What’s Your Winter Car Wash Protocol?

Washing cars when it's cold out is miserable—but it's also critical. You don't want to let wet salt sit on your paint and undercarriage for a whole season.
Andrew P. Collins

I had a riotously good time ice racing on Lake Elmore in Vermont last weekend (a story for another day). But when I returned to base after 250 miles of Northeastern highways, my Honda was saltier than an airport bar margarita. I know I’m not the only one with this ugly reality, so I’m curious, what’s your winter car wash protocol?

Lately, I’ve been cruising through drive-thru automated car washes. I know, it’s harsh on paint, sometimes I’m just too cold to care. The downsides are real, though. Touch-free car washes use harsh chemicals to remove grime and intense, focused water pressure for aggregation. Soft-touch car washes, well, they touch your car and are liable to leave marks. That’s especially concerning when your car’s got big clumps of salt on its sides already, they’re liable to get swished around. Neither option is ideal.

On my old track-beater Civic, the salt stresses me out more than scratches. And sometimes I just can’t be bothered to get wet in the cold. So through the automated wash I went. I won’t make a habit of that, though.

When possible or practical, I like to use the regular old spray booth, donning some heavy-duty chemical-handling gloves to keep my fingers from freezing off. These are a real boon for keeping dry, but they’re also thick enough that I can hold myself up on the craggy concrete without hurting my palm. This is good for getting low and hitting the undercarriage with the spray gun.

Dishwashing gloves won’t do it—I got these heavy-duty bad boys at a hardware store, they’re very thick but let you retain decent dexterity. Andrew P. Collins

Frankly, I don’t love washing cars at all and I’m not particularly good at it even in fair weather. But I also don’t want road salt silently eating away at the vehicles I use in New York in winter months.

So who’s got tips or tricks for keeping their car clean in a cold climate?