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When is it Too Cold to Wash Your Car

To keep your car’s finish in top shape, you should wash it regularly to prevent dirt, grime, and contaminants from accumulating. However, as the temperature drops going into the winter, this gets more difficult. 

At a certain point, it’s too cold to safely and effectively wash your car, but what exactly is that point? At what temperature is it too cold to wash your car?

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How Cold is Too Cold?

In short, it becomes too cold to wash your car when the temperature reaches the freezing point of water (32°F or 0°C). The lower the temperature, the riskier it becomes to wash your car. 

While you may still feel like it’s freezing at higher temperatures, as long as it stays above the freezing point of water long enough for you to finish drying your car, you can still wash your car.

Just be sure to wear appropriate clothing and gear for the temperature, keeping in mind that you’ll be working with large amounts of water and will likely get wet during the process. 

What are the Risks of Washing Your Car During the Winter

When you wash your car when it’s overly cold outside, you risk freezing various parts of your vehicle. This can include everything from door handles to hinges to your windshield wipers. 

These frozen parts can make it difficult to open your doors when you need to go somewhere. If the windshield wipers have frozen, in example, they may not be able to work to clear your windshield, impairing visibility.

In the most extreme cases, the moving parts in the engine block become frozen, preventing your engine from starting properly and potentially causing damage.

If you do manage to wash your car when it’s too cold out, or your car gets caught in sleet or freezing rain, there are simple ways to melt the ice so everything functions properly. Car’s with remote start functions can be turned on from the outside to let everything warm up.

If you don’t have a remote starter, you can spray a de-icing fluid in the cracks around the door and along your windshield wipers once the snow has been removed. When freezing rain or sleet is coming, you can also spray your rubber door seals with a little cooking oil to prevent them from freezing shut. 

Why Should You Wash Your Car in the Winter

So, with all the risks involved, you may think you shouldn’t wash your car in the winter.

Yet, washing your vehicle regularuly is a very important part of maintaining your vehicle. The snow and road salts can accumulate on your car, leading to corrosion to your finish and essential components such as fuel lines and brakes. 

When driving your car regularly, you must wash off road salts and snow frequently. Otherwise, they can sit too long and start eating away at your car’s finish and the components along your car’s undercarriage. 

If you allow these corrosive materials to sit on your vehicle all winter, you run the risk of your fuel line starting to leak, your brakes working less effectively, and rust forming on exposed metal parts. 

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How to Wash Your Car in Freezing Temperatures

While it’s preferable to not wash your car in the cold, it can’t always be avoided. With that said, let’s go over the best tips to take care of your car in the winter.

Before you get started, make sure to dress appropriately to stay warm from the elements.

Use Your Garage

Garages are a versatile tool for protecting your car from the elements, no matter the season. Whether it’s protecting your trim from the harsh sunlight in the summer, preventing water spots left by the rain in the spring, or keeping fallen leaves from staining your finish, garages are incredibly useful.

That makes a garage, heated or not, a perfect way to increase the temperature around your car while you wash it in the winter.

If you’d rather not soap up or rinse your car in the garage, you can rinse your car outside, then move it into the garage to dry with your preferred towel. As long as you don’t let it stay out in the cold for too long, you can have a clean car without worrying about frozen doors or windshield wipers.

Just don’t forget about the water on the driveway, either — a little salt or sand can go a long way to keep you from slipping and sliding down.

Wash Under the Sunlight

If you don’t have a garage or similarly enclosed area, try to work in an area with lots of sunlight.

The sunlight will naturally create a warm spot that reduces the risk of water freezing on your car’s surface. It’ll also help you dry your vehicle faster, leaving less time for the water to drop to its freezing point. 

You want to make the most of the available sunlight, especially with the short winter days. Washing your car in the early afternoon, starting around lunchtime, will give you the most amount of warm sunlight.

Use Lukewarm Water

Because the water has to reach 32 degrees to freeze, if you start with warmer water, you’ll have more time to work before the water gets too cold.

However, you want to be careful not to use water that’s too hot. While it might make sense to use water that’s as hot as possible to give you the most time to work, this can actually be detrimental. 

The metal of your car may be thick enough that it won’t warp after a sudden temperature, but we can’t say the same for your car’s windows. If there is a large difference in temperature between the water and glass, the windows may crack.

To avoid this, stick with lukewarm water rather than boiling water. 

Lubricate Handles, Hinges, and Locks

Lubricants are used in many parts of your car to minimize rusting and protect against general wear and tear. They also repel water, helping keep your hinges, handles, and locks dry and unfrozen. The two main lubricants used for these areas are white lithium and graphite. 

The first, white lithium, works well for external handles because of its ability to withstand rain and snow. On the other hand, graphite repels dirt and debris- making it a great choice for locks and other areas that may get clogged.

Ensure your application is thorough, and periodically reapply it to get the best protection possible. 

Run Your Defrosters

Running your defrosters, and more generally, your car, can keep your car’s surfaces warm while you wash them.

It isn’t the best option, but it is effective.

You should use your best judgment to decide whether or not this option will work for you. When using it, ensure you have your defrosters on the entire time you’re washing to keep the temperature up. 

Alternatively, some recommend running your car for 30 minutes before washing it, then turning it off while you’re cleaning. This limits the time you have to wash your car as it will slowly drop back down to the ambient temperature. When you are just washing one area, or working quickly, this may be more than enough time.

Alternative Ways to Clean Your Car

There are options for keeping your vehicle in top shape over the winter other than washing at home. Bear in mind that none of these options are perfect, yet they are still effective.

Waterless Car Shampoo

You can use a waterless car shampoo to clear off the accumulated grime and corrosive materials.

They don’t replace a more traditional car wash when you have a lot of dirt on your car, but they work great when you just need a few more days for the weather to warm up enough to wash your car. Combine this with hosing down the road salt from the undercarriage of your car regularly and you’ll be looking good.

Taking Your Car to a Pro Detailer

Another option is to take your car to a pro detailer.

They have dedicated service personnel that will wash your vehicle in a heated garage and dry it thoroughly before sending it back out into the cold. This process gives you a spotless clean without all the risks of washing at home.

Tunnel Washes

Automatic touchless or soft-touch tunnel washes are also excellent options that do a great job of removing road salts and any residue from the snow.

You’ll want to be sure to go through one with a strong dryer that will minimize the water left on your vehicle, lowering the risk of freezing. Just keep in mind that both methods have risks and may use harsh chemicals or drag contaminants across your finish, leaving behind scratches.

Summary – Is it too cold to wash your car?

Wrapping it up, keeping your car spick and span in winter isn’t just about looks—it’s a real game-changer to avoid the sneaky damage from all that grime and those pesky road salts. Sure, washing your ride gets tricky when the thermometer takes a nosedive, but hey, we’ve got you covered! From using that cozy garage, catching some sunny vibes, to sticking with lukewarm water and greasing up handles and locks, there are plenty of tricks in the bag. And if DIY isn’t your style, there’s always the pro detailer route or a spin through the tunnel wash. So, don your winter gear and let’s make that car shine, frosty weather or not!

  • Published on Sep 27, 2023