Winter Maintenance Tips at the Car Wash

The car wash is a great place to take a survey of your vehicle to determine what kind of repairs, upgrades, and maintenance issues need to be taken care of. Because you’re already taking the time to attend to your car, it makes sense to take a quick peek under the hood or check the pressure of your tires. By building in your maintenance schedule this way, you’re sure never to miss an important step.

This is especially true in winter, when you might be less excited about heading outside to check on your car’s working parts. Since you’ve already layered up and are prepping your car for a deep clean, now’s a great time to tackle these winter maintenance tips.

  • Tire Pressure: The cold weather will reduce the pressure in your tires, especially if you spend a lot of time parked outside. Your manual will tell you exactly what PSI is ideal for winter, and your car wash is a good time to check and adjust these levels.
  • Fluid Levels: Anti-freeze and windshield wiper fluid are most important in winter, so use your car wash time to check the levels of these fluids. It helps to have a bottle of wiper fluid on hand so you can fill it while you’re here, but you can also make a note and top off the fluids when you get home.
  • Ventilation Systems: In winter, there’s a good chance you’re running the heater and defroster full-time. This is great to keep you warm, but can also mean there are more health hazards in the air you breathe. Winter is a great time to clean out your vents or to hire a detailer who can make sure all the dust build-up and lingering car odors in the ventilation system are taken care of.
  • Car Smells: Speaking of car odors, all those closed windows can really enhance odors of pet stains, cigarette smoke, and spills. As soon as the snow starts to fly, invest in a good detail that includes carpet shampooing. Your nose will thank you.
  • Doors, Hinges, and Seals: Freezing weather can be tough on the seals that protect the inside of your car from the elements outside. An improperly sealed window, trunk, gas cap, or door can affect the quality of your ride. You might also find that hinges that were a little sticky in the autumn are almost impossible to open now. Now is a good time to lubricate the moving parts and make sure your seals are up to the winter weather.

When winter comes knocking, it’s important to attend to both the inside and the outside of your vehicle. Although the car wash can’t switch out your snow tires or perform an oil change, we can take care of many of those small hassles that make the cold weather such a hazard.

Safety at the Car Wash

A car wash might not be as dangerous as a skydiving expedition or NASCAR race, but it’s not without its hazards. Anytime you come into contact with heavy machinery, water, and/or chemicals, it’s a good idea to take a moment and look at all the potential dangers. This is especially true if you have children or pets who will be accompanying you to the car wash.

  • Follow All Regulations: Any signs or warnings that are posted at the car wash are there for a good reason. Always adhere to your car wash’s specific rules and regulations as a good base for safety.
  • Pay Attention to Parking Brakes and Your Gear: In an automatic car wash, you’ll be asked to put your car in neutral and make sure the parking brake is off, since the machinery will be pulling your car along. For self-service washing, the opposite is true. When you park inside the bay, make sure your vehicle’s parking brake is on to avoid accidental rolling or rocking.
  • Remove Loose Items: A sideview mirror that has a tendency to come loose, an oversized aftermarket antenna, a piece of rubber weatherstripping that pops out from time to time—every car has its little quirks. Make sure you remove or secure any item that could potentially pull away from your vehicle before you arrive.
  • Lock All Doors: In an automatic car wash, it’s a good idea to make sure the windows are up and all doors are locked before you head through. Pets and passengers have been known to accidentally open a door and let in the water, which can be disastrous for your interior.
  • Dress Appropriately: You don’t have to carry a special change of clothes for the car wash, but it’s a good idea to consider both the weather and the wet environment when you stop by. For a winter wash, a waterproof jacket and rubber gloves make all the difference. Non-slip shoes are always a wise choice. And if you have any sensitivity to soaps or wax, make sure you wear protective gloves no matter what the weather.
  • No Direct Spray: The water that comes out of the spray nozzle can be very high pressure, and isn’t meant to be used on humans or pets. Keep the spray confined to the car as much as possible.
  • Keep Kids and Pets Inside: As much fun as it might be for your kids to pop out of the car and “help” as you do a self-serve wash, it’s best to keep them in the car. A car wash is a busy place with lots of vehicles coming and going, which makes it a safety hazard for children and pets.

Another important step is to always be aware of your surroundings. Although many self-serve car washes are open 24 hours a day, you might not want to stop by when it’s dark outside—especially if you’re arriving at the car wash alone.

How to Get Rid of Window Spots

One of the best parts about going through a car wash is how clean and shiny your car’s exterior is for days afterward. Every time you get in or out of your vehicle, you’re reminded all over again that a clean, polished car is the best car.

