Preparing vehicles for the winter months - Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Preparing vehicles for the winter months

Shield customers’ cars from months of snow, sleet and slush damage.

The winter season is quickly approaching again, and for most of the country, it comes with cold temperatures, road grime, salt, snow and freezing rain — all of which will pose a threat to the interior and exterior surfaces of your customers’ cars.

If you do not already, consider offering a special car winterizing service. The following are some good methods to consider for preparing vehicles for the winter months. Then, once they are ready for the season, you will want to inform your customers to be diligent about bringing their cars in for maintenance so they can protect their investments and save time in the long run.

Prep and protect the paint

Before protecting the paint, you want to make sure you prepare the surface properly for maximum shine and protection. Wash and dry the vehicle to knock off any dust or debris that may be on the paint. Next, make sure none of the surface contaminants listed above are bonded on the paint. If there are, clay the paint to remove the contaminants and make the paint as smooth as glass.

Next, examine the paint, checking for below surface defects. If there are defects, you will want to select a mild paint cleaner or compound. Then, an optional step is to use a polish or glaze that will maximize depth of shine with nutrients and oils before getting protection on the surface. Once you have the surface ready, it is time to protect.

One of the most important things is having ample protection on the paint so that there is a sacrificial barrier between the paint and the outside elements. A traditional carnauba wax would be a good choice offering both great depth of shine and good protection. However, a synthetic polymer would be an even better choice, as it is going to offer more durability and last longer in those cold winter months. If the car has chrome bumpers or chrome cladding, it would be safe and effective to put a wax or polymer over those surfaces as well.

Then, in the dead of winter, urge your customers to come back for a wash as frequently as possible. This won’t always be realistic with freezing temperatures, but when the opportunity is there, they should come to wash and clean both the paint and undercarriage. The longer salt and road grime sit on these surfaces, the more they are going to run the risk of causing damage.

Shield the glass

Maximizing a customer’s visibility is extremely important, especially when weather conditions make it challenging to see. To thoroughly clean the exterior of the glass, we recommend using a clay bar system. This is a safe way to really clean the glass, strip off any bonded contaminants and debris and provide for maximum optical clarity.

Afterwards, you will want to consider applying a water repellant product to the exterior of the glass, especially on the front windshield. This will help provide water beading and ultimately allow the water to roll off the glass easily, which will help keep it cleaner. Make sure to use a good automotive glass cleaner and a high quality microfiber towel to clean all glass surfaces as needed — this will ensure continued clarity and visibility.

Buffer the headlights and taillights

Another key factor in preparing vehicles for the winter and maximizing visibility and safety during the those months is to ensure that drivers can see and be seen. Take a moment to inspect the headlights and taillights.

If they have become cloudy, yellow or hazed, this will impair visibility and is something that you will want to address.

Whether you want to work by hand or by machine, there are a variety of products in the market that will clean, restore and protect clear plastic headlights and taillights, depending on how badly they are damaged. Select the appropriate product and follow the directions carefully to restore these surfaces and increase optical clarity.

Once the headlights and taillights are fully cleaned, or if they are already in “like new” condition, it is a good idea to try to get some protection back on those surfaces. If the system you use does not include a protectant, you could apply a wax or synthetic polymer on the lenses. Just make sure it is a protectant that does not have cleaners or abrasives in it, and apply very thinly and evenly to avoid streaking and smearing.

Fortify the wheels

Wheels will quickly accumulate grime, salt and contaminants throughout the course of winter, and getting these materials off the wheels will help prevent unwanted permanent damage. Use a high quality brush that will be effective yet gentle on the wheels. Wheels are tricky, as they can be composed of many different types of materials and have different types of coatings.

Do your research to make sure you know exactly what the surface is that you are working with and then select your wheel cleaner accordingly. If you have any doubt, contact the wheel manufacturer for its recommendations. Then, always follow the directions explicitly so that you do not cause damage. We always recommend making sure the rims are cool to the touch, that you are working in the shade and that you work one wheel at a time.

Something else to consider is aftermarket brake components, such as calipers. You will want to keep alkaline or acidic wheel cleaners off these surfaces to prevent causing damage. If the wheels are painted or clear coated, you could put a good coat of wax or synthetic polymer on them to help offer protection and help shed off dirt and debris quicker. Ultimately, using the right product on the right surface and in the proper way will help to keep the wheels in great condition.

Brace exterior trim

Much like the paint, exterior trim pieces will take a beating throughout the course of the winter. If you are working with painted trim pieces, you will just want to put a synthetic polymer on them when you are putting a coat of wax on the paint. Again, urge customers to wash frequently to remove snow, dirt and debris.

If you are working with non-painted trim pieces that are traditionally black or grey, you will want to clean them thoroughly with something like a diluted all-purpose cleaner and a brush to remove any preexisting dressing and allow for the protectant to stick better.

Follow very thinly and evenly with a good vinyl/rubber protectant. Then, advise customers to come back frequently for a carwash during winter and a periodical reapplication of the vinyl/rubber protectant.

Safeguard interior surfaces

When preparing vehicles for the winter, consider that a vehicle’s interior is often neglected during the cold, wet months when clothes and soiled shoes drag in dirt and moisture can get on surfaces. If a car has leather seats, you will want to protect them to help prevent staining. You will need the right leather product for your needs, a foam applicator and a high quality microfiber towel to remove product.

Usually, you will want to work the product in very thinly and evenly and wipe off any excess with your microfiber towel. Then, if moisture gets on the leather, it will give the seats a protective barrier, making it less likely to stain or spot. Let customers know that if they do get a stain or a spot, they should work with a good leather cleaner as quickly as possible to gently clean it and come back to follow up with good protectant after.

With carpets and upholstery, you can protect them with something made exclusively for those surfaces. If any sort of unusual odor should manifest, use a good odor-eliminating product to keep things smelling fresh and clean. Tell customers to maintain by vacuuming on a regular basis and using a good carpet and upholstery cleaner to clean stains as quickly as they can, or to bring it back in for service.

Taking the extra time and steps to winterize customers’ cars will not only ensure that they have the maximum protection on all surfaces before winter has arrived, but it also pushes them to return for routine surface maintenance during the cold months to keep their cars looking their best for years to come.

Mike Pennington has over 22 years of experience with Meguiar’s Inc. ( and serves as Director of Training and Consumer Relations. He is one of the foremost experts in the world on proper car care techniques and a lifelong auto enthusiast.

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