Tuning buffs will tell you that cold winter weather is desirable for performance but, unfortunately, the same enthusiasm doesn't extend to the detailing side of the car world. Winter is in fact, the worst time for your keeping your car in tip-top condition, so it makes sense to make sure you're fully prepared and protected for the onslaught of the cold, dark season, right? Well, you don't have to wait until it's dropped below zero outside, the approach to winter is the best time to get your car ready - so, here's what you need to know and the products to use before the big freeze. This little lot should make life a little more plain-sailing until springtime…
Your detailing routine will always come in two distinct parts - preparation and protection details, and ongoing maintenance details. Both processes may be performed at different times, but they go hand-in-hand and are equally important, perhaps even more so in the winter months.
When it comes to maintenance washes over the cold season, there's a few extra considerations that aren't so much of an issue in the spring and summer. For example, you may relish getting up early for a Sunday morning wash as part of your regular detailing routine (who doesn't?), but during autumn and winter you're much better off having a lay-in and waiting until lunchtime, simply to try and combat the low temperatures. It goes without saying that it's best to avoid water freezing on your car during the wash stages so, warm water in your buckets is also something of a winter essential. As are PH neutral products that won't strip essential protective layers… but we'll get to all of this in our separate winter maintenance guide.
Instead here we're talking about the very first stages involved in preparing your car. This will essentially make the ongoing maintenance easier - not to mention safer on delicate paintwork - over the winter months.
Oh, and it's worth remembering that it's not just about temperature, either. The key thing to consider is that, as the winter freeze approaches, you'll not only find that the concentration of contaminants on the road increases exponentially. But, with a physical change in weather (rain, sleet and snow), the likelihood of these contaminates being transferred to your car becomes almost inevitable. Obviously, this isn't ideal for your paintwork, especially as harsh, abrasive substances like road salt and grit are actively spread as road safety measures.
So, when you take all this into account, preparing your car for winter has two distinct end games. The first is adding and enhancing protection to see your car through the worst of the weather. And the second is more to do with safety concerns like ensuring that tyres are protected, wheels aren't neglected enough to bring on corrosion, and you get the best possible all-round vision from your glass… pretty crucial when the sun goes down at three in the afternoon, we think you'll agree.
It goes without saying that, the harsher the contaminants, the more difficult and riskier they are to clean away. This is the main reason why the ideal time to fully prepare your car for winter is right at the start of the season. After all, once everything is clean and protected, the most important object of the exercise will have been achieved - stopping grime from sticking or coming in direct contact with your paintwork in the first place. If it can't stick, contamination can't become ingrained, and the car will be easier to maintain the next time you wash.
When it comes to cleaning paintwork, as with any detail, ensuring a safe, swirl-free wash is critical, and this is why an effective pre-wash routine is arguably the most important process. During the autumn, the amount of road contaminants will have increased from the summer, and while it's true that these may not be as harsh or as concentrated as in the heart of winter, making use of powerful pre-wash cleaners (ones that are still safe on paintwork), like Dynamite Traffic Film Remover and Citrus Power Bug and Grime Remover, is still critical as the weather starts to turn.
Using Avalanche Snow Foam, particularly to get into the hard-to-reach areas and lift heavy soiling away, is also essential.
The only major differences during the wash stages will be more emphasis on the harder-to-reach areas. Going the extra mile by removing wheels for deep cleaning for example, can pay dividends simply in terms of better access. This means you that will be able to clean and decontaminate the barrels, the inner tyres and behind spokes even more thoroughly.
It's also worth remembering that caring for wheels is not unlike caring for paintwork. Protection - especially over winter - is vital. So, utilising a product like our Caramics Wheel Protection Kit, or Mint Rims Wheel Wax, on every area is always a great idea. For more information on cleaning and protectiing your wheels, check out our full guide here.
There is of course, one other great advantage to removing wheels, and that's access to the inner arches and chassis. In many regards removing heavy contamination like mud and road salt in these areas is as much a safety concern as it is for aesthetics. It also enables you to use industry tricks like dousing your arch liners in Dressle All Purpose Dressing - you'll find that, during your next maintenance wash, the heavy winter grime will simply be blasted away. The key thing to remember is that, very often, cleaning and protecting the areas that aren't immediately obvious is just as important to see your car through the winter.
For decontamination and paint correction, it's true to say that preparing your car from winter isn't unlike a full detail at any other time. Preparation for application of your final protective layers will involve exactly the same procedures. At the very least you'll need to use Iron Out Contaminant Remover to chemically dissolve metal particles, along with ObliTARate Tar and Glue Remover to eradicate any sticky residues. You'll then need to thoroughly clay the whole car using Glide Clay Lube and a Clay Bar or Clay Pad to pull out any remaining ingrained contaminants.
The paint correction process will also remain the same, as always it will depend on the condition of your paintwork as your final protective layers will essentially lock in any defects you leave behind. For this reason, it's important make certain that any imperfections are removed using the correct products, before the protection is applied.
It's also crucial to note that your surface preparation products will directly correspond to your choice of final protection. For example, utilising Tripple All In One Polish (which contains Carnauba wax) before applying Radiance Carnauba Crème, Glisten Spray Wax or one of our Signature Hard Waxes is an extremely effective method. But, if you're using our Caramics Paint Protection, surface preparation should be carried out with a product that doesn't contain wax, like One Step All In One Compound, or our Revitalise System.
