When Your Car Needs Cleaning

Keep your car clear of road treatments and seasonal nuisances

Call it a cold-weather “coat of honor.” It’s the mud, salt, dirt and other substances that tend to lay on thick during chilly and wet months. And it can do lasting damage to your car.

“Any of nature’s droppings will stain and harm your paint,” says automotive industry expert Lauren Fix, a.k.a. “The Car Coach,” who serves as Time Warner’s national automotive correspondent. “Trees and sap, for example, will change with the weather and harm the clear coat and paint on your vehicle. Also, road tar from weather-related construction can cause problems.”

The best thing to do is to hose off your ride when buildup is high. If there’s an unusually warm day, take it to your local car wash for a thorough cleaning.

“This will protect your paint and your investment,” Fix says. “Don’t forget to add spray wax, as cleaners will remove wax and you need to re-apply it. Also, for bug and tree stains, use a bug and tar remover that you can get from the local parts store.”

While this level of care is always admirable, owners should also keep in mind that the long-term damage from winter isn’t what it used to be. The automobile industry has come a long way in building products with noncorrosive metals, says Brent Romans, senior automotive editor for Edmunds.com, a leading automotive site for consumers.

“If you looked at the old cars from the 1960s and 1970s,” Romans says, “they really took a beating from road salts and other substances that lead to corrosion. But now, if you can get your vehicle washed a couple times during the winter to get that stuff off the paint and the wheels and underneath, you should be fine.”

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