As the worst of winter is (hopefully) behind us, it is time to start thinking about everyone’s favorite task: spring cleaning. Just like our closets, refrigerators and desk drawers, cars require special attention and cleaning after winter. Thorough post-winter cleaning can not only help a car look and run better as warm weather approaches, but it can also extend the life of a vehicle by bringing attention to any possible minor damage before it can become a major issue and lead to expensive breakdowns or system failures.

Impacts of winter weather: the seen and the unseen

Drivers who live in areas prone to snow, sleet and icy road conditions are very familiar with the cosmetic toll to their vehicles. With below-freezing temperatures and messy and salty roads persisting for much of the winter, drivers put off trips to the carwash and postpone dealing with the dirt and grime until the weather clears. However, beyond the aesthetics of a dirty exterior and interior, allowing road salt and other winter muck to linger on a vehicle can cause corrosion and damage to crucial components on the vehicle’s underside.

Beyond the paint, chrome, floor covering and cargo area, other systems can suffer during extreme cold. Windshield wiper and washer systems will be working harder than usual to clear snow, ice and salt spray. This can lead to rapidly-wearing blades, frozen washer nozzles and even bent wiper arms.

Cold temperatures are particularly harsh on rubber items, including tires, which are also prone to trauma caused by potholes and poor winter road conditions. Multiple encounters with potholes can lead to scratched and dented wheels.

Furthermore, road debris, including sand and salt, can be kicked up more often in the winter, leading to chipped windshields and damaged light assemblies.

There is a lot for carwash professionals and detailers to keep an eye out for when serving clients during the winter and early spring, even though not all of the above issues can be handled by a cleaner or detailer. However, as a service to clients, you should always keep an eye out for things like damage to the undercarriage or windshield and alert clients to earn their goodwill and, more importantly, keep them safe.

Spring cleaning: the basics

Since many drivers will put off a thorough cleaning until winter is over, springtime visits to a carwash facility should include a few simple but important offerings.

First and foremost is a complete “top to bottom” vehicle wash. Special attention should be paid to areas like the door jambs, wheels, tires, wheel wells and, of course, the entire undercarriage.

The car’s interior requires its own focus after winter, particularly if the driver has not invested in rugged, all-weather floor liners. In addition to a thorough vacuuming, it can be good to offer a deep cleaning of the carpeting and mats, which are likely full of salt, sand and mud that have been tracked in on boots all winter long. Do not forget to offer a vacuum and deep clean of the trunk and cargo area, where wet skis and sleds may have been stored.

Kicking it up a notch: comprehensive services and add-ons

For customers stopping in for their end-of-winter visits, professional detailing and cleaning shops may want to offer additional services for an added cost. As a best practice, always explain the value and benefit of such added services to the customer rather than just positioning it as an upsell.

If drivers understand the importance of a particular task and how it may impact their safety and ability to drive, they are more likely to take you up on an offer.

Since winter conditions will strip the wax from painted surfaces, a complete wax and detailing is a logical add-on to the exterior wash. Moving on to less-traditional detail shop offerings, consider a tire service that includes checking tread depth and setting tire pressures as per the manufacturer’s tire label (usually found in the driver’s door jamb).

Let the customer know if any tires are below 3/32 inches, as this is an indication that the tires should be replaced. While you are there, note any damage (bubbles in tire sidewalls, scratched or dented rims, etc.), and inform the vehicle owner that he or she should get the car to a shop as soon as possible.

As stated earlier, the windshield wiper/washer system works overtime during winter. Offer to check the rubber blades, and at a minimum, inform the customer of their condition. If you have them available, new wipers, both front and rear, can be installed on the spot. Washer solvent is an easy addition as well — fill the reservoir and check and re-aim any nozzles that may have been displaced during the winter.

Setting yourself up to offer some or all of the above “extras” will require some minor inventory investments. Shop equipment and supplies may need to include an air compressor, tire pressure and tread depth gauges, bulk washer solvent and a selection of wiper blade refills in a variety of common sizes. While there are upfront costs to be borne, these services will bring in added revenue, potentially all year long, as tire and wiper checks certainly do not need to be confined to the end of winter.

Finally, as mentioned previously, when checking the vehicle as part of a wash and detailing service, stay on the lookout for larger issues such as cracks, chips and dents. If your facility is not equipped to perform these types of larger repairs, make sure to tell the customer about them and suggest a visit to his or her mechanic. You may even want to suggest a service center, if that customer does not have a preferred shop already. A simple act of mindfulness can go a long way and give clients a reason to think of you the next time they need a carwash.


Richard Reina is a lifelong automotive expert with 30 years of experience. Currently, he works as the product training director for CARiD.com, one of the largest online retailers of aftermarket auto parts and accessories.