However, if you have water spots on your windows, you might find that a simple drive through the car wash isn’t enough. These spots, caused by buildups of minerals in the water (from the car wash, sprinklers, and the rain), often require a deeper clean. And because they’re on the windows, you’ll see them—and be annoyed—every time you hop behind the wheel.

What’s in a Spot? 

There are two kinds of window spots: the ones that form immediately after getting a car wet and allowing it to air dry, and the ones that are more deeply etched into the glass because they’ve had a chance to harden and build up over time.

The first kind of spots are easy to get rid of simply by wiping your car down immediately after you wash the car or you come in out of the rain. Water that’s allowed to evaporate naturally will often create small droplets on your windows, which provide a concentrated burst of residue that will be left behind. By taking the time to thoroughly hand-dry your vehicle (both the body and the windows), you can prevent these spots from forming in the first place.

The hard water spots that don’t wipe away so easily are caused by calcium, sodium, and other mineral deposits that occur naturally in the water you use every day. Different locations have different levels of minerals in the water, so your tendency to develop water spots will vary. When these deposits are allowed to harden for a long period of time, they bond to the window and require deep cleaning.

Window Cleaning and Cleansers

You can invest in expensive cleaners and towels to help eliminate window spots, but your best bet is a 50/50 mixture of water and vinegar. Place this mixture in a spray bottle and apply it liberally to your windows (the good news is that you can use it for both outside window spots and inside sticky finger spots). Allow it to set for a few minutes and then wipe it away using a microfiber cloth.

Depending on how severe your window spots are, you may need to do this a few more times. Any areas that don’t come clean after several applications may require a more intense approach. Wiping the windows with fine grade steel wool can sometimes help, but it’s important only to use this on the windows and not the body of the car.

As with almost anything automotive-related, prevention is the best cure. Once those window spots come clean, make sure you carry a microfiber cloth for a quick wipe-down after every wash and accidental run through a sprinkler.

How to Keep an Odor-Free Car

Few things are worse than being trapped in a smelly vehicle for hours at a time. It doesn’t matter where your odors come from—almost anything can cause lingering smells that make your drive a misery. From pets and cigarettes to kids, spills, and even your work as a rideshare driver, the cause isn’t nearly as important as getting rid of it.

Fortunately, odors are rarely so caked into a car that they can’t be eliminated. With the right treatment and upkeep, you can enjoy a fresh-scented drive every time.

  1. Identify the Cause: You can’t get rid of a smell until you know what’s causing it. For most people, this means locating the item of food or drink that’s been spilled or left behind (or, as is often the case, lost under a seat). Eliminating this item will go a long way in reducing the immediate smell. Make sure you check the trunk and any pockets in the backseat, too.
  2. Change Your Habits: Sometimes, a smell isn’t caused by an item so much as a habit. Eating in the car, smoking in the car, filling up the car with soccer players every weekend after the big game…these odors might be more difficult to get rid of because of your lifestyle. If you’re not ready to make a major life change, you’ll need to get in the habit of regularly deodorizing and detailing your car instead.
  3. Check the Air Filter: If you search for the source of the smell but can’t find anything conclusive, you may need to check the cabin air filter. This is where all outside debris is trapped so that it can’t enter your ventilation system. These filters do need to be changed from time to time, so ask your mechanic or detailer to take a look the next time they’re working on your car.
  4. Clean the Interior: It’s always best to start with a clean slate, so begin your deodorizing journey with a deep-clean of your car’s interior. At the most basic level, this means throwing out all trash, vacuuming the carpets (including under seats and floor mats), and wiping down the surfaces.
  5. Shampoo the Carpets/Upholstery: Stains that have worked into the carpet and upholstery will need to be deep cleaned. A steam carpet cleaner will do the trick fastest, but you can also use a spot carpet cleaner and scrub brush to hand-clean the problem areas. (Note: Make sure you always allow your interior to fully dry before you start using it again. Wet spots can make smells worse by attracting mold and mildew.)
  6. Choose an Odor Neutralizer: The best-smelling car is one that doesn’t smell like anything at all. Although cleaning products and air fresheners might be better than rotten bananas, they can cause long-term health problems, especially in those prone to headaches. Instead, find an odor-neutralizing option that works for you. A bowl of baking soda left overnight or crushed charcoal briquettes do a good job of filtering the air for you.
  7. Open the Windows: On nice days, don’t be afraid to open the windows and let nature do the hard work for you. A few minutes of driving through your neighborhood with all the windows open will do a good job of letting in fresh air and helping dry any damp spots in your interior.

