Originally published January 6, 2016
So, I’m in the lineup at the local gas station car wash the other day. The kind with rotating brushes and nozzles that gush frothy, multi-colored soap.
I watch the work van in front of me enter the car wash, and I notice something frightening.
The chrome bumper on the back of this mid-nineties van is rusty as all heck, rotten, and has several exposed segments that look like the inside of a Passion Flakie, but filled with rust and dirt, not pastry and frosting.
The rotating brushes hit the rear bumper as the van rolls in, and I imagine rust chunks becoming dislodged and implanted within them. Scary thought, if you’re the next guy in line, about to get a car wash from a 500-RPM brush impregnated by sand, salt, and chunks of rusted metal. Or, maybe the water spray and high-speed rotating action of the brushes flings the rust flakes harmlessly aside.
What I know, though, is that friends and I refer to car washes like this as the local “Scrape and Wash”, and there’s probably a reason why.
In any case, options are abundant when it comes to keeping your ride’s body clean in the winter, and the benefits are just as numerous. Here’s a highlight, and some pros and cons, of several popular choices in winter car washing.
The DIY, in your driveway
This method is convenient, easy, doesn’t require you to go to a place, and is just about free, as you’ll be using your own water, soap and supplies. Plus, the time you save can be used doing an extra-good cleaning job. Also, washing your car at home, in the driveway, in winter, is a great way to get some interesting looks and comments from passersby, the neighbours, and the wife and kids.
Careful! The ice formed when you wash your ride in the driveway in January will probably make you and your loved ones slip and fall, become entangled in frozen garden hose, and wind up buried in a snowfall, only to be discovered by the mailman, frozen in place, when things melt in April. The neighbours will all give you concerned looks and question your sanity, though they’re unlikely to say anything.
It’s an unseasonably warm winter across most of Canada so far, so this amusing car-wash option is probably more viable this year than any in recent memory. If you wind up tackling the DIY driveway car wash this year, be sure to remember the rules: don’t use dish soap (because you drive a Kia, not a Corningware), don’t wash your wheels with the same brush as its body (because of abrasive brake dust), and don’t forget to spend a few bucks on a proper, quality car-wash soap and a good wash-mitt.
Automatic Car Wash at your favourite gas station
These car washes are convenient, typically very fast, and you don’t have to get wet, or even get out of your car at all (unless the car wash rips off a wiper blade or a license plate, which will require your attention). Touchless options are available at many stations, which may be safer for your paint, as nothing but high-pressure water contacts your ride. Most of these car washes offer an undercarriage rinse, which is a great idea to clean your ride’s nether-regions of excess salt and sand in the winter months. Best of all, numerous gas station franchises offer discounts on car-wash passes, good for a deal when you buy a bundle of washes, or a once-a-day wash for a certain period of time. Split the volume pass with a friend or family member for added value.
Automated washes can damage your ride’s finish if there’s ice and snow frozen to your car during brushing, so you’ll want to make sure your vehicle is free of any icy buildup. When buying a single wash, pricing can be high. Some automated car washes have limited drying performance, which can cause to water freeze to wipers, door locks and window seals if it’s cold out. Most automated washes won’t clear slush boulders from wheel wells, either.
Used once or twice a week with the undercarriage wash, an automated car wash should help fend off the negative effects of winter on your ride’s underside and fight rust in the process. Careful with high-pressure washing of an older ride, though, as water may get past weather seals and inside of the car, or peel away at damaged paint or other finishes. Why not share a season pass with your family? Many reset every 24 hours, aren’t tied to a specific car, and if used daily, work out to just a few bucks a wash.
The Coin-Op DIY wash
This is a solid option for those folks who truly love their rides. The results are up to you: from a full wash to a quick rinse of vulnerable or frozen areas, including wiper nozzles, wheel wells and safety cameras, the local coin-op wash will let you get your ride cleaned up and thoroughly rinsed for $5 or less. Clean the body and the underside, clear the wheel wells of slush-boulders, or blast nasty sand and road grit buildup from your brakes. The level of precision here is a big draw, and you won’t look like a goof doing it in your own driveway.
Bundle up! Most coin-op washes don’t have enclosed garages, so you’ll still have to get outside and handle hoses and nozzles that are cold and wet. Careful, as water can freeze to your car when it’s below zero, and there are typically no dryers. Bring a towel to dry door and window seals so they don’t freeze up once you’re finished. A battery-operated leaf blower makes for a quick and effective portable dryer, too, if you’ve got one.
For three or four bucks every few days, the local coin-wash is a convenient, fast way to clean winter yuckiness from your ride with pinpoint accuracy. Further, did you know that winter is a great time for sand to build up around your ride’s brake system, causing uneven gouging and accelerated wear to your pads and rotors? Many mechanics blame premature brake wear on sand-related chewing-up of pads and rotors in winter, and recommend flushing these clean where possible. Blast some high-pressure water towards your ride’s brake discs to keep built-up sand under control.
The Detailers at your local wash-up shop, or dealer
If you go for a top-line detailing treatment, your car gets professionally cleaned, indoors, where everything melts off, and experts can take their time on the job without freezing. Special waxes and sealants can be applied, which are an especially good idea to help seal and protect the paint on your new car while its brand spanking new. A trip to the detailers is like taking your car to the spa, and is even better if your ride can be left inside overnight to thaw out and un-freeze.
Detail shops are among the priciest options for cleaning your ride, and you may be without a car for anywhere from an hour to a day, depending on the package you opt for. Note that some shops have a “while you wait” service that gives your ride a thorough clean in short order while you chug back free coffee and look at cat videos on the free wifi in the lobby.
If you’re treating your ride to a full detail experience once or twice this winter, consider having it done at the dealer. This can offer added convenience, as your ride can also get its oil change or tune-up while it’s in the shop, have tire pressures checked and adjusted, and the like. Winter accessories, if required, can be added to your ride easily, too.