Smart Motors: Washing your car in the winter? Why bother?

MADISON, WISC. – You normally love your car. It’s like an old friend, cheerfully waiting to take you where you need to go. But as the winter months drag on, you find your feelings changing toward your tried and true buddy. Suddenly you see it as a chore. Come February and March, it’s a salt-covered, sludgy, dishwater-hued beast that is almost indecipherable from most of the other vehicles on the road. It’s ugly. And the worst part is that you don’t know what you should do about it.

Part of you thinks that you probably should wash the poor thing. But it’s just going to snow again. The streets are just going to be salted again. And on those rare breaks when the temperatures climb into the 40s, everyone and their uncle are in line to run their vehicles through the car wash. Do you just let it go?

Jason Vasen, Master Diagnostic Technician at Smart Motors, says you should absolutely not let it go.

“Salt may keep the streets safe to drive on, but it’s a terrible thing to have on your car for extended periods of time,” Vasen says. “Salt leads to oxidation and rust. It can take years off the life expectancy of your vehicle.”

Vasen says Wisconsinites ideally should wash their cars, trucks and SUVs about once every two weeks even in the dead of winter though only wash when outdoor temperatures are in the upper 30’s or in the 40’s to ensure that doors and windows won’t freeze.

“You want to make sure it’s a quality wash, too,” he says. “Just washing the pretty parts may save your paint job for a few years, but it’s incredibly important to make sure salt and slush are removed from the wheel wells and undercarriage.”

When salt builds up on the wheel wells and undercarriage, it attacks the vehicle’s braking system and suspension, both of which could lead to dangerous situations on the roads. They are both expensive to repair, too, so making sure they are salt-free could save you money down the line.

“Drivers can also get ahead of the game through routine maintenance,” Vasen says. “Quality mechanics will check for any issues and lubricate or use corrosion inhibitors on parts as needed for the winter months.”

Where one parks during the winter can also play a role in how much damage is or isn’t done to a vehicle because of slushy and salty conditions. Ironically, vehicles that are parked outside for the duration typically experience less body damage that those that are garage kept. This is because the freezing temperatures do not allow the slush to melt, so it slows down the overall corrosiveness of the salt.

“Regardless of whether you store your vehicle inside or outside, it really is worth the time, effort and money to make every attempt to keep it clean,” Vasen says.

About Smart Motors        

Smart Motors was founded in 1908 by O.D. Smart and is one of the nation’s oldest automotive dealerships, is the mid-west’s largest hybrid dealer and one of Wisconsin’s largest volume Toyota dealers. Located at 5901 Odana Road, Smart Motors is Wisconsin’s only two-time President’s Cabinet Award recipient from Toyota Motor Sales for superior customer service & sales volume.  For more information visit