We also strongly recommend that you build a regular car detail into your maintenance schedule. Nothing gets your vehicle as clean as a good detail, and this will give you a solid, clean base to build the rest of your habits on top of.

How to Clean and Care for Your Child’s Car Seat

Of all the germ-ridden places in your car, the biggest culprits are the keys, the steering wheel, and, if you have kids, the infant or toddler car seat. Nothing gathers crumbs and spills quite like a car seat, especially if you’re a busy parent on the go. French fries wedged in cracks, spoiled milk on the upholstery, and sticky fruit snacks are among the most common problems, but even if your child isn’t allowed to eat in the car, chances are there’s going to be some build-up over time.

Keeping your child’s car seat clean is important not just to keep the germ exposure and mold growth to a minimum, but to ensure that it’s operating at the highest safety level possible. Any dirt or jammed food products that interfere with way the seat sits or buckles in could prevent it from working the way it needs to in the event of an accident.

Cleaning a Child Car Seat

It’s best to work car seat cleaning into your regular car wash schedule, which means it should be done at least once a month. A quick vacuum of the largest crumbs will help between washes, but a deeper clean will ensure that everything is operating as it should.

Almost all car seats have a removable cover, making this part quick and easy to wash. However, these can shrink or lose some of their strength in a machine, so it’s recommended that you hand wash and line dry these items.

You can also clean them at a self-service car wash. A quick spray while you’re also cleaning the floor mats can eliminate some of those light stains and crumbs, and you can also spot clean the problem areas at this time. Either way, always wash the cover separately from the rest of the seat components, as they may have metal parts that can rust or jam if they don’t dry properly.

While the cover is off, you should also take some time to wipe down the plastic base and buckle components. Although you don’t want to subject these to high-pressure car wash sprays, you can grab some cleansing wipes and get the job done on site. The straps should also be spot-cleaned by hand, as a washing machine or spray could break down the strength and make them less effective overall. When it doubt, read the user manual for your specific car seat model to ensure you aren’t causing long-term damage.

It’s also important to make sure all the components are fully dried before you reassemble the car seat. Damp parts can cause mildew to form, especially in those hard-to-reach places.

Do I Need to Clean My Engine at the Car Wash?

Most of us know that regularly washing a car is a good way to keep it in great shape. Few things beat the feeling of driving a perfectly shiny vehicle out the gates, with a fresh coat of wax to keep you looking great for weeks to come.

But what about your engine? There’s no denying that the engine is doing most of the hard work, keeping your vehicle running smoothly with literally thousands of moving parts. And because so many of these parts come into contact with oil, leaking fluids, accumulations of grit, and even debris and chemicals kicked up from the road, they’re understandably dirty. This is especially true if you have any kind of leak in the engine. Fluids (especially oil) are much more likely to draw and trap dirt, creating areas of buildup that can harden over time.

Although you don’t need to clean your engine every time you wash your car (especially if you follow a good car wash schedule), you should include this task on your list every few months. 

Preparing Your Engine for a Wash

Washing an engine isn’t like washing the exterior of a car, where a high-power spray of water and good, soapy scrub go a long way. Because of the many different working parts in an engine, you should be less concerned with blasting every nook and cranny and more concerned with knocking loose and gently spraying away the largest accumulations of dust and grit.

Your car doesn’t have to be cooled down to wash the engine, but you don’t want to introduce cold water directly onto a hot engine, so time your wash carefully. Make the car wash is your first stop of the day or, if you’ve been sitting in hot traffic for a while, park to the side and give your engine a chance to cool before you start the wash.

Some people prefer to apply an engine degreaser before they wash, as this will help eliminate the buildup that accumulates over the years. If you regularly wash your engine, however, this step won’t be as important.

Washing Your Engine 

Many self-service car washes offer an engine wash option, which is the ideal way to go about the task. This low-pressure spray has the right temperature and power to clean the engine without doing any damage to the working parts. Remember that the goal isn’t to clear every nook and cranny, but rather to remove those big accumulations that could be working their way into your engine.

If you see trouble areas (especially on the battery terminal) or in areas you suspect there might be more extensive damages causing the problem, take your car to an automotive specialist before you clean it. They may be able to clear the dirt for you while taking care of the issue that caused it in the first place.

5 Must-Have Car Wash Items for Pet Owners

If you travel with a dog, cat, or other furry friend in the backseat of your car, chances are you’ve battled some pet hair in your lifetime. Nothing seems to catch on to upholstery and carpets quite like fur, and when you add things like dirt tracked in on paws or the occasional accident, things can quickly start to get messy.

