Car Care 101: How Cold is Too Cold to Wash Your Car

Written by

Bruce Sonnier


Marcus Dutton

how cold is too cold to wash your car

Car care and maintenance is a whole endeavor on its own. Aside from knowing what to use and how to wash your car, you will also have to know when to wash your car. In this regard, a common question among car users is “How cold is too cold to wash your car?” or “When is it too cold to wash your car?”.

It is especially important when winter and the cold season arrive.

The short answer is: It is too cold for a car wash if the temperature is near freezing or freezing. Specifically, that is anywhere from and below 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

With that said, however, there are other important details and tips awaiting in this article. So, continue reading to find out!


How Cold is Too Cold to Wash Your Car


The freezing point of water is 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Thus, if the temperature is at this level, you must NOT wash your car. Why? Because if you are not quick enough to dry your car after washing it, your car will become frozen.

In particular, the hinges, handles, and locks will be iced shut. Trust me, nothing is worse than door jambs. Even though you may be tempted to just quickly hose down your car, it is best to wait until the temperature rises.

Generally, the safe temperature for a car wash is 49 degrees Fahrenheit and above. The ideal temperature, however, is between 50 and 89 degrees.

Then, does that mean you should not wash your car in the winter? Absolutely not! This is a common but deadly mistake among car users. It is actually critical that you clean your car during winter because, during this time of the year, your vehicle can pick up a lot of salt mixtures and deposits. Since the roads are usually coated with layers of salt to minimize slippery skidding incidents, salt build-ups are inevitable.

Unfortunately, a common consequence of this is salt corrosion—meaning, parts of your car are eaten away by salt. The most vulnerable components are those in the undercarriage, like the car’s fuel line. Not washing your car in the winter can also ruin its finish. In turn, you will have to shell out a lot of money for repairs.

So, instead of a manual car wash in cold weather, consider car washing services.

Options for car wash in the winter are:

Touchless Car Washes


These services make washing cars easy. You just have to drive through and wait for your car to be cleaned. They are reasonably affordable as well; you do not have to worry about exhausting your wallet!

However, most touchless car washes use high-pressure hoses that can potentially push salt deeper into any nooks and crannies. They often use harsh detergents and chemicals that may not be compatible with the paint and construction of your car’s surfaces.

But, at the same time, it can be argued that high-pressure hoses do a better job at flushing out hidden contaminants in hard-to-reach areas.

If you decide on a touchless car wash, look for ones that are equipped with well-performing blowers or dryers. This significantly speeds up the drying process and minimizes any chance of water becoming frozen in/on your vehicle.

Soft Touch Tunnel Washes

As suggested by the name, these washing services use soft foam and felt cloths to brush against cars and clean. They effectively lift stubborn stains, including organic matter, like bird droppings, splattered bugs, etc. They also address hard-to-reach surfaces well, such as the rocker panels, rears, and front license plate. You will surely get a thorough clean with these tunnel washes.

However, they are more prone to abrasion and scratches, which are not only unsightly but also damaging to your wax coating. They do not accommodate certain types of vehicles—for example, dual-wheeled trucks.

If you do go for this option, make sure that you settle for one with a good reputation. Cheap services may not offer up-to-par equipment that does more harm than good. Also, choose one with solid blowers and dryers to secure the drying process and avoid the possibility of frozen water anywhere in/on your car.

Watch this video if you want a more detailed comparison between the two above options!

Other Options to Consider

If you are not a fan of car washing services, you can try the following workarounds for manual car washing.

1. Wash your car in a heated garage

To minimize the effects of the cold weather, wash your car in a heated garage. It will keep the water you use in showering down your car from freezing and causing jambs. Hence, you will have more leeway to completely dry your car.

This may seem to be a trivial step, but trust us, it makes a big difference.

2. Run your car to heat it before and after washing

If you are washing the car on your own, make sure you begin by turning the engine on and running it for at least 30 minutes before any water is applied. This will work the car and heat it up, countering against the cold conditions that you are washing it in.

After you have washed your car and have gone through the necessary drying process, turn the engine on again and run the car for at least another 30 minutes. The heat generated will ensure that no leftover water freezes on it.

Other Tips to Keep in Mind

1. Use hot water to wash your car

It goes without saying that hot water will counter the cold conditions that you are washing your car in. Using hot water will minimize the chances of water freezing on the exterior of your car. However, it is important to not use boiling water as it can potentially damage the quality of your car’s paint.

It may also strip away the much-needed layer of wax on your car’s surfaces. This is especially important to remember because you cannot properly apply wax when the temperatures are near freezing. If the wax is gone, you risk exposing your vehicle to harsh elements. Again, this can entail costly repairs in the near future.

2. Wash your car during lunch or early in the afternoon

It is best to wash your car during lunch or at the beginning of the afternoon because this is when the sun is shining its brightest and radiating heat. By the same token, avoid washing your car when the sun is down and it is dark out.

You should have this noted to schedule an appropriate time for your car care and maintenance routine. Even though this may mean several changes to your daily agenda, rest assured that it is worth it.

3. Spray lubricants onto hinges, handles, and locks

Invest in a good quality lubricant to spray or apply a thin coating onto your car’s door hinges, handles, locks, latches, and keyholes. This will prevent them from trapping moisture and causing build-ups that can become frozen in the cold weather.

You should be able to find these easily in-person at local stores or virtually at online retailers and e-commerce sites. If you do not know where to start, consider looking through these reliable brands: Permatex, DuPont, and 3M.


Hence, with that, you have reached the end of this article on how cold is too cold to wash your car. You now know that a car wash below freezing is a big no-no. There are other options that you can for and tips that you can keep up your sleeves. Hopefully, it has been helpful.

If you have any other questions or thoughts, you are free to leave a comment. We always look forward to hearing from our readers. So, do not hesitate. Also, be sure to share this article with your friends, family, or anyone you think will appreciate the content.

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