Direct Line magazine

Protect car paintwork from winter weather

Updated on: 7 November 2023

a man buffs a car's paintwork

Harsh winter weather has the potential to damage everything from our homes to our gardens, 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. Wet leaves, rain, debris on the roads, ice – they’re all enemies of car paintwork. And then there’s the worst of the lot: salt.

If you want to keep your car looking its best, it’s well worth taking the time to protect your paintwork before winter weather strikes. 

Here are some tips that car-cleaning gurus swear by.

Start with washing your car

It may be tricky to find a time without any rain, but as soon as you get the chance, give your car a proper wash. 

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 chips, you’ll prevent corrosion from happening during tricky weather.

Mix elbow grease and polish for great results

Nearly there...

Polishing paintwork will remove things like mucky prints or swirl marks; those tiny circular scratches in the clear layer that protects paint. We won’t lie, it’s a bit of a workout if you do it properly. But, 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 a protective, glossy barrier that stops nasty wintry things from affecting your paintwork. 

There's good and bad news with this one.

The bad news is that it requires a fair bit of elbow grease again.

But the good news? It’s definitely less of a workout than polishing.

It's also a hugely important step in being protected before winter.

Don't forget alloy wheels

Your wheels will go through a lot during winter, so give them some extra attention. 

Apply a wheel wax to help give them a fighting chance of emerging from another winter with their gleam intact.

And finally...

Don't let the way you drive spoil all that hard work. 

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.

For more advice, read our guide on driving in winter weather.

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