Winter is approaching – we’ve already experienced frosty mornings recently and talk of this summer’s heatwave has already given way to memories of the dreaded Beast from the East.
But for car care enthusiasts, or simply those who love their cars, the winter is about more than blizzards, dark nights and darker mornings. Keeping your car clean during the winter presents a different set of challenges to the summer: during the summer, bug squash, tree sap and even Saharan dust are the main elements to contend with. During winter, the principal issues are the salt and grit combination used to keep roads ice-free, and the freezing (or sub-freezing) temperatures which adhere any waterborne contamination to the car’s surfaces. Salt is notoriously corrosive and it’s not only the residue that causes damage: as snow and ice melt, the salt becomes mixed into the slush resulting in a mixture that is easily splattered onto each surface of the car. Should temperatures drop further, the slushy mix refreezes, bonding to the car with the potential to corrode surfaces.
Therefore regular maintenance washing during the colder months is essential in order to remove these harmful elements and help preserve your car’s cosmetic appearance.
Winter or summer, the key stages of decontamination, pre-wash, wash, rinse and drying remain basically the same.
1. Wheel Washing: Ensure the wheels and brake calipers are cool to the touch, spray UF Safe Wheel Cleaner onto the surfaces and allow to dwell for 2-3 minutes whilst the cleaner gently lifts dirt and contamination away. If required, agitate with a long-handled soft bristle wheel brush such as Wheel Woolies, taking extra care to thoroughly clean around the brake calipers. Alternatively, a high quality ultra-soft wash sponge or wheel-specific wash mitt can be used. Periodically clean the wheel sponge, mitt or brush using a dedicated Wheel Wash Bucket and Grit Guard filled with warm water and a pure shampoo to aid lubricity. It is important to keep wheel wash water separate from the main car wash water to prevent transferring contamination to the car’s paintwork.
Once complete, rinse thoroughly (preferably with a pressure washer) ensuring all cleaner and dirt residues are removed.
2. Wheel Fallout Removal: Removing iron contamination derived mainly from brake dust is essential as the particles are extremely corrosive and if left in place can etch into the clear coat causing pitting. Spray the wheels with a dedicated ferrous contamination remover such as UF Iron+ Fallout Remover and allow to dwell for between 5-10 minutes. During this time the colour change function (from clear to cherry red) indicates the presence of iron particles. During this process the fallout remover shrinks the particles forcing them to break their bond with the wheel’s surface which in turn allows them to be safely rinsed away.
3. Wheel Arches (Optional): Whilst the entire vehicle is exposed to road salts and grime, undoubtedly the wheel arches catch the worst of the conditions. Unfortunately, they’re also the most difficult regions to access and therefore are the most likely to be neglected. If you have access to one, use a trolley jack to raise each corner of the car in turn, as this will allow easier access to the hard to reach areas.
4. Pre-Wash: Dirt caught in wash mitts is the leading cause of scratches and swirls in paintwork – eliminating as much of the dirt and grit as possible before a mitt comes into contact with paintwork during the main wash is the best way to avoid this issue. Use a snow foam pre-cleaner applied through a foam lance attached to a pressure washer if you have one, or alternatively through a pump-up spray foamer. Either way, allow it to dwell on the surface for a few minutes before rinsing off – how long will depend on the ambient air temperature – do not allow the product to freeze. The thick foam sits on the car, encapsulates larger particles of dirt and lifts them away from the surface allowing them to be safely rinsed off with contact.
5. Wash – The Two Bucket Method: The two bucket car washing method is best practice whether you’re washing your car in winter or summer! Have a Wash Bucket with Grit Guard containing soapy wash water and a Rinse Bucket with Grit Guard containing fresh water. Select a wash mitt with a deep pile, either natural wool or microfibre so that, once removed from the panels, dirt particles are kept deep in the fibres away from the surface of the car. This helps prevent wash swirls. Select a high lubricity pH neutral car shampoo with no additives, waxes or gloss enhancers such as UF Pure Shampoo. Pure shampoo rinse off cleanly without leaving residues that in low temperatures could freeze on the surface and/or cause streaking on the finish.
Dunk the wash mitt into the Wash Bucket filled with shampoo solution and clean a panel. Rinse the mitt in the plain water in the Rinse Bucket, brushing the wash mitt across the Grit Guard to release the dirt particles trapped in the pile of the wash mitt. The particles sink to the bottom of the bucket and the Grit Guard helps to keep them there. Wring the mitt out and then reload with wash solution from the Wash Bucket. If the temperature is freezing or below, use warm water in the buckets. Remember to wash one section at a time and then immediately rinse, preventing the suds freezing to the panel and ensuring the dirt is rinsed away. Warm water will also boost the cleaning properties of the shampoo.
