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Opinion: Please, Just Wash Your Car in the Winter


Lately, California has been a very dry state, with less rain and snow than we are used to. As my wife and I like to ski, this was a Bad Thing, but finally, finally, the weather turned, and has been consistently wet for the past few weeks. Since this has happened, my wife and I have gone skiing a few times, driving up to the mountains in our car. As anyone who lives in a snowy environment will know, this resulted in our car becoming the dirtiest thing on the road. As it was a white car, this grunge was even more pronounced, and the color hid the road salt that had accumulated on the vehicle. Something had to be done.

Snow Dirty
This is how a car will commonly look, even after only a brief time on snowy roads.

While my wife does not give it much thought, I am very particular about the cleanliness and ‘healthiness’ of my cars exterior. Not only do I try to have a clean car as much as I can, I am conscious of the way I clean my car, something not many people do. While whole websites have been dedicated to methods of cleaning a car, I will limit myself to saying that I never use automatic car washes. While the result might be a clean, shiny car for a few days, such a car wash can leave a much longer lasting effect. If you use a car wash with brushes than your car is being hit and beat with brushes, which if they even have one piece of grit on them, will cause small amounts of damage. As these car washes have many, MANY, dirty cars go through them, the brushes certainly have grit and debris on them. The resulting damage can look like swirl marks, degraded clear coat, and other paint damage.

Some drivers, perhaps thinking of this potential damage, seek out touch-less car washes. These can be just as damaging, although through a different means. The strong jets of water these touchless car washes use can only clean a car so well, especially heavily soiled cars. To ensure that all cars that pass through the wash are cleaned, these car washes use heavy, harsh chemicals to strip away the dirt from your paint. Unfortunately, these chemicals also strip away any waxes and sealants used on the outside of your car, meaning the paint or exterior plastics will be exposed directly to the elements.

Always try and hand wash your vehicles when you have the chance.

With the snow grime and road salt eating through my vehicle’s sealants and paints, I decided to bring out the car washing supplies, and give my car a quick once over. Nothing fancy; merely a body wash and shampoo. As I live in California, I also made sure to look up my local water restrictions: I was in the clear. When washing a car, I use the bucket method; I have three buckets which I use after wetting my car, in an effort to use the least amount of water when washing my car. I also have a hand-control valve for my hose, as required by California’s water restrictions, further cutting down my water use. Don’t worry, this all comes into play later.

Bucket Wash
While this is not my car, the number of buckets works. If you are curious about what ‘bucket washing’ is, let me know in the comments and I can do a write-up!

After filling my three cleaning buckets—soapy water, dirty water, and wheel water—I hosed my car down briefly. I had to be quick, as rain was forecast in a couple of hours, however I was not concerned because I could pull my car into my garage to shield it from getting re-dirty from the rain. Washing my car took about an hour and half, and during that time, a few neighbors drove by. Every single one of them gave me the look you give a crazy person wandering the streets.

Every. Single. One.

While I would like to be able to express my bewilderment at this scorn—for that is what it was—deep down, I knew that is what I should expect. Driving around Northern California where I live, it is not uncommon to see cars that go the entire wet season without a wash, simply letting the filth sit on their exteriors. The owners usually seem to have the mindset of, “the rain will clean it away” or “why clean it when it will just get dirty again?”.

Dirty Car
What I imagine some of these cars look like come April or May and they finally get washed.

I pity their vehicles paint.

Considering where I live is quite balmy compared to the rest of the U.S., there are not many reasons for this attitude. Now, if it were -13 and we were in feet of snow, I would be more sympathetic. As I pulled my car into the garage, knowing it would be one of the cleaner cars on the road for a day or two, I still didn’t quite get it. Only a couple hours of work, and I know that not only is my car clean, its paint is preserved just a bit longer.

Wash your cars people, even in winter.

Especially in winter.

Like the article? Want to read more like it? Check out my website, for weekly history articles and more besides. If I missed something or if you have a question, feel free to leave a comment below, and don’t forget to hit the like button.

Stephen Hyden View All

I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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