Many believe spring and summer are the best times to wash and wax our cars, which is true for us, but not necessarily our cars. The season that destroys cars is winter, what with all the dirt, corrosive road salts and melting snow. Unfortunately the damage often goes unnoticed until its too late for a cheap fix. Car care by definition is anything that provides direct service to the vehicle. But what about common sense maintenance?
Connecticut-based zyml Enterprises, makers of high-quality car care products since 1980, says there are at least 20 easy ways to increase the service life of your car, keeping it looking great through this winter and many winters to come. Zyml products and other car care tips are available online at www.zymol.com
1. FORGET DAD: Dont get us wrong – we love dads. They just dont know much about car care. We’ve been instructed to wax the car every spring and fall, but dad would never suggest doing anything to the car in winter because, in many cases, he didn’t have a warm garage in which to work. So first and foremost find a relatively warm location to do these simple winter maintenance tasks.
2. PREPARE: The best preparation is obtaining the shop maintenance manual for your car, which provides extremely detailed maintenance recommendations. It’s available through your local dealer or the factory. Most service intervals are mileage based, which means the tasks you should perform, or have performed, are keyed to how many miles are on your car. The manuals also have a general maintenance section that will tell you what needs to be performed and when. If you cant get a shop manual, follow the guidelines in your cars owners manual.
3. PREPARE SOME MORE: Have you ever felt the frustration of trying to fix something without the right tools? Basic auto maintenance tools include a set of screwdrivers, a good quality socket set, a wash and rinse area that includes warm water, clean terry towels and good quality non-acidic, non-abrasive cleaners, conditioners and waxes. Mix all of the above with common sense, pride and a sense of perfection and you have an unbeatable combination that even old man winter will retreat from.
4. FIND TROUBLE BEFORE IT FINDS YOU: Practice investigative maintenance. For example, todays aerodynamic cars shed water via hidden channels and drains. These collect all sorts of materials like dead bugs, leaves, silt and sand. If you don’t keep them clear, water can collect inside the cars body. When it freezes in winter it can distort panels or even break unseen parts. It also promotes smelly mildew, deteriorates paint and eventually causes the car to rust from the inside out.
5. BE ONE STEP AHEAD OF OLD MAN WINTER: Wash your car more frequently during the winter and don’t forget to wash underneath the car. Most icy roads are kept clear and safe with a corrosive mixture of sand and salt. Ironically, this can cause more costly damage to your car than losing a fender to a guardrail or bending a wheel on a curb. If you do this yourself, add three tablespoons of baking soda to your undercarriage wash water to neutralize the salt and arrest its treacherous activities.
6. A CLEAN MACHINE IS YOUR DREAM MACHINE: Cleaning goes well beyond wash and dry. Just removing surface road grime wont protect your paint from the effects of acid rain and snow, or protect it from the exhaust emissions from the car in front of you. Painted surfaces must be deep cleaned in winter to remove sub-surface contaminants before moisture and a warm winter afternoon (+38F) reactivate them.
7. WAX OR WANE: No single action on your part does more to protect your cars finish, and your investment, than waxing during the winter. Mid-winter waxing is not only a smart way to inspect your car for new damage but it provides a strong barrier to road sand and salt. Only you can decide how much protection you want against old man winter.
8. WHEEL OF FORTUNE: Have you thought about your wheels during the winter? Road sand and salt mixes with snow and slush to form an abrasive and acidic paste that attacks your wheels with a vengeance. This attack is fueled by the wheels temperature, which increases during operation. Rinse wheels as often as possible, before driving, to dilute the salt attacking them. Wash wheels with a non-acidic, non-caustic wheel cleaner, then, unless they are chrome, wax them. Let the wax take the abuse. Not your wallet.
9. YOUR WINDOW ON THE WORLD CAN DESTROY IT: You’ve seen what happens to your windows during a wet winter day. They turn caulk white and become almost impossible to see through. Using the windshield washers to clean this off works fine, but the alcohol in the familiar blue fluid strips off any wax you’ve applied to the body, leaving paint open to the elements. Use high quality window solvents, diluting them to their maximum level and try to limit their use safely.
