Temperatures are dropping and the first snow has already appeared in some parts of the country. So, it is only a matter of time until the first road maintenance companies use road salt to combat snow and ice. However, what increases road safety is unhealthy for your car.

Animals get a thick fur, humans a coat – but how can we protect the outer skin of a car in winter? Salt and moisture damage paintwork and rust. But the right paint care is in principle not that difficult.

Although car paint is only about a tenth of a millimeter thick, which is equivalent to a human hair, it has strong defenses. Modern car paints are designed to withstand influences such as cold and road salt well in winter.

However, there is no one-hundred percent protection against mechanical stresses such as stone and rock chippings. If small stones are thrown against the paint, fine cracks can develop, which can reach the sheet metal. The result is corrosion, which is accelerated by road salt.

Removing salt from paint

Salt and salt water penetrate the remotest corners. Therefore, we should clean the salt deposited on the paint as often as possible with plenty of clean water in winter either manually or in a car wash. Especially after long journeys in salty water, such as on motorways, we should not delay the fresh water shower for too long.

To save time, avoid frequent trips to the car wash, as the cleaning processes can take an hour or two. However, a thorough hand wash can be completed in eight to ten minutes. In addition, the brushes, fabrics and chemicals used are a real challenge for the car paint.

In case you visit a car wash, pay attention to a proper pre-wash. If the pre-wash does not seem sufficient, just point it out. When road salt dries on the paint, it forms a milky white layer. If we drive the car into the car wash without a thorough pre-wash or if we try to remove the white layer with a hand brush, these salt crystals can scrape the car skin like sandpaper.

Most car wash systems today wash with soft fabric rollers and some even have touch free wash mechanisms. In contrast to the brushes of earlier days, they protect the paint, especially in winter. With extensive pre-washing, there is nothing to stand in the way of a winter care drive.

Caution: After driving through the car wash, it is essential to rub the door rubbers dry and to re-grease them. Otherwise, there is a risk of being locked in the car at sub-zero temperatures because it freezes the doors.

Protecting polish and sealant

Good paint protection in winter is provided by a polish with subsequent sealing. Those who missed this in fall can make up for it after a thorough wash on days with mild outside temperatures or in a garage. The polish freshens up the paintwork by removing small scratches and surface defects.

A wax sealant repels dirt particles and water. However, this protective layer wears off over time, which is apparent from the diminishing pearl effect. Normal car waxes last about four weeks, premium waxes about twice as long.

When cleaning, grease the door seals immediately. There are special grease pencils available in stores for this purpose. Winter precautions are also advisable for door locks: graphite lubricant keeps water out and makes closing smooth. In addition, a door lock de-icer should always be handy – but it belongs in the coat pocket and not in the glove compartment.

Matt coatings are sensitive

There are some special factors to be observed when caring for matt-finished cars. Washing with plenty of clear water offers the most effective protection against rust caused by salt residues even on matt paintwork – all polishing and waxing tips do not apply, however. In principle, matt paints are rough on the surface. If they are polished and waxed, they too shine.

The care for matt paints is a much-discussed topic among experts in the paint industry. You should only take matt paint to a car wash if it works with soft fabric and not with nylon brushes. Even then, there is still a residual risk. Any strong mechanical influence, even a hand wash that is too forceful, can lead to irreparable changes in the paint appearance.

Check the underbody regularly

The floor panels suffer most from salt and moisture in winter. Rockfall or impact can also damage the protective layer. In such places, salt and water have free rein. It is therefore essential to clean the underfloor and have it checked by a specialist. The professionals will identify the weak points and repair them. Even with new vehicles, it makes sense to have the underbody protection checked.

Eliminate scratches promptly

Anyone who spends a lot of time on motorways and country roads in winter knows how rock falls occur. At high speeds gravel, chippings, dirt and salt whirl through the air and hit the paintwork at high speed.

This causes small paint flakes and scratches, especially in exposed areas such as the bonnet, wheel arches or wing mirrors. These should be removed quickly. Therefore, after every car wash, check the paintwork and repair the damaged areas before they grow further.