6. Rinsing: Impurities (mainly calcium) in tap water can leave unsightly marks and streaks and therefore eliminating these impurities during the rinse will save time and give you a spot free finish. Aqua Gleam De-ionising water filters offer a solution to water spot marks. These innovative filters contain an electrically charged resin which neutralises impurities in the water through ion exchange. De-ionising water filters usually state their purification capabilities in terms of parts per million (ppm), for example neutralising ions in the water to produce de-ionised water to 30ppm or 0ppm . If you have a black car it will show up water marks far more than a lighter coloured car so you may wish to opt for the highest level of filtration available (0ppm). With the impurities in the water largely neutralised, it is usually possible to allow the car to air dry, rather than having to use a drying towel. This time and energy saving benefit is usually the deciding factor for those considering whether or not to purchase a de-ionising water filter!
7. Clay Bar (Optional): Paint finishes are subject to contamination from a variety of chemical, industrial and environmental fallout, such as tree sap, bird droppings, salt and even volcanic ash! These pollutants may not be completely removed by washing alone. Derived from the automotive body shop industry, clay bars are specifically designed to lift these particles away from the paintwork. Depending on the level of contamination remaining on the surface you have two options, (a) treat the whole car or (b) identify the panels that are most affected. If you are going to clay the whole car then use a further application of snow foam as lubrication, if you are treating a small area, use your favourite quick detailer or a specific clay lubricant. Rub the clay bar back and forth with light pressure, you will see a reddish brownish residue on the surface of the bar indicating that the contamination is being successfully removed. After a few passes rub your fingers over the area to feel for smoothness. Periodically fold the clay over to trap the contamination, squash it flat and keep going until the surface feels smooth. Once complete rinse the car once more.
8. Drying – Towels: There are two types of drying towel: the microfibre drying towel and the waffle weave drying towel.
Microfibre drying towels are graded according to grams per square metre (GSM), the higher the GSM, the plusher the microfibre. Most quality examples are constructed from a polyester/polyamide mix – the higher the polyamide percentage, the softer the towel will be. The higher the overall density, the more absorbent the towel is likely to be. The over-woven fibres have their edges split in order to create the microfibre ‘catchy’ feel.
Waffle Weave Drying Towels are also made from a polyester/polyamide mix, but the fibres have been woven in to a pique finish – literally – they look as though they’ve been created in a mini waffle iron – rather than having the edges of the fibres split. The absorbent cups created by the waffle indentations mean these towels have the ability to soak up huge amounts of water. When dry however, they feel less pliable to the touch than the microfibre version which can discourage some people from using them for fear of scratching the bodywork. Used correctly however, the waffle weave drying towel is a highly effective and very popular option.
9. Drying – Touchless Car Dryers (Forced Air Drying): If you are washing the car outside in low temperatures then using a BigBoi BlowR Mini Touchless Car Dryer to dry the vehicle prevents any surface water from freezing and prevents water marks. The BigBoi uses heated, filtered air to chase water off paintwork, metal, glass and chrome. There are two main benefits to using a car dryer: firstly, the touchless method of drying helps prevent incurring accidental scratches in the clear coat and, secondly, the air forces water out from behind badges, trim, and recesses such as mirror housings. This prevents water escaping at a later date and streaking down the paintwork.
Also, using a blower to dry wheels also ensures the calipers are completely moisture free preventing the brakes from freezing. Take care to ensure door, bonnet and boot shuts are dry paying particular attention to the rubber seals: left wet these may freeze the doors shut.
10. Windows: The winter months usually bring inclement weather, with snow, sleet, and icy rain. Coupled with fewer hours of daylight, visibility is often reduced. Windows and wipers need special attention during winter months to keep the glass clear and the wipers working. Take care to clean the rubber edges of the wipers, removing old dirt and grease from the surface. This will help prevent smeary windows and squeaking, juddering wipers. Ensure the washer fluid has been topped up with a windscreen wash solution that won’t freeze as temperatures drop. Ideally, apply a hydrophobic glass sealant to the windows to help repel water and waterborne contamination. Being hydrophobic, these sealants also help prevent snow and ice from sticking to the window, so early morning starts are much easier and faster!
11. Winter Preparation (optional): To make it easier to maintain your car during winter and to offer a much greater level of protection than simply maintenance washing, consider applying a protective coating to the paintwork, wheels, glass and trim before winter sets in. There are three popular types: a nano-ceramic coating; a hybrid coating combining carnauba wax with ceramic elements; or a pure carnauba wax. Each of these provides a hydrophobic barrier resilient to extremes of temperature and pH, thereby limiting the potential for damage from salts, iron particles, and industrial and environmental fallout. For information on longevity and which one is best for you, please refer to an earlier UF article here.
For advice on how to clean and protect your vehicle at home, or to find out more about having your vehicle professionally prepared and protected, call the team on 0333 800 8004, M-F 8am-5pm..
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