By Jim Kerr
Vehicles get dirty, and no one likes to drive a dirty vehicle. That’s why car washes do such a good business. Pick any sunny Saturday or Sunday and you will find a long line-up at most car washes. After all, a vehicle is an expensive object, and caring for that vehicle will help it last longer – plus it just looks better! But how do you keep your vehicle clean in winter?
Many of us have experienced a frozen vehicle. Perhaps it was during a winter rainstorm that sheeted the vehicle over with ice. Maybe it was when the warm sun melted snow during the day and it froze again at night, but for most of us, it has happened after we have washed our vehicle.
Canadian winters make washing any vehicle a challenge. The roads are covered in slush, salt, snow and ice. Wash it when the temperature is too warm and you will need to do it again in a few kilometres. Wash it when it is too cold and you might not get into the vehicle unless it is towed to a heated garage. Temperatures in the minus 10C to minus 18C range are about the best for washing a vehicle and keeping it clean for a couple days at least, but even then, it can freeze up.
Everyone blames the door locks when the doors are frozen. Yes, a drop of water in the tumblers will prevent the key from entering or turning the lock, but many times the problem is deeper in the door – in the door latch assembly. When it rains or you wash your vehicle, water goes down the outside of the windows, past the rubber at the base of the windows and into the doors. It then drains out the bottom of the doors. Car washes spray with enough pressure to force the water into latch and window mechanisms.
New vehicles have a coating of lubricant in the lock cylinders and on door latch and window mechanisms. This prevents water from getting into and freezing on the surfaces. As a vehicle ages, summer heat dries out the lubricant and parts can freeze. The fix? Lubricate the moving parts again.
Lock De-icer is used by some drivers to prevent locks from freezing. Lock De-icer is good at thawing out frozen locks, as it contains mostly alcohol that will melt the ice, but the alcohol also washes out lubricants. To prevent locks from freezing in the first place, keep the locks lubricated with a graphite-based lock lubricant.
Door latches are a little more difficult to lubricate. A spray can of white lithium grease can be sprayed into the latch opening to lubricate some of the parts, and that will help. The best way is to remove a door panel and lubricate the latch from inside, but that is impractical. However, if you are having work done on your vehicle that includes removing a door panel, have the technician lubricate the latch at that time.
Door weather-stripping is another potential trouble spot. New cars have a layer of silicone on the weather-stripping that helps it release from the moulds during manufacturing. During assembly, a weather-stripping lubricant is also applied to some rubbers to help prevent squeaks. These lubricants wear off, allowing water to form a film on the rubber that can freeze to both the weather-stripping and the doors. The locks and latches may work, but you are still stuck outside.
The fix is simple. Lubricate again. This time, use a silicone-based rubber lubricant, often labelled as a weatherstrip lubricant and coat all the rubber seals on the vehicle. Don’t forget to do the trunk or hatch and hood seals as well. Trying to boost a dead battery is impossible if you can’t open the hood.
Lubricating weatherstrips should be done at least once a year, but I recommend doing it in the fall and again in the spring. The lubricant not only prevents the doors from freezing, but also improves the sealing ability of the weatherstrip by keeping it flexible. Another bonus is you
will find there are less squeaks in your vehicle.
If you keep up with simple maintenance, chances are you won’t be stuck outside a frozen vehicle, but sometimes despite best efforts, the doors do freeze. Then you need to get it into a warm shop for several hours where the moisture can dry out.