The recent fires here in Southern California raised havoc with car finishes. As if the salt air and bone dry climate are not bad enough, the ash that fell blanketed everything. Even the inside of my garage had a light dusting of soot. As the fires ravaged our beautiful neighborhoods and countryside, we prayed for rain. I also feared it. A heavy rain would safely wash everything away, but, we don`t get heavy rains in October and November. A light rain would turn the ashes into an acid bath. The worst happened, and we got light rains.

As the smoke cleared and life started to get back to normal, I observed the damage the wet ash was causing to vehicle finishes. The extreme presence of ash and light precipitation caused rapid finish deterioration on paint, rubber, vinyl and polished metal surfaces. What I observed brought me to think about the same caustic elements being present in lower concentration, but over a longer period of time. Is the settled ash pollution we experienced in San Diego and Los Angeles that much different than the salt and cinders distributed on roadways to prevent freezing?

These days, very few road crews use cinders. They are not as effective as a salt and sand combination, and they cause lung damage when they dry out and get airborne. While cinders cause minor paint damage, they are no where near as damaging as salt. Salt completely fouls up cars. It literally eats them alive!

Most of us think that by washing our car, we`re getting the salt off and freeing the car from damage. Sure, you`re getting the salt you can see off, but think of the underside of your car. Think of all those little nooks and crannies that are encrusted with salt and sand. Eventually, all that salt is going to take its toll. The end result is an ugly hunk of Swiss cheese. A car that should last 20 years winds up being a rolling pile of junk in less than a decade because it`s been ravaged by rust!

Enough of my rant, let`s get down to what we can do about this environmental assault on our cars.


While most of us cringe at the thought of using a coin operated car wash, a good touch-less car wash is just what the doctor ordered for winter car maintenance. Most good touch-less car washes offer a high-pressure undercarriage wash to flush the underside of your vehicle. Use it! Even here in sunny San Diego, where the average coastal temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees, I use the undercarriage wash once a month to flush away the salt that accumulates from our salt air. If you don`t have a touch-less wash with an undercarriage washer, find a do-it-yourself wash and use the high-pressure wand to flush the underside of the car.

Wash your car as frequently as possible in winter. While most of us wash our cars weekly when the weather is nice, we slack off in winter because of the cold, wet weather. When you have a dry day, find the time to wash or have your car washed. When you discover the finish is no longer slippery or see that it`s no longer beading water, you know that it`s time to refresh the wax again.

I recently discovered and started using a new car wash shampoo called Perls. I`m guessing Einszett calls it Perls because of the beautiful, pearl-shaped water beads it creates on the car. Einszett claims the new car wash cleans and protects in one operation, and based on how my car wipes down and looks after a wash, I see the results. Find a product like Perls to help your car get through winter.


Keeping your car waxed and the rubber and vinyl treated is the best way to maintain a healthy exterior finish. Traditional waxes may not hold up in harsh winter conditions, so if you have not already done so, you may wish to switch to a synthetic wax (sealant) for winter protection. Unlike carnauba waxes, a polymer or acrylic resin sealant can shield against water and road salts. A high quality sealant will last through about three months of harsh winter.

If your daytime temperature is below 40 degrees, you won`t be able to apply wax unless you have a heated garage. However, that does not mean your car must go without protection. Quick detailing sprays are a great way to buff up the paint and restore a thin film of protection.

Other parts of your car’s exterior such as the bumpers, trim and rubber door seals need extra protection when the mercury drops, too. These materials are affected by extreme temperatures and the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation causes fading, hardening and cracking, especially in the winter with a reduced ozone layer. When properly maintained, door and trunk seals will maintain their shape and elasticity longer, providing a better seal.

Winter is also hard on car interiors. Cold, dry air pulls moisture from leather and vinyl, so it’s important to treat the interior prior to the onset of freezing temperatures. Once the daytime temperature dips below 40 degrees (Fahrenheit), leather and vinyl will not gain a lot of benefit from conditioners, save UV protection.


Your car’s tires have a tough job in the winter, too. Liberal use of a high quality tire dressing keeps them looking good during the harshest weather and provides a barrier to the elements and to ozone that can cause rubber to deteriorate. Use a dressing with good UV protection.

If you live in a region that gets snow and ice, another easy tip for winter car protection is to spray a low cost tire dressing in the wheel wells to prevent buildup of snow, ice and road salt. It’s best to start this practice before the really cold weather hits.

If your car has expensive, delicate wheels, think about removing each wheel for winter preparation. Delicate wheels should be cleaned, inspected, and sealed. Clean each wheel, front and back, with an extra-strength wheel cleaner. Scrub the tires thoroughly, too. Dry the wheels with a clean terrycloth towel. Protect with a high quality paste wax or sealant. Complete the job by treating the tires (front and back) with a liberal application of tire dressing. Allow the tire dressing to soak in for 5 to 10 minutes before wiping off the excess.


Inspect your windshield wipers before the snow and rain come. Replace them if there’s any sign of wear. Remember, you’re going to be counting on them to deal with winter’s worst. While you’re at it, check your wash fluid and add a wash booster and antifreeze. A good wash booster will help cut through road salt, road grime and mud so you can see.

If your car is more than six years old, think about replacing the battery. Every January, there comes an especially brutal sub-zero morning that drains the last bit of power from weak car batteries. Even if your battery is relatively new, you should inspect it before winter arrives. Make certain the terminals and posts are free of corrosion (clean with baking soda and water) and the terminals are tight.

Have the cooling system checked for the correct concentration and level of antifreeze. If your vehicle needs additional coolant, follow the manufacturer`s recommendation for the ratio of water to coolant. If your coolant is more than two years old, it should be flushed and refilled.

Changing the oil and filter before winter is the single most important step in prolonging your vehicle`s engine life. Most manufacturers recommend an oil change every 5,000 to 15,000 miles or once a year, whichever comes first. Your oil service interval will depend on the age and manufacturer of your car.

If your car starts reluctantly or stalls in warm weather, the problem will only worsen when the mercury plummets. Get it checked now, and have the PVC, fuel and air filters replaced if necessary. Don’t wait until you’re out in the cold!

Finally, worn tires won`t give you the traction you need on wet, icy roads. If your tires are worn, replace them with a good set of all-weather radials. For extra grab in the snow, get a pair of snow tires. Snow tires should always be used in complete sets of four. If you live in a rural area you may want to keep a set of tire chains in your trunk. Likewise, correct tire pressure ensures optimum handling, stopping and wear. Remember to check pressure frequently because cold air causes it to drop (one pound for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit).


Winter preparation, especially in cold climate regions, will help you and your car make it to spring in good condition. If you take a weekend before the cold weather sets in to change the oil, check the tires, change your wiper blades, check your battery and coolant, and polish and wax your car, you`ll be ready for winter`s worst.