Not everyone has it bad during the winter, in fact the majority of the United States sees little more than a week total of truly inclement weather for the duration of the season. However, for the places that do see regular precipitation, the winter months can be a real pain in the ass, especially when it comes to car care.
Many people swear by “the winter beater”, a car that one can drive without worrying about upkeep because it’s already in rough shape. While I understand the appeal of letting a car go, I hardly think that’s the best course of action. If given the choice between having a vehicle in great condition for either warmer or colder months, I’d choose colder every single time, even it meant having to pay extra attention to keeping it clean. Caring for the exterior of your vehicle when you’re all bundled up isn’t any more difficult than it is when you’re cruising around in shorts, it just takes a little more effort.
The easiest way to make sure your car exterior is well cared for during the winter is to stay on top of keeping it clean. That may sound obvious, but people do tend to let things go a bit during the winter, just look in the mirror before the holidays, and then again in the spring. It’s not healthy for you to pack on extra paunch, then try to rid yourself of it all at once, and the same goes for your vehicle. You can’t let your car get covered in dirt, grime, and sludge, then just hose it down when it reaches critical mass, you have to clean it frequently , not for the sake of appearances, but for long term viability.
In the Northeast we have road crews that are more liberal with salt than an Outback Steakhouse, and the result of this is vehicles that have to be retired not because the engine is worn out, but because the body, and frame are rusted beyond belief. You might be thinking “Oh, but I got my vehicle weatherproofed, I’m good to go”, but you’d be wrong. Weatherproofing is a scam, a really good one at that, but that’s a story for another time.
The most important thing to be sprayed on the undercarriage of your vehicle is water, and you should do so with regularity. If you don’t have access to a drive through carwash with high pressure underbody spray, do your best to angle a hand wash sprayer up in there. At the very least make sure to spray out the vehicle’s wheel wells after any amount of time spent driving in snow, ice, or sleet. It’s a good idea to gently(and carefully) kick the quarter panels with your heel to knock out any residual crud too.
Buildup here is a huge factor in causing deposits to harden, and those deposits will eventually lead to rust. I went to look at a used Subaru in the middle of summer, gave the rear bumper a light kick, and out fell some crud that had been there since winter. Needless to say, I did not purchase that vehicle, nor any other from that dealer. If they can’t be bothered to inspect and fully clean a vehicle, that’s a major red flag.
To make keeping up on exterior care easier, I’d recommend picking up a waterless wash solution from any of the major car care companies. I’ve used Meguiars, Mother’s and Chemical Guys, all of them work well, though I have stuck with Chemical Guys just because I can buy it in bulk. Regardless of what brand you choose, use it between deep cleans, and you’ll find that the once daunting task of keeping your vehicle shiny during the winter is now much more manageable.