2024.02.16 Kia

Winter Car Care A to Z: Shielding Your Vehicle from Environmental Threats

The winter season is a crucial time for vehicle management. Neglecting maintenance due to the cold can lead to unfortunate paint damage from various contaminants. However, there is no need to panic. With proper care, protecting your car from pollutants can be easily accomplished.

As the mercury drops into sub‒zero territory and a layer of snow blankets the surroundings, the onset of winter becomes evident. This season brings along concerns, especially when it comes to car maintenance. Self‒car washing plan is frequently postponed due to the chilly weather. Even the convenience of automated car washes often cease operation to prevent freezing.

Winter requires more thorough vehicle care than other seasons. Various elements threatening the vehicle’s paintwork are hidden everywhere. Contaminants splashed from the front vehicle, and particularly the calcium chloride spread to melt snow on the road, are the major culprits in damaging the paintwork. In order to prevent this, let’s explore the necessary steps and techniques for easily managing the car’s paintwork even in winter.

Major Threats to Car Paintwork in Winter

Even minor stimuli can easily lead to damage in the paintwork during the cold season

The car’s paintwork, much like human skin, is surprisingly sensitive and easily damaged by external factors. It becomes even more delicate and prone to scratches during the current season. For example, fallen leaves on the road can be a potential threat. The heightened sensitivity of the paintwork means that brushing against fallen leaves can lead to minor scratches, akin to cutting your hand on a thin paper. Moreover, various pollutants that fall on the road can attach to the car’s paintwork, leading to potential damage.

The primary cause of paintwork damage, calcium chloride, accelerates corrosion on the body up to six times

Calcium chloride, used to prevent road icing, is the primary culprit in rapidly damaging the car’s paintwork. It is a compound of calcium ions and chloride ions in a 1:2 ratio, known for generating heat upon contact with water. This heat melts the snow and ice, preventing melted snow from easily freezing.

This cost‒effective and efficient de‒icing agent, also utilized as a dehumidifier, is a convenient and valuable presence to our lives. In contrast, calcium chloride has been a subject of controversy by making roads more slippery, increasing the risk of accidents, and weakening asphalt.

Furthermore, calcium chloride altered into a dusty form by passing vehicles can dry out plants, and cause growth disturbances by elevating soil calcium level. A major concern is its role in inducing vehicle corrosion. The chlorine component of calcium chloride accelerates iron corrosion up to six times faster upon contact with metal. Thus, winter becomes a season that requires exceptional care to the paintwork.

Proper High‒Pressure Wash is the Key

Detailed high‒pressure water spraying efficiently removes various contaminants, allowing for car washing with minimal paintwork damage

Various contaminants such as snow, fine dust, and calcium chloride accumulate on the paintwork even more in the winter season. Rain generally washes contaminants away as it flows. In contrast, snow holds various pollutants and adheres to the paintwork. Once this snow melts, it leaves behind stains much like turning over muddy water.

To effectively remove theses, you must meticulously wash your car using high‒pressure water correctly. Many people use high‒pressure water only for the purpose of getting it wet, but this is not the correct approach. High‒pressure water is best utilized attentively and for an extended duration. Correct usage of high‒pressure water is the fundamental aspect of self‒car washing, regardless of the season. This alone can remove a significant number of contaminants. Especially, calcium chloride not only splashes from passing cars or the road surface but also penetrates into the gaps of the vehicle. Hence, it is recommended to spray high‒pressure water thoroughly in every corner, including the parting line, suspension, wheel wells, radiator grille, and tailgate.

Undercarriage washing is essential during winter car maintenance

The most effective way to remove calcium chloride and contaminants attached to the car’s underbody is to carry out undercarriage washing. Generally, self‒service car wash facilities offer undercarriage cleaning devices. While it may be optional based on contamination levels in other seasons, it is crucial to remove calcium chloride accumulated in unreachable undercarriage areas and gaps during winter. Experts advise including undercarriage washing between the pre‒wash and the main washing stages.

The 3pH Method for Perfect Contaminant Removal

Since the ingredients in the cleanser capable of removing contaminants differ based on the type of pollutants, it is essential to understand the type of pollutants to bring the paintwork back to a clean state. This cleaning approach, which uses the ingredients of the cleanser, is called ‘3pH Washing.’ This method utilizes the characteristic of easily removing contaminants through opposing chemical reactions, employing three types of cleansers. based on the concentration of hydrogen ions(pH), these cleansers are classified into acidic(0~7), neutral(7~8), and alkaline(8~14).

Acidic contaminants such as calcium chloride can be conveniently removed using an alkaline cleanser

The first step of 3pH car washing is the pre‒wash using an alkaline cleanser. Acidic contaminants such as calcium chloride can be easily removed on this stage. Once the pre‒wash process using an alkaline cleanser is complete, it is recommended to move on to a second pre‒wash using an acidic cleanser. Water spots formed by melted snow consist of alkaline compounds, so using acidic cleansers is beneficial.

