Prepping your Car for Winter: The Ultimate Detailing Guide

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I live in a state that sees below freezing temps, snow, and ice for a third of the year.

Over the years I have learned exactly what it takes to protect and preserve your car from Winter whether it’s a garage queen or your daily driver.

It’s comforting to know that I don’t have an uphill detailing battle when spring comes around or when take my garage queen out of hibernation.

You don’t have to go to the extreme that I do. If you just follow most of these steps you’ll be in great shape come spring time.

Prepping the Exterior of Your Car for Winter

  1. Cleanse your paint. Use a clarifying car wash shampoo that doesn’t have any fillers, glossifiers, or waxes like CarPro Reset to wash your entire car. Pay special attention to your wheels, bumpers, and rocker panels since they’ll be hit by the snow, salt, and brine the most.
    CarPro Reset - Intensive Car Shampoo 1...
  2. Spray your whole car down with a fallout remover like CarPro Iron-X. Skip if you’ve done this within the last year (or two if your car is a garage queen).
    CarPro Iron X Iron Remover 1 Liter with...
  3. Clay your entire car. Use a clay mitt, like the Nanoskin Clay Mitt, or a clay bar to clay your entire car, including your wheels if they are painted.
    Nanoskin (AS-016) AutoScrub Fine Grade...
  4. Correct your paint. Compound and polish any imperfections in your paint so it’s as clean and smooth as it can be. We want the wax, sealant, or coating to have the best surface to adhere to for the long haul. This includes wheels if they are painted or clear coated (most factory wheels are).
  5. Apply a wax, sealant, or paint coating to the entire car. I recommend using a sealant like CarPro Reload. For coatings I prefer McKee’s 37 SiO2 Paint Coating for ease of application and price. Make sure to get complete coverage of the bumpers and rockers.
    McKee's 37 MK37-260 Paint Coating Sio2...
  6. Seal the wheels. You can either use the same sealant or coating you used earlier or you can buy wheel specific sealants and coatings. I haven’t found much difference in the two on painted or clear coated wheels.
  7. If you went the sealant or coating route, you can apply an additional sacrificial coating of wax on the bumpers, rockers, and wheels. I recommend Collinite 845 Insulator Wax. It’s a very durable for a wax. Originally designed for boat hulls! Just make sure you read the instructions on your sealant to make sure it has cured before you apply the wax.
    Collinite 845 Insulator Wax
  8. Protect your tires. Adam’s VRT is a solid tire protectant.
    Adam's VRT Vinyl, Rubber, Tire & Trim...
  9. Treat your seals. The seals around your doors and trunk are most likely made of EPDM which responds well to Glycerine, an ingredient in Zymol Seal Conditioner. This will keep the dry winter air from my drying out your seals and will help prevent sticking when the doors are frozen.
    Zymol Seal, soft seal Conditioner - 8.5...
  10. Apply a rain repellent to the windshield. The original Rain-X liquid windshield treatment is a recommended repellent. It’ll help shed water and reduce ice buildup. You can either use a glass coating or wax on the remaining windows.
    RainX 800002243 Yellow Windshield...
  11. Replace your wiper blades. Beam type blades work best in icy conditions.
  12. Fill your washer fluid with a de-icing washer fluid. This will not only help you clear your windows without a harsh scraper but will keep your washer fluid from freezing up and busting your tank and lines.
  13. Clean the undercarriage (if you have the means).

At this point the exterior of your car is ready to fight off the onslaught of salt, water, and ice throughout the winter. Now it’s time to turn to the interior!

Prepping the Interior of Your Car for Winter

  1. Vacuum all the things!
  2. Clean your seats, armrests, steering wheel, and anything you’ll eventually tough with cold, wet hands and clothing. This will help prevent setting in stains from dirt that may have built up over the summer.
  3. Install all-weather mats. Factory All-Weather mats and mats from companies like Weathertech and Lloyds will help contain the mess of melding snow, salt, and brine. Salt water wreaks havoc on your carpet and underlying padding. I have All-Weather mats in all my cars and every time it becomes my favorite purchase for the vehicle.

And that’s it! If this is your DD it’ll stand the best chance it has against the winter assault. If it’s your garage queen then you’ll rest easy knowing it’ll rest perfectly preserved all winter and be near ready to drive come spring.

Maintaining Your Daily Driver Car During Winter

After the prep, you need follow some simple guidelines to help prevent damage to your car over winter.

  1. Wash it. I know it sucks, but the less time you let salt and brine stick to your car the better. Ideally you’ll still do a two-bucket wash. You can use lukewarm (not hot!) water and wear vinyl gloves over a pair of insulated gloves to keep your digits happy.
  2. Vacuum it. Don’t let the salt crystals you track in build up. Periodic vacuuming is a must.
  3. Never use an ice scraper on your paint. Leave the ice scraper usage for your glass, being careful of the perimeter where the body starts.
  4. Use deicing liquid that’s paint safe such as Rain-X or Nextzett De-Icer. They also make a washer fluid.
    Rain-X 5075516 De-Icer Trigger Spray -...
  5. Don’t use a brush to remove snow. There is no avoiding snow removal, especially since it’s illegal in many states to drive a car covered in snow and thick ice. Use tools like the Sno-Brum (you can cover it with a microfiber towel for added safety) for gently and easily pushing snow off of your vehicle. Just try to avoid dragging it directly across the surface of the paint or digging in with it. Gentle pushes!
    SNOBRUM – The Original Snow Remover...
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