If we are headed for another economic downturn (to say nothing of the subprime car loan bubble bursting) it’s more important than ever to keep what you have now in peak condition. Who knows what our financial or living situations will look like after the next big one hits. You may wonder if you can afford all the little upkeep items you do for your car, but what you really should be asking is this: Can you afford not to do those things?
There’s one big thing you can take care of now before it becomes a huge problem later, and that’s rust. It’s not a problem for our friends in the warm weather states where they don’t salt the roads—bless their hearts—but it’s a huge issue for cars that operate in cold climates. Once rust takes hold it spreads fast and is very difficult to counter. The best offense against rust is a defense, which is washing your car often when the roads are salted.
Salt, as you may know, is used on roads to melt snow and ice. But it’s horrible for steel because it accelerates the oxidation process. I know the slow-motion destructive power of road salt firsthand. It’s little wonder; my own home state of Michigan spends $24 million on 500,000 tons of road salt last year alone, the Detroit Free Press reports.
A tie rod in my first car, a 1995 Dodge Avenger, rotted through while I was driving it. Thankfully I escaped unharmed, but by then it was either spend $1,500 to repair a car worth maybe that same amount, or sink that cash into a long-term car loan. Now, as then, is not the time to be taking out loans. Now is the time for protecting what you have.
The easiest way to preserve your car is to become a neat freak. Wash it early and wash. It. Often. But how often?
Washing right after a snow is your best bet, according to the New York Times, not to mention good, old-fashioned, common sense. The weather report is really your best friend here. Try to wash your car the first snow-free day you can for maximum impact.
This guide in HowStuffWorks recommends drivers wash their cars every two weeks, but more if salt is involved:
Most experts recommend washing your car every two weeks or so throughout the year as a general rule. If you live in an area with a lot of salt — either from a nearby ocean or from salt trucks on the winter roads — you probably should wash it more, as salt can corrode the metal and cause rust.
Those who spend a lot of time driving through the backcountry should give their car a little more TLC, as well. The aforementioned bird business is acidic enough to eat through your car’s paint job if it’s left too long. Same goes for dead bugs and tree sap, so they should be washed off as necessary.
Your car can go longer between washes depending if you don’t drive it every day, or you keep it in a garage and out of the elements.
So yes, once a week should be the rust prevention goal.
Even once-weekly washes can go a long way towards preserving the structural integrity of your car, and don’t discount the importance of waxing and undercoat. Is that a lot of effort in the cold? Sure. But if we truly are stepping off of a cliff and down into an economic precipice, you might just find yourself with plenty of free time soon anyway.