10. CLOAK AND DAGGER: The best protection against winter is not to drive in it, but for many of us this is impossible. The second best protection is a proper maintenance regiment that doesn’t stop when the weather gets cold. On the contrary, it should increase when the elements are at their worst. Try to garage your car whenever possible. After washing and drying it, use a breathable car cover to prevent ice and soot damage.
11. TO FREEZE OR NOT TO FREEZE: Engines, like people, need to keep their temperatures in check in order to operate efficiently. A proper anti-freeze mixture keeps engine coolant from freezing in the winter. Left unchecked however, this mixture can lose its effectiveness, leading to major problems. Make sure your anti-freeze mixture and engine cooling system are clean and topped off by following manufacturer guidelines. Its also a good idea to occasionally rinse the radiator of road salt (make sure its cool first) and check underhood belt and hose conditions periodically.
12. BE PREPARED TO CHANGE: Your engine and transmission receive more abuse during the winter. Cold starts, when lubricating fluids are thick as molasses, causes immediate wear and tear due to lack of lubrication. Change your engine and transmission oils regularly, also following manufacturer guidelines. Use only the oil grade and viscosity called for in your cars owners manual.
13. THAT OLD CLOTH COAT: Cloth seats and upholstery feel best in winter because they reflect heat quickly and are generally warm to the touch. But cloth can be easily damaged by exposure to oils from your skin, fur coats, and even the air. These oils combine with dirt and silt to form a sticky adhesive that continually attracts more dirt to eventually stain the material permanently. Clean your interior often. If at all possible Scotch Guard your cloth upholstery to make the next cleaning easier.
14. UGH! ITS SNOWING: Brushing snow from a car is sometimes a necessary evil. Be very careful when removing snow and ice. Unless you just washed the car, that snow fell on a dirty surface. Carelessly brushing off snow is doing no less than scraping abrasives across the paint. Be gentle. Lightly use a soft brush in a short, straight pattern without removing all of the snow and ice. DO NOT scrape ice off body panels. It’s unnecessary and can only do harm. And NEVER use warm water to clear a windshield or headlights of ice since the temperature difference can cause the glass to break on contact — not a cheap repair.
15. ALL THE TRIMMINGS: Exterior trim and moldings are prone to more winter damage because they trap salt and dirt and even worse become brittle in very cold temperatures. Use a high quality vinyl and trim protectant. Stay away from those with heavy silicone and formaldehyde treatments that will dry and crack your trim.
16. THE SHINING: Never wax chrome. Chrome needs oxygen to keep its appearance. Wax traps moisture and can cause unsightly bluing and pitting. Clean chrome with a good pre-wax cleaner and leave it alone.
17. THE MAGIC CARPET: Floor mats usually provide carpets enough protection during the mild months, but when your shoes bring in snow, ice and dirt things can get bad. Use heavy-duty rubber floor mats to catch this filth, and place silica gel bags under the seats to absorb any excess moisture in the air.
18. SADDLE UP: Temperature change, improper maintenance and simple use will permanently damage the delicate finish of your leather upholstery and trim. Solvent-based cleaners and conditioners actually accelerate the aging process. Use small amounts of solvent-free leather feeding products on warm leather. Do not use water.
19. INSTANT GASOLINE? Tempted to buy a bottle of Dry Gas to keep fuel lines from freezing up? This methanol product bonds with water molecules and forces them safely through your system. Unfortunately methanol can devour plastic fuel lines and electric fuel pump diaphragms. Be sure to use only factory recommended gas additives.
20. COMMON SENSE, THE BEST PROTECTION: Take the time to look over your car once a week. Look for new threats to your investment. If you are truly involved with your car and want to keep it, treat it well. The extra cost in maintenance is a small price for maximum investment insurance. Protecting your car is not a chore, its an opportunity; an opportunity to beat old man winter at his own game and, if done correctly, keep some of your hard earned dollars–yours.