The Family Vehicle: Getting your car ready for winter

Caption for Alex Hunter Pic: Detail technician Alex Hunter uses an orbital buffer to bring life to oxidized paint. Buffing is the first step in producing a mirror-like finish to your car’s exterior. (Photo by Dennis Lopez)

By Dennis Lopez

Next to your home, the family car is probably one of your biggest purchases. And, just as fall is the time to prepare your home for winter, it’s also time to think about getting your car ready for the months ahead.

Winter is the time when driving conditions, road salts, traction sand and harsh weather all can combine to take the luster off any automotive paint. Perhaps that’s why car washes are busier in the winter than any other time of the year. A recent industry study shows that 32 percent of car washes happen during the winter months while spring and summer only see about 25 percent each.

“Keeping your car’s exterior cleaned and waxed is important year around,” said Chris Mills, owner of a local auto detail shop. “But winter is pretty hard on cars because of things like road salts.”

For Mills, owner of Boise Detail, it’s a three-step process to get the right level of paint protection for cars. After a thorough washing, he suggests first buffing your car’s exterior paint to remove any oxidation, then polishing the finish to brighten the paint and finally hand waxing it with a good quality carnauba automotive wax.

“Detailers also can do specific small jobs like cleaning just the interior or perhaps removing tree sap or hard water spots,” he said.

A complete detail package generally includes steam cleaning the engine compartment, a full cleaning of the interior including shampooing the carpets and a thorough search and removal of long lost “stuff” like French fries or teething rings. With prices around $250 for a full detail, the service isn’t exactly cheap but its benefits may be worth the cost. A well-cared for car can have a longer service life and a higher resale value when it comes time to sell, Mills says.

Fall also is a good time to take a close look at your car’s windshield wipers. Look for signs of corrosion, broken frames, cracks or tears in the rubber blade itself and make sure the blade assembly is securely attached to the wiper arm. If your wipers are more than a year old, auto industry experts say it’s time to replace them. If you aren’t sure how, most major auto parts store employees will install wiper blades purchased from them at no charge.

While you’re at it, check your vehicle’s windshield washer fluid reservoir and top it off with a good quality, premixed cleaning solution.

With a little effort you, and your car, can be ready when winter snows fly.

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