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Auto Detailing and Snow Removal: Best Practices

So your car is covered in snow but you don’t want to damage it. So what do you do?

After a recent ice storm, I found myself in this exact situation and wanted to approach this topic from the perspective of an auto detailer, and share a few thoughts on the topic based on my experience in this community.

It’s pretty easy to cause damage when scraping ice off of a vehicle believe it or not, and something I can say I’ve experienced the hard way.

The biggest challenge you have is removing snow or ice safely without scratching the paint, but preparation really is key.

In the rest of this post, I’ll cover a few best practices to (a) prepare for a winter storm and (b) accomplish the task of car snow removal safely. There are a couple of techniques to know that can make things easier, so let’s get started.

Before the snow: start by prepping your vehicle

Even if you can’t garage your vehicle before a snowstorm, there are a couple of things you can do to prepare beforehand.

If you park in a driveway (or have permission in your community), one solution is to use a portable car tent and avoid snow removal altogether.

You want to make sure it can fit your vehicle and hold up against heavy snow. Some are domed and pretty small, which makes them ideal for bikes, but not longer vehicles.

portable car tent for snow

The one above is one of the best options I’ve seen you can check out on Amazon here and is ideal for placing in your driveway if you don’t have a garage (or it’s full).

Most of these use metal supports and can be assembled relatively quickly. You’ll want to use your best judgment depending on what type of storm is blowing in, but ideal for protecting against a few inches of snow.

You’ll also want to pick up some sandbags while you’re at it like these just to keep the legs from lifting away.

Wash and wax beforehand if possible

car wax

If the tent option isn’t practical for you, one thing you can do is wash and wax your vehicle beforehand to achieve as smooth a surface as possible and a barrier of protection.

You’re much more likely to scratch a hood when removing snow if there’s already a layer of dirt between the snow and clear coat.

If you’re dealing with just a dusting of snow, you may have a much easier time with a slick, hydrophobic surface created by a quality wax or sealant.

Sometimes a dusting of sleet or light snow will slide right off the surface (especially windshields)!

As the last step, go ahead and open your windshield wipers beforehand! This will save you a few minutes of having to dig these out and clean them off.

car windshield wipers up in snow

Avoid scraping whenever possible: Lift or blow the snow!

Okay, so let’s get practical. If you’re in a time crunch and you absolutely have to drive somewhere, there may be times when using a brush or non-metal scraper is the way to go.

For my truck (as an example), it doesn’t have too many years left, so while I do scrap certain areas, I never scrape more than a half-inch from the paint surface.

Keep in mind that if you have a large amount of snow on your car that is iced over it may require a snow removal tool. If it’s powdery, I highly recommend a leaf blower!

Lift large chunks of ice or snow if you can

There are times when you have large chunks of ice or snow that can’t be blown off. In this case, it’s better to lift large chunks with your hands first, followed by a padded snow removal broom for those hard-to-reach roof areas.

snow removal broom

Again, it depends. If it’s an exotic…probably not. A 15-year old truck? You’re probably okay.

While many people use them, I would avoid brushes and brooms since these can scratch a car’s clear coat pretty easily.

Why applying pressure and sliding snow off a vehicle is a bad idea

One of the hard lessons I learned in my younger days is that snow removal can cause scratches when done improperly, particularly when a lot of ice is involved. Once everything is evaporated, the last thing you want is to discover a large scratch on the hood.

Jagged ice sliding across a vehicle really is a recipe for disaster.

Since there are rules and regulations that prohibit driving with snow on your vehicle, be extremely careful if you must remove snow, and use a blower if you can.

 

scraping ice off car

Remove snow before it has a chance to freeze

Of the many snow events I’ve experienced in my life, what starts out as a powdery mound of snow oftentimes turns into a solid block of ice overnight.

If you notice a fair amount of snow accumulation on your car, use a blower or gently remove what you can before the early morning hours.

It’s really the freezing that makes this process difficult, so the more snow you can remove ahead of time, the better.

Also pay attention to door jambs and handles before a late-night freeze. It’s a lot easier to open a door to begin defrosting when the door handle and rubber seals aren’t frozen solid!

ice frozen on car

Park in a sunny area to accelerate melting

If you live in a shaded area, it’s a good idea to move your vehicle into more direct sunlight to accelerate melting or just park it there to begin with.

Especially if you’ll be parking on the street, pay attention to where the sun shines at mid-day, and try to park in these areas if you can. Again a small thing, but well worth thinking about.

Use your defroster as opposed to ice scrapers

If there’s one thing about ice, it’s that it causes existing windshield cracks to spread in cold weather. For this reason, I would always start by leaving the defroster on for a while as opposed to scraping.

Never do anything like pour hot water on the windshield surface or use a metal scraper to ‘jab’ ice off a windshield.

For my truck, I generally only use a scraper once the ice is rather slushy so it’s really just pushing water at that point.

car windshield defrosted

Always rinse and remove salt after the snow event

If you’re driving a lot in the snow, it never hurts to rinse the undercarriage and fender wells from time to time to avoid salt buildup. It’s obviously best to do this once the roads are dry.

Corrosion and rusting are accelerated by salt, but so is your vehicle’s clear coat. Over time, salt tends to eat away at this clear barrier protecting your vehicle’s paint, which is why waxing and protecting are so important.

Not only does it make things look shiny, but it also serves the very practical and functional purpose of providing a barrier between your vehicle and the outside elements. Like sunscreen on your skin.

Conclusion

whether you’re a beginner or have some experience, hopefully, you’re able to walk away with a few ideas. Be sure to check out these 9 tips for washing your vehicle in winter weather I put together if you haven’t already.

Stay safe out there, and leave a comment below and let me know how it goes!

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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