Neutral cleansers are safe enough to be used on all parts of the body

Once the pre‒wash stages are finished, it is time to move on to carry out the main wash using a neutral cleanser. This type of cleanser can safely remove daily dust or light contaminants from the paintwork without causing damage. Follow the conventional car washing approach on this main wash stage by diluting an appropriate amount of cleanser in a bucket of water and delicately wiping the body using a wash mitt.

Utilize a soft brush for cleaning gaps during the pre‒wash stage

Understanding the principles of the 3pH car washing method offers significant results through a simple approach. Similar to regular car wash methods, it stands out by completely removing contaminants that cannot be removed with a single cleanser and preventing potential paintwork damage during the process. It is regarded as the safest and most reliable car washing technique, suitable for all seasons, not just winter.

It is best to defer car washing when the temperature falls below freezing

After rinsing off the cleanser thoroughly, it is time to move on to the drying stage. Since any freezing moisture in the crevices can lead not only to damage on the paintwork but also to the formation of water spots, this process should be conducted more swiftly and accurately than in other seasons. For this purpose, it is recommended to primarily use an air gun to remove any moisture in the gaps that a towel may not reach. These areas include gaps between the doors, side mirrors, grille, and fuel filler. When using a towel, it is important to complete the drying process as quickly as possible to prevent the towel from freezing. Both a dry and frozen towel can cause swirl marks and potential harm to the paintwork.

Protective Coating to Shield Against Snowstorms and Contaminants

After completing the entire car washing process, it is necessary to apply a protective coating layer to the paintwork. The washed paintwork is in a highly sensitive condition and can be easily damaged by even small objects like fallen leaves.

There is an optional process depending on the circumstances before proceeding with the application of protect coating. It involves using a paint cleanser or degreaser to remove invisible contaminants and the existing coating layer on the body. It is suggested to follow this process if there is an uneven texture on the paint or the exterior color feels dull. Paint cleansers plays a role in removing remaining contaminants and water spots, restoring the original exterior color. On the other hand, utilizing degreaser involves removing the existing coating layer entirely, preparing the raw paint surface for the application of a new coating layer.  

There are three major approaches to applying a coating layer. The first method, known as ‘the Quick Detailer,’ involves the use of liquid‒type gloss coating agents such as liquid wax. This approach is most effective when the existing condition of the coating layer is in good shape. Recently, numerous water‒based coating products have become available for use during the drying process. This enables the swift and easy formation of a coating layer using compressed spray or foam lances after the main car wash.

It is important to follow the recommended curing time suggested by the wax product.

Another option is to use solid‒type wax in the process. It originates from coating agents crafted with the natural compound of carnauba, forms a coating layer by spreading the solid product thinly on the surface and subsequently buffing it with a polishing towel. This provides protection from various pollutants and imparts the benefits of water‒repellent coating.

Glass coating has a similar effect to covering the paint surface with a thin layer of glass

And lastly, there is a glass coating. This method could only be carried out through professional installation services in the past. However, with the recent introduction of self‒glass coating products, many car enthusiasts are now using them during car maintenance. Glass coating is formulated with silicon dioxide (SiO₂), which is the main component of glass. It creates more durable layers compared to wax‒base coating products and providing an extended period for paint surface protection. To apply this to the paint surface, use a specialized applicator to spread it evenly and then wipe it off after a specific period.

It is crucial to select a coating product that matches the type of vehicle’s paint surface. Recently, Hyundai Motor Group has incorporated matte colors to emphasize the character and style of their vehicles. It includes Hyundai Motor Company’s IONIQ 6, IONIQ 5, and The all‒new SANTA FE, as well as Kia’s EV6 and EV9. Notably, GENESIS has accentuated its inherent luxury by adding matte colorways across its entire lineup. Applying a standard coating product for typical surfaces on these matte color finishes may lead to the development of gloss, which might require the repair of the entire surface. Hence, it is essential to use matte color‒specific cleaning and coating products.

It is advisable to apply water‒repellent coating on the glass along with paint surface coating. If the glass is heavily contaminated with an oil film, it is necessary to employ a specialized remover to change it into a hydrophilic state, allowing water to bead up. After wiping off any remaining moisture, apply a specific water‒repellent coating product and wipe it off with a towel. This glass coating process prevents the buildup of snow and contaminants on the glass, ensuring safer driving.

The key to winter paint surface maintenance lies in consistency and thoroughness. Regularly visiting an indoor car wash whenever the weather is not below freezing can prevent damage to the paint surface. In preparation for the challenging winter car washes, it is also beneficial to routinely remove contaminants or create a coating layer. As the saying goes “A stitch in time saves nine,” consistent maintenance habits are the best way to protect the paint surface safely from winter contaminants.

Photography by Beomseok Kim

HMG Journal Operation Team


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