It's obvious that paint protection is the ultimate name of the game in winter, and for daily drivers it's always worth remembering that your car is more likely to be scratched in winter due to the increased debris on the road. Keeping moisture out of scratches, and away from paintwork in general, is particularly important, as once water penetrates it can repeatedly freeze and thaw, which can cause anything from oxidation to actually cracking paint.
In any case, there's many schools of thought when it comes to the best LSPs to use, along with plenty of big opinions on the subject. So, what's the answer? Do you use a wax or apply a ceramic coating? The only real answer is that it's your choice - after all, it's your car!
The truth is that both are effective protection products, but it's also true to say that SiO2 coatings offer more hardy, durable protection, and easier ongoing maintenance. Then again, some prefer the finish of their favourite wax, it really is that simple.
You can of course utilise a wax over a ceramic coating, just not the other way around. This is because a ceramic coating is a liquid polymer that chemically bonds to paintwork on a molecular level, essentially becoming a part of the lacquer layer. A wax however physically bonds to create a layer on top and, although this will level the optical finish in the same way, it will block a ceramic coating from chemically bonding in the same way that it will stop contaminants from coming into contact with the paint surface. Conversely, once a coating has chemically bonded and become part of the paintwork, layering a wax on top is no different to layering on uncoated paint.
Of course, during the winter months on a daily driver, we'd tend to lean towards Caramics protection, simply for the increased durability, ease of maintenance and supreme water beading, but it's also worth noting that Caramics offers a great gloss, and one that will only be enhanced with our other Si02 products, like our Caramics Shampoo and Caramics Gloss Enhancer.
It goes without saying that protection isn't solely for paintwork and wheels. Convertible roofs aren't just a magnet for the increased grime on the roads but, if water is allowed to penetrate, it may freeze, expand and irreversibly damage fibres.
The best protection here is simple prevention, our Rag Top Protector will install a hydrophobic layer that will stop water, along with salt and road grime, from penetrating the surface of the fabric. For the deep cleaning side that you'll need to complete before adding protection, our Rag Top Cleaner and an Upholstery Brush is ideal.
Many forget that plastic trim and grilles also needs protection, most notably from UV radiation, of which exposure actually increases during the winter. The cold weather also has a detrimental effect on plastics causing them to become more brittle and more susceptible to potentially damaging ingress from water and grime.
Using our silicone-based Revive Trim Dressing shines and restores plastics to a subtle, as-new finish while creating a water-resistant barrier layer to actively repel contaminants. The silicone-polymer also protects from the damaging effects of UV radiation - an effective, all-in-one solution for plastic trim.
Finally, protecting the areas you don't see is advisable any time, but even more so in winter. Using Tripple in and around door jambs, bonnet or boot shuts, and other awkward painted areas will not only clean and polish, but add Carnauba protection to help stop grime from bonding in future.
Again, preparing most interiors for winter is not unlike detailing at any other time. The main emphasis though, is on protection, along with the deep cleaning that's needed before protection can be applied. This is simply because more contaminants will be dragged into the car, particularly on carpets, mats and seats, during winter. Thoroughly cleaning fabrics with Total Interior Cleaner and then utilising our Caramics Interior Protection Kit to create a layer of ceramic protection will shield from staining, and make maintenance details far easier. It's also advisable to use Spritz Interior Detailer on dashboards and doorcards to help repel dust build-up and protect from UV radiation.
That's not to say that there aren't a few problems typically associated with winter, the first being something of a hazard to your health. Air conditioning systems are notorious for bacteria and fungus build-up when they're not being used in the cold season. So, to stop these being blown into your face come springtime, it's important to give heater vents a few spritzes of Wipe Out Interior Disinfectant when preparing your car for winter, and during subsequent maintenance details.
Leather seats and trim also tend to dry out when the weather is colder, making it all the more important to use a product to actively nourish the surface after cleaning. Using Hide Conditioner to reintroduce essential oils is extremely important to keep leather soft and supple.
One last top interior tip is to give your rubber seals a wipe over with Dressle or Revive. This will help keep them lubricated and prevent them sticking and ripping as the temperature drops.
In the safety stakes at least, having your glass in tip top condition is perhaps the most important consideration in winter. With longer nights, more extreme weather and increased debris on the road, vision is already impaired so much more than in summer. So, although our Caramics Glass Protection Kit will help shield your glass from scratches, the most important thing here is creating a hydrophobic layer to repel water and, just like with ceramic coatings on paintwork, stop grime from sticking in the first place. The best news is that, using special wipes, our kit makes ceramic coating glass easier than ever.
This hydrophobic layer on exterior glass can also be topped up during later maintenance with our Caramics Glass Cleaner. For interior glass, however, always use Crystal Glass Cleaner to remove films and residues, as a hydrophobic layer isn't necessary on the inside.
Finally, we have the finishing touch to any detail - dressing your tyres. In winter though, using Satin Tyre Dressing not only gives a subtle, classy finish, but it creates an even more vital protection layer, shielding from the increased salt, road grime and UV radiation. The water based formula also absorbs deep into the rubber to actively nourish the structure, way beyond the surface. An all-year round essential for aesthetics, but a great, non sticky barrier from the harsh weather, too.