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Winter washes: Simple touch-ups throughout winter can prevent rust, carpet damage

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michael murphy

CLEAN — Michael Murphy vacuums the carpet in a car. Throughout winter, it’s recommended to regularly vacuum a vehicle’s interior to remove salt buildup.

Winter is hard on cars due to the snow, ice, potholes, and frigid temperatures — and the salt that comes along with the season can cause damage to vehicles if left alone.

Zach McKillip, owner of Top of the Line Auto Detail, gave tips on how to keep a vehicle safe from salt damage and keep it protected throughout the harsh winter season. One of the biggest reasons it’s important, he said, is because it protects a person’s investment.

“Your vehicle is normally your second-most expensive purchase other than a home. Usually, homes are first-most expensive. Usually, our vehicles are second, so I think it’s really important that you protect that investment,” McKillip said. “When you go to trade that car in or sell it, if there’s rust on it, if it hasn’t been taken care of, that’s going to hurt the value of your car.”

Before winter hits, usually around late October or early November, McKillip recommended giving the vehicle a good coat of wax to add a layer of protection.

The wax will ensure the car’s finish lasts, as the wax protects the car from oxidation. The detail shop owner said a standard wax will last around six months, which should get a driver through winter. In the spring, another waxing is recommended.

McKillip said people can wax more often, but “too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.”

“If you did it every three months or every four or five, it’s not going to hurt it. But at least six months is the general recommendation,” he said.

While wax acts as a layer of protection against the hot sun in the summertime, in the wintertime, the wax acts as a snowsuit of sorts to add a layer of protection against the elements and salt damage. If the vehicle isn’t protected and regularly washed, paint can chip, making it easy for rust to form. And rust spots aren’t always easy to fix.

Rust that develops under the car can be particularly troubling. As such, McKillip said regular underbody car washes are critical throughout winter. The underbody washes will remove salt and buildup from under the car, where drivers typically never look and where rust easily can form.

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“You see a little rust spot, and you think, ‘Oh, I got a little bubble of rust.’ Well, that means it already has come through,” he said. “It’s almost a little too late, so the best thing you can do is just make sure you run that vehicle through the underbody wash.”

McKillip said rust spots that show up on, say, a door, started somewhere else and came through the car’s exterior.

With the outside taken care of, McKillip said not to forget about the inside, as salt gets tracked in a vehicle’s interior too, which can cause wear and damage to the carpet.

McKillip said to regularly vacuum the inside of the car and take out all of the floor mats when doing so. This can be done at home or at a self-serve car wash.

“Use a power washer on your floor mats. Let them dry, and then use a shop vac on them and on your carpet. Just vacuum all that out of there,” he said. “That’s one of the best things you could do because if you let that salt sit there, what it’s going to do is harden. It’s going to almost crystallize, and it’ll be hard. It’ll actually ruin your carpet where it has to be replaced and can’t even be cleaned.”

McKillip said to use a scrub brush and carpet cleaner on the tough spots to get out all of the salt.

“You’re going to save your carpet this way and save you from costing you a lot of money,” he said.

Overall, a little TLC goes a long way.

“Just by washing your vehicle thoroughly in the wintertime, keeping a coat of wax on it twice a year, not only in the winter but also to protect it in the summer, is very important in protecting the value of your investment,” McKillip said.