Extreme cold weather can take its toll on your car’s inside, outside and undercarriage. In some areas of the country, winter can be particularly rough on vehicles; snow and ice can leave dents and road salt can eat away at the body. When the weather is cold and the arctic winds howl keeping your car clean is usually the last thing on your mind. But once warmer days start to come around again you may notice just how hard winter has been on your ride. Use this car spring cleaning checklist to help restore your car to its previous luster.
1. Start From the Bottom
The first step to spring clean your car your car for the warm weather is to remove salt from the underside of your vehicle. Road salt has a tendency to get into nooks and crannies thanks to the thawing and trickling of slush. You need to get that salt off your vehicle before it has a chance to soak in and cause damage. There are two easy ways to do this:
- Connect a garden hose to a spigot, drag the hose out to your car and reach directly underneath to wash out every exposed area.
- If the do-it-yourself method sounds unappealing, take your car to a brushless car wash — specifically one that includes an undercarriage wash.
As odd as it sounds you actually don’t want to use a pressure washer in this instance. A high-pressure washer can actually drive salty water deep into crevices where it can then sit and cause corrosion. You want enough pressure to rinse away the winter salt, but not so much that you cause a future problem.
2. Wash and Wax Your Car
If you decide to wash the car yourself, choose a liquid cleaner or a powder cleaner for the body. If there are tar or other stains on the finish, a stronger formula designed to protect the finish and remove stubborn spots will be necessary. Stay away from abrasives that can scratch the paint, like steel wool. Make sure to use two buckets, one for suds and one to rinse, so you don’t end up putting the same crud back on your car with each swipe of the wash mitt.
If your paint is really dirty from winter grit you may want to consider a clay bar treatment. It may sound odd rubbing a bar of clay on your paint to clean it, but this is not your ordinary modeling clay. Paint cleaning clay is specially designed to gently remove embedded grime from your paint and capture it in the clay. The result is a buttery smooth paint finish.
Once your car is dry, apply wax. A synthetic polymer-based wax will offer you longer-lasting protection.
3. Check Your Tires
The third step to get your car ready for spring is specific to the tires and wheels. Because standard car wash cleaner will not get your tires sufficiently clean, use a dedicated tire and wheel cleaner. If you are swapping out your winter tires for summer rubber, it is still a good idea to give your winter tires a good cleaning so they will be ready for next season.
Liberally apply the tire cleaner to the outer surface, then use a tire brush to vigorously scrub back and forth. When done, apply the cleaner to the wheels, allow the solution to set for a minute, then use a clean paintbrush to gently remove any debris. Next, rinse the wheel and tire with a hose. Dry both with a microfiber towel. Then give them a coating of tire shine for the final touch.
If you cleaned your winter tires, make sure to store them in a dark place, ideally in storage bags, to protect them until next winter calls.
4. Replace the Wiper Blades
The beginning of spring is a great time to replace wiper blades, especially if the rubber has cracked or is torn. Winter weather is especially hard on windshield wipers so you want them in good shape to handle spring showers. Generally, wiper blades last about six months, so replacing them once in the spring and again in the fall is recommended.
Whenever you notice streaking or skipping on the windshield, it’s time to swap out your blades. Use any standard window solution to clean the inside of your front and rear windows — there may be more dirt blocking your vision than you realize. It is also a good idea to use a windshield treatment to help water bead and repel during popup storms.
5. Clean the Interior
The same salt and grime that attacked your car’s exterior during the colder months probably found its way inside of your vehicle. Your car’s interior may also have a fair share of food crumbs, stains and sticky messes that need to be addressed. Even if you have good quality fitted floor mats road salt can still make its way to the edges, so take time to remove it before the salt causes damage.
Use a shop vacuum to remove any large crumbs or dirt from between the seats. Then, you can use a foaming fabric and upholstery cleaner for cloth seats, spot-lifter or stain-remover products for carpeting and Armor All for any sensitive surfaces.
When it comes to leather and unusual woods, your best bet is to familiarize yourself with your owner’s manual and determine what cleansers are permissible. For many leathers, any high-UV leather conditioner that is pH-balanced and contains stain repellents and waterproofing agents should be sufficient. For any wood-grain surfaces, select a product that is formulated specifically to clean the type of wood in your vehicle.
Ready for Spring
With your spring cleaning checklist accomplished, you are ready to enjoy the season ahead. Regular cleanings throughout the year can keep your car looking showroom-new any day of the week.
Check out all the spring car cleaning products
Matt Keegan has maintained his love for cars ever since his father taught him kicking tires can be one way to uncover a problem with a vehicle’s suspension system. He since moved on to learn a few things about coefficient of drag, G-forces, toe-heel shifting, and how to work the crazy infotainment system in some random weekly driver. Matt is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association and is a contributor to various print and online media sources.