Direct Line magazine

Protect car paintwork from winter weather

Updated on: 1 November 2021

a man buffs a car's paintwork

We all know how harsh winter weather has the potential to damage everything from our homes to our gardens, and few of us step out into the worst of it without pulling on coats and boots that are fit for conquering Everest.

But how many drivers spare a thought for their poor car as it loyally battles its way through the grim conditions?

Paintwork rarely has a tougher time than in the winter. The enemies of paintwork include wet leaves, rain, more rain, debris washed into roads and sprayed over your car, ice, and of course, the worst of the lot: salt.

If you intend to keep your car for any length of time, or simply want to keep it looking its best in order to feel good and recoup the most money when you come to sell it, these are the tips that car-cleaning gurus swear by.

Start with washing your car

Protecting your car’s bodywork from winter weather starts with a good old-fashioned bucket and sponge – but try to get this done before the temperature plummets and your fingers go numb.

Rinse the car down, ideally using a pressure washer, then mix a bucket of warm water with car shampoo and fill a second bucket with clean water. Start at the top and work your way down. As you wash, rinse the sponge or mitt in the clean water. Clean the wheels last, before rinsing everything thoroughly.

Remove tar and sap using a clay bar

To remove the most stubborn stains on paintwork, tackle them using a clay bar. This is pretty much what it sounds like – a lump of clay-like material. When you run this over paint, often with water or a special lubricant, it harmlessly lifts away nasty deposits from the paint. It’s a surprisingly easy job, and will leave the surface feeling mirror-smooth.

Touch up any chips

This is the time to touch up any chips in the paintwork. A franchised car dealer will be able to sell you a special touch-up paint kit, which will be matched to your car’s colour and is easy to apply. By sealing in the metalwork that’s been exposed by stone chips, you’ll prevent corrosion.

Mix elbow grease and polish for great results

Nearly there… Polishing paintwork will remove things like swirl marks – tiny circular scratches in the clear layer that protects paint – or mucky prints left by sun cream. It’s a good way to keep fit, as it’s quite a workout and takes time. However, it’s well worth the effort as it brings out the best in the car’s bodywork.

Apply a wheel wax to give your wheels a chance of emerging from winter with their gleam intact

Apply a paint sealant or wax

Traditional wax or more modern synthetic paint sealants will form the protective, glossy barrier that stops all the nasty wintry things that can affect the paintwork. This is easier to do than polishing, but again, it involves a fair degree of elbow grease.

Don’t forget alloy wheels

Wheels come under attack from the harmful effects of brake dust. Apply a wheel wax to help give them a fighting chance of emerging from another winter with their gleam intact.

And finally…

Don’t spoil all that hard work by driving like a numpty. A top tip is to maintain a much greater distance between yourself and the vehicle in front. This will give you more time to react to unexpected situations in poor weather, and prevents the front of your car being showered with debris that’s thrown up by the tyres of the car in front.

Read our guide on driving in winter weather.

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