That’s why we recommend that pet owners carry a few regular washing supplies in their vehicle. Although nothing will clean your car like a deep car wash and professional detail, you can spot clean on the road to keep things looking great for longer.

  1. Grooming Wipes: Animal-friendly grooming wipes look (and function) a lot like baby wipes, in that they allow you to quickly and easily clear away dirt and debris from your pet’s paws, face, and other parts. However, because they’re designed for animals, they’re non-toxic and hypoallergenic. A quick wipe-down after a day at the dog park is great for preventative cleaning.
  2. Seat Covers: One quick and easy way to keep your interiors looking great is to protect the seats with pet-friendly covers that can be slipped off and washed separately from the car. Whether you spray them down at the car wash or put them into the laundry, this is an ideal way to increase the longevity and resale value of your vehicle.
  3. Rubber Gloves: If space is an issue, keep a pair of rubber gloves in the glovebox or under a seat. (The yellow kind used for washing dishes works best.) Tapping into the power of static electricity, you can put the gloves on and run your hands over the upholstery in one uniform direction. Most of the hair will adhere to the glove, which you can then rinse clean and re-use.
  4. Baking Soda or Charcoal Air Cleaner: Pets can be very sensitive to smells, which means cleaning the air with chemicals, scented air fresheners, or even vinegar could upset their little noses. If you need to remove animal smells from the car, an open box of baking soda or crumbled charcoal in a bowl both work well to naturally filter the air. Carrying a small bag of either of these items is great when you want to freshen the air in a pinch.
  5. Animal Restraint: Taking your pet to the car wash is perfectly acceptable (and can be fun!), but safety is always important. That’s why you should always use some kind of pet restraint that will keep your pooch in the car. Whether you crate your animal, use an animal harness, put up a safety net for travel, or leash them, choose an option that limits their movement through the car. This will not only be safer, but also keep their hair and messes restricted to one area.

Long-Term Effects of Skipping the Car Wash

There’s no denying that in this day and age, no one seems to have quite enough time to get everything on their to-do list done. We get it—we really do. With kids to chauffer around, meals to plan and cook, and a job to get to, the last thing you want to worry about is washing your car.

However, like taking your children to the dentist or getting your oil changed every six months, there’s more to washing your car than just keeping it looking good. In fact, regular washing can help you pay less on automotive repairs over the life of your car (and keep you from having to spend hours at the shop). Although skipping the car wash once or twice won’t damage your vehicle, ignoring build-up over the long-term could find you saddled with these common problems.

Exterior Car Problems

  • Dirt build-up can act like sandpaper, rubbing away at your paint and exposing the metal underneath.
  • Dirt that builds up and then washes off in the rain can etch away at your paint job.
  • Bird droppings, sap, and pollen act negatively on your paint job even faster.
  • Once the paint is scraped away, even in micro patches, rust can form. This can cause rust bubbles to form under the paint and will eventually eat away at the metal, causing holes and other major body damages.
  • Corrosion build-up underneath the car and in the engine (which happens in areas where salt and chemicals are used to clear the road) can destroy expensive parts.
  • Not washing your car means you might miss things like cracked headlights or other minor broken parts that will grow worse over time.

Interior Car Problems

  • A dirty interior can become a breeding ground for germs, mold, mildew, and other disease-causing agents.
  • Clogged air vents and smoke damages can negatively impact your breathing health.
  • Dirt and rocks on the floor mats can get ground in underfoot, forcing you to eventually replace the carpets rather than clean them.

Remember, the health hazards of a dirty interior are especially important to remember when you have small kids, pets, and other people who routinely ride in your vehicle. The exterior paint- and body-damaging hazards have more to do with the longevity and resale value of your car, but breathing bad air could damage your long-term health. Both inside and out, a quick weekly wash will go a long way in ensuring that your vehicle runs well and safely for as long as you need it to.

Benefits of an Undercarriage Car Wash

No one is going to see your car’s undercarriage, so you might not care whether it sparkles and shines like the rest of your vehicle. However, a good undercarriage cleaning is still an important part of the car washing process. In fact, some experts would argue that paying attention to those dirty under-bits is actuallymoreimportant than that extra coat of wax. Here’s why.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Unless you spend a lot of time doing hands-on work on your vehicle, it’s very easy to neglect the parts you can’t see. This is especially true for the undercarriage, since it requires quite a bit of wriggling to get a good glimpse of what’s going on down there.

