beautification,” Pennington said.
Easy Tips for A Healthy, Happy Ride
Here’s Pennington’s personal list of to-dos for winter car care:
1. Help prevent paint stains and corrosion by removing all summer grime from your vehicle before washing and washing. Pennington likes to drive his rigs to an automated car wash or pull the power washer out of his shed. Be sure to clean off the undercarriage, wheel wells, wheel “windows” and inside the barrels of the wheel.
2. Run your hand across the vehicle surface to check for rough spots where contaminants (pollen, dust, bird droppings, bug goo) have bonded with the paint. If so, use a synthetic clay bar made for automobile surfaces to extract the contaminants.
3. Vacuum the interior of the vehicle thoroughly to remove dirt and any particles that have embedded in the fibers.
4. Wipe off all surfaces and remove grit and soil from seats. That coffee that spilled on your way to work or sap from autumn hikes can stain upholstery and attract more grime.
5. Use a window cleaner designed for automobile glass--it prevents streaks. Make sure to wipe the interior surface as well to remove filmy build-up caused by off-gassing from upholstery, plastics and smoke inside the cabin.
6. Use a quality wax to provide winter-long protection. Carnauba and synthetic waxes remain popular and effective at preventing grime from adhering to vehicle surfaces. The latest ceramic-based waxes provide a sturdier shield that extends protection compared to traditional wax products. Look for “SIO2 technology” or “ceramic-infused.”
“Make sure you have a clean surface before adding wax,” Pennington explained. “Otherwise, it’s like putting sunscreen on greasy hands.”
7. Don’t let rainwater dry on vehicle surfaces. They can cause water spotting and attract contaminants. After a rain shower, wipe off water beads with a silicon blade made for automobiles, or you also can remove droplets with your yard blower.
“I drive my car around a few blocks to air dry it off,” Pennington admitted. “It’s a Southern California thing.”
8. Check your headlights for oxidation. Hazy, yellowed lenses are caused by ultraviolet rays of summer sun. Use a lens restoration kit to brighten your nighttime view.
Pennington emphasized the most important goal, “Clarity, clarity, clarity.”
9. Add some wax and shine to all wheels. Road grime leftover from summer can cause pitting and stains. A layer of wax protection helps keep them protected and looking sharp through winter.
10. Install winter floor mats to prevent dirt and moisture from coming into contact with carpet. Mold from moisture in your carpeted areas can lead to allergy and odor problems.
11. Use a cargo liner to keep soiled sports and hiking gear from turning trunk spaces into a wet and musty substrate for mold.
12. Remove any sticky, grimy spots from seats and upholstery. It attracts dirt that also can lead to discoloration and odor.
13. Treat leather seats with a conditioner to keep them supple. This step is especially important for drivers in warm locations such as California and Arizona where hot summer sun baked interior surfaces.
The same suggestion goes for subtropical climates such as Florida where warm, dry winter weather can damage upholstery. A coat of conditioner helps protect against spills and ultraviolet light--and keeps interior surfaces looking sharp.
14. Consider seat covers for cloth seats during wet months to prevent moisture and grime from embedding into the fibers.
“Frequent car care is easy car care,” said Pennington, using one of his favorite reminders. “The effort you take now saves a lot of time come spring.”