Winter. It's the time of the year Mother Nature is mostly likely to wreak havoc on a vehicle's fine finish.
Vehicle cleanliness is the best way to combat the onslaught of damaging weather and road muck and preserve a vehicle's value as well. During the summer, washing the car on Saturday morning might be a nice family tradition, but in the winter, leave it to the folks at the car wash.
That is, in fact, the recommendation of the International Carwash Association (ICA) who says, "Keeping your vehicle clean by frequenting a professional car wash every ten days is one of the best defenses in protecting its finish."
In addition, the group offers these tips to protect and maintain a vehicle's finish during the winter months:
Remind one of the attendants at the full service car wash to thoroughly dry the area around the inside of the door and trunk, as well as around the area where a power antenna is mounted to the car. (This is usually done automatically, but a reminder can't hurt.) When using a self-service car wash, bring a few extra dry towels along to perform these tasks yourself.
Another important task to do at the do-it-yourself car wash: immediately after the vehicle is washed, open and close all doors, the trunk, and other outside parts of the car with locks several times before parking it, making sure all the little hidden areas are dry.
Periodically apply a good silicone spray to all-weather stripping during freezing weather. (Water will not collect evenly on silicone-treated surfaces.)
Further, the ICA offers these tips for year-round care of car exteriors:
Don't wait till it's time to wash the car to remove bug splatters, road tar and bird droppings. Get them off as soon as possible. These elements can leave permanent spots on the paint.
If mud causes constant problems where you live, be aware of the problems the mud causes to a vehicle's finish. Remember to have the mud cleaned from the undercarriage. Undercarriage treatments, offered by most car washes, remove caked-on mud that holds moisture to metal and causes rust and body rot around wheel wells and door sills.
Wax the car every six months. More frequent waxes are needed if the car is red, black or white because these colors are more susceptible to acid rain and UV rays. Be careful to pick out the right product for your car's finish. Consult the owner's manual, check the internet, or ask someone at an auto supply store if you have questions.
An important car care task that can only be performed by the owner is cleaning out the trunk and keeping it clean. A bunch of unnecessary clutter makes it difficult to get to the spare tire in an emergency. A clean trunk is the sign of one who truly values her car. An additional bonus -- having a clean trunk provides plenty of spare room for hauling home new-found treasures.
One of my favorite car gals, Lyn St. James, devotes nearly an entire chapter in her book, "Car Owner's Manual," to cleaning a car. Her "how-to" chapter includes much of the above advice, including a tip on caring for the dashboard and door panels.
"Dashboards should be cleaned regularly with a vinyl cleaner or a mixture of mild detergent and water," says St. James, adding that a liberal coating of vinyl protective spray on a frequent basis helps prevent cracking caused by sunlight. She also recommends treating vinyl door panels with the protective spray.
"In racing," says St. James, "we always say, 'the best-looking cars are the best-running cars.'"
Make your car run better all winter. Keep it clean and looking good. Make Mother Nature the loser in this season's competition.