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ElectraGirl:Washing the Car in Winter

Saturday 28th February 2015

I am so fed up of this snow and freezing rain, I just can’t keep my Electric Car clean for more than what seems like a day. I very rarely go out on the days it snows even when the roads have been cleared. It’s really because I do not want my car covered in all that salty water that sticks like glue! (Shhh, don’t tell my sidekick.) I do have to say that I am rather particular about my Electric Cars and really don’t like driving them when they are dirty, I just have this feeling that if I am driving a dirty car then people will think I don’t care about it. I know, its all in my head but it’s there, spinning round and round. Am I little obsessive when it comes to having clean Electric Cars? Some may say that yes I am, but for me, all I have to ask is why wouldn’t you want a nice clean Electric Car?

Dressed to Clean!

Dressed to Clean!

Why do we wash our cars? Well, for me, these days, it is because I like to have clean cars – although I never hear my sidekick complain. The material our Electric Cars are made of (plastic and carbon fibre) means that the salt on them isn’t such a big deal, it just makes the car look so dirty. However, if yours is made of steel or aluminium, then maybe that is more of an issue as, the salt can corrode them. Plus, all cars suffer the corrosive impact of the salt on sensitive brake and suspension parts.

Cleaning-the-carI always wash my Electric Cars by hand as I just don’t trust the car wash places, I’m never sure they really take care of the cars – those spinning nylon brushes leave swirly marks on your paintwork as well as occasionally snagging the odd door mirror. A proper wash usually takes me around 30 minutes for each car, although I am finding with the 2014 BMW i3 that it can take a little longer as there are so many nooks and crannies where the water collects, it can take a while to get them all dry. At this time of the year it is hard to wash them, with the temperature below freezing, the water freezes on the car before I get chance to dry it! I will ‘wash’ the cars if it is -3℃ / 26℉ outside as long as the sun is shining. However, it isn’t a full wash for the cars, it’s more of a jolly good rinse to get rid of the salt build up. I take a very warm bucket of clean water and use it to rinse off the thick salt and dirt, then I get a second bucket of clean, very warm water and use that to rinse off the car. If it is below freezing outside, I’ll wash the windows and dry them first, then wash the rest of the car, moving so quickly to dry it that I’m just a blur! I find that washing the cars this way as often as possible actually stops that awful build up on the car and really doesn’t take that long – maybe 15 – 20 minutes, depending on which car.

I hear criticism that hand washing your car at home uses more water than a car wash. An open hosepipe will use about 10 gallons/minute of water but I have a spray nozzle on my hosepipe that has a trigger built in and find that I do not use that much water, I am quick and thorough, no dawdling and wasting water for me. I estimate that I use it for less than a minute, well maybe occasionally more but, after trying to fill a 2½ gallon bucket with the hose, I estimate about 6 gallons of water in total.

Water Use In The Professional Car Wash Industry a 2002 study, suggests that a typical car wash can use anywhere from 17 to 69 gallons, heated in winter. So that looks like one point to me however, some modern car washes re-cycle up to 85% of the water which puts them into the same consumption level as me.

Another concern with hand-washing at home is the chemicals used. I only use biodegradable washing products on my cars as I don’t want anything nasty going into the streams and rivers. Professional outfits are subject to state regulations however, those don’t yet include any regulations around the use of eco-friendly organic products.

Mario Altimaro sprays a car with the EcoGreen Auto Clean Auto Wash that he is cleaning at EcoGreen Auto Clean, in Redwood City, Calif., on Friday, January 31, 2014.  (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

Mario Altimaro sprays a car with the EcoGreen Auto Clean Auto Wash that he is cleaning at EcoGreen Auto Clean, in Redwood City, Calif., on Friday, January 31, 2014. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group)

I have heard of water less car washing stuff but have never used them and therefore do not know if they are any good. Eco Green Auto Clean in Redwood City, CA opened their first ‘waterless’ carwash in 2013 and whilst pricy they have a long list of positive testimonials on their website and Facebook page. They claim that their waterless cleaning solution is safe for both the car and the environment. It’s made of plant-derived chemicals and is bio-degradable. My concern with them would be that I am just wiping the grit into my paintwork but, they say no, their product “lifts the dirt off the surface, forming a protective barrier between the dirt and the paintwork.” Apparently, Google recommends them and Hertz has switched 220 locations to waterless hoping to save more than 130 million gallons of water a year.

In the interests of science and the pursuit of car washing bliss, I’ve ordered a car washing kit from them and will report back.

After all the snowfall comes the really annoying part about this time of year, and that would be when the snow starts to melt, there is just no hope that my Electric Car will ever be clean again! One drive out and it’s splash, splatter and flick, the car is covered in salty water again, and again, and again. Ugh!


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  • Chris Stanley

    Well that’s made me feel guilty… Even the layer of dirt on my Leaf has a layer of dirt on it! ;o)

    • Evie Leaf

      It’s not bad until you can’t read the license plate! I could show you some examples of that, but can’t get my hands on them right now.

  • vdiv

    Watch out with pouring warm water over the cold glass, it may crack.nnOnce a week I take my Volt through an automatic touch-less car wash that rinses the undercarriage and applies wax and Rain-X that keep the water and salt off the surface. The car wash also blows air that removes most of the water. If it is warm enough (>+5u00b0C) I would hand-dry the Volt to remove the spots and clean the frame behind the doors and hatch. I’ve been lazy with the interior as the black rubber mats have tuned white with all of the salt. Eventually in the spring I’ll take care of that too.nnVery sick and tired of the winter weather, but particularly of all the salt. The DOT people have gone insane with it. All of the trees along the roads are white, not because of snow, but because of the road salt over-spray. It is rather surreal and sad as it will affect the flora and fauna here and downstream all the way to the Chesapeake bay.

    • Michael Thwaite

      I’ve been reading some reports that suggest that the salt is a waste of time – that other states use gravel alone to break up ice. They claim that the anti-freezing property of salt isn’t worth the cost or the environmental damage.

      • vdiv

        Yeah, unfortunately the sand clogs the drainage system and is also rather abrasive for the mechanics and the surfaces of the cars. It all seems rather hopeless and those fortunate enough to werk from home are, well, fortunate 🙂

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