However, the underside of your car is the part that comes most into contact with dirt, grime, salt, chemicals, tar, and general road debris. Think about it – every time your car hits the road, it leaves small particles behind. In addition to the dirt picked up along roadways, it leaves behind brake dust, leaking fluids, rubber from the tires… Multiply this times the tens of thousands of cars driving through your city every day, and you can see where the problem comes in. All of this debris is kicked up and deposited into the undercarriage of your vehicle.

And because you probably aren’t crawling around and taking a peek at these messes, you often won’t see them even when the buildup becomes problematic.

A Good, Clean Run

One of the best reasons to regularly wash this road gunk away is to keep your car running smoothly. Caked-on road debris can create quite a few problems when it comes to your car’s temperature, since it acts as a kind of insulation that can cause overheating in your engine and transmission. This gunk can also enter parts of your engine through imperfect seals, causing buildup in areas where it can be very difficult (and costly) to remove. Anywhere air gets out is a place road debris can get in, especially if you have a lot of build-up.

Rust can also become a problem when you don’t regularly clean your undercarriage. Road salt—especially in places like Utah, where the winters can be tough—works into the metal bits of your undercarriage, making its way into cracks and causing a corrosive layer to form. Over time, this could result in excessive wear and tear, and even the breakdown of your vehicle.

Vehicle Longevity

Regular undercarriage washes can also contribute to your car’s longevity. Just as you get the oiled changed every six months and regularly change things like your windshield wipers and filters, it’s important to create a long-term maintenance schedule that includes a deep wash.

Fortunately, modern car washes make it very easy to include undercarriage washing into your routine. Most automatic washes include the undercarriage feature automatically, while drive-through washes have an undercarriage cycle and wand.

Because it’s almost impossible to crawl under your car and wash the undercarriage for yourself, it’s strongly recommended that you get a professional wash and undercarriage treatment at least once a month (more if you’re driving in the winter, since corrosion is so much worse during this time).

Automated Car Wash vs. Hand Washing

When it comes to washing your car, which is the best option? Will you get a better shine by running through the automated car wash, or do you need to hand-wash your vehicle to make it truly memorable? If hand washing is better, do you really need to do it that way every time, or can you supplement with the occasional drive-through?

The answer to these questions depends mostly on what you want to get out of your car wash. For most people, it all boils down to three important factors: time, money, and finish.

Pros and Cons of Hand Washing

The best part about washing a car by hand (whether you do it at a car wash or at home) is that you’re in control. You can take as long as you need to achieve the perfect finish and rely on products you trust to maintain your vehicle’s standards. That problem area that always seems to need an extra scrub? Take your time over them. Because you’re controlling the pace of the car wash, the amount of time you spend on your car is up to you.

Other reasons to hand wash your car include:

  • More attention to detail
  • Lower costs
  • Better product choice and selection
  • No limits on when you can wash (since you don’t have to wait for the automated car wash to be open)
  • Inside and outside cleaning options

Of course, unless you’re a professional detailer, chances are you’re going to miss a few things, especially if you don’t have all the right tools at your fingertips. In fact, if you’re using the wrong kind of materials and cleaners, you might end up doing more damage to the paint in the long run.

Other reasons to avoid hand washing your car include:

  • More time required to get it done
  • Lower level of skill than a professional wash
  • Physically demanding/taxing
  • Kids/pets/other distractions

Pros and Cons of an Automated Car Wash

When you’re in a hurry and want to get a quick, easy clean, nothing beats an automatic car wash. These facilities are convenient and easily accessible, making them ideal for a busy driver on the go. They’re also designed to get the best possible clean, taking advantage of technology to reach all those nooks and crannies in your car’s exterior.

Other advantages of an automated car wash include:

  • Step-by-step coverage of your car’s exterior
  • Thorough wash in under five minutes
  • No need to exit or park the car
  • Options in the kind of wash/level of detail you want

Because of their speed and ease, however, automatic car washes don’t always pay as much attention to detail and your specific car’s needs. This means that the finish might not be quite as perfect as you want—especially if you’re accustomed to a more DIY approach.

Other disadvantages of an automatic car wash include:

  • Occasional water spotting (unless you opt to have your car hand-dried)
  • Higher costs
  • Problem areas that may get missed
  • Long waits in high-traffic areas

Hand Wash or Automatic Wash?

For most people, the best approach is a combination of the two. By regularly washing your car by hand, you can keep up a great finish and ensure your vehicle is perfect inside and out. When you’re in a hurry or want a clean car between those deep washes, however, you can take a quick run through the automatic wash and enjoy your finish for longer.