The vast majority of car owners don’t care about swirl marks in their paint and probably don’t even know what they are. What they don’t know won’t hurt them. But since Canadian Gearhead is dedicated to the small group of us that obsesses over the condition of our vehicles, knowing how to remove snow without scratching your paint is definitely something we need to talk about.
We go to great lengths during the summer months to polish and protect our paint to perfection. Once the days turn cold, dark, and gloomy, it can be hard to have that same passion though. Brushing the snow off your car in the morning before going to work can be a real inconvenience. Some of us get lazy with it and forget about the consequences of touching our paint. Add to that the fact that our vehicles are often covered in dirt and road salt and it’s easy to block our shiny paint out of our mind. Spring is coming though, and you might be in for a real surprise when you see the toll the winter season has taken on your vehicle.
Why do you have to remove snow from your car?
Taking a moment to clear the snow from your car after a winter storm actually has very little to do with you or your car. It’s all about the safety of other drivers. If it weren’t for the other motorists on the road, this article wouldn’t need to exist – I’d simply tell you to leave the snow on your paint until it blows off or melts.
Having chunks of snow and ice fly off your vehicle on the highway is very dangerous. It can even be deadly. Once the wind gets a hold of this stuff, it’s just like throwing a rock at the windshield of the person behind you. That’s bad news for everyone.
Local law enforcement here in Ontario is really cracking down on people that fail to remove the snow from their cars (especially their windows). Too many pedestrians have been hurt. Too many windshields have been smashed. So Johnny Law is whipping out the ticket book in an attempt to get peoples’ attention.
I’m the first one to sympathize with not wanting to take the risk of scratching your paint. I’m sure many people think I’m a psycho because of the steps I take to maintain the finish on my vehicles (they’re probably right). As crazy as I am, I don’t believe that having a scratch-free car is more important than a person’s life or even their health. So I try to keep larger amounts of snow off my vehicle while doing my best to protect the condition of my paint.
Can a snow brush scratch your car?
Absolutely. I don’t care how expensive it is, how fancy the name is, or what it’s made out of. Any time we wipe something across our paint, there is a big risk of scratching it. This risk grows exponentially depending on how dirty the paint is under the snow. Most of the time there will be at least a thin layer of dirt, road salt, or sand underneath. That same dirt is going to be ground into your paint as soon as you drag a brush across it.
Using one of those stiff-bristled snow brushes directly on your paint is as bad or worse than using the soapy brush at a coin-op car wash.
A soft foam broom like this one can be helpful with removing snow from your paint but only when used properly. The tool you use really doesn’t matter. Even the fancy ones will scratch your car if you rub your paint directly with them. Whether your brush has stiff bristles or it’s made out of microfiber or foam, it can damage your paint unless you use it a certain way. I’ll get to that trick down below.
How to remove snow without scratching your paint or causing the least amount of damage:
I’m going to list these options in order of how safe they are for your paint. In general, the safest techniques for your paint will also be the least effective at removing snow. So start at the safest one and if it doesn’t work, keep moving down towards a more risky option. The absolute best scenario is to park indoors during the winter – that way you can avoid all of this stuff entirely. If that isn’t possible, here are a few ways to safely remove snow from your vehicle:
Allow the snow to melt
Giving the snow and ice a chance to melt rather than removing it is the safest thing for your paint. If you don’t have a garage at home, a public parking garage will work. This isn’t a very realistic option for most people though unless you’re planning to visit a business that happens to have indoor parking.
Blow the snow off with a leaf blower
The same leaf blower I use to dry vehicles after washing them is the one I use to remove snow. It can be extremely effective at cleaning the snow off your paint without causing any scratches or harm. It basically mimics what the wind will do on the highway, except you won’t be blinding the motorists behind you in this case.
This is by far the safest way to remove the snow from your vehicle because you don’t have to physically touch it. The only thing rubbing against your paint is the snow itself which still isn’t ideal, but it’s the lesser of all the other evils.
There are downsides to using a leaf blower though. First, you might want to avoid waking all of your neighbors up first thing in the morning with a loud machine. You’ll also look pretty strange standing in the snow while pointing a leaf blower at your car. Perhaps the biggest downside to blowing the snow off your car is that it doesn’t always work on heavier packing snow.
If you’re dealing with light, powder snow, this is going to be your best option. You should be able to remove nearly all of the snow from your car without even touching it once. And as you know, touching your paint is what scratches it.
Use a snow broom or brush
Again, your choice of tool isn’t important. Even if you have a stiff bristled brush like mine, you can wrap the bristles with a soft microfiber towel using elastic bands to hold it on. The key to using any type of brush to remove snow is this – never let the brush touch your paint. You want to hold the brush at least 1/4″ off the surface. This way you’ll remove the bulk of the snow (the dangerous part) and leave a thin layer behind. This is why your tool of choice doesn’t matter. If you’re using it properly, it should never actually touch your car. Only the snow on top.
Clearing your windows
Automotive glass is much harder to scratch than paint. Because of this, there is no reason to be driving around with snow and ice on your windows. You can use ice scrapers and any brush you want on your windows without having to worry about causing damage. Here’s a tip when using an ice scraper – leave a border of ice around the outer edges of the window. This won’t block your vision at all and it’ll protect your rubber moldings and plastic trim from being damaged by the scraper.
Protecting your vehicle in the winter time
Applying a quality wax or polymer paint sealant right before winter is always a great idea. It will keep the surface of your paint slick which means it’ll take less effort to make the snow slide off. Despite what other articles found online might claim, waxes and sealants will NOT protect your paint from scratches caused by your snow brush. Ceramic coatings do offer very minor scratch resistance, but you still need to be very careful with how you treat them.
Some people might think that using a car cover will keep their paint safe. Sure, it’ll keep the snow off of it. But using a car cover outdoors can also damage your paint job on its own. As soon as it flaps in the wind, the cover will rub against the car and can even wear right through the paint. I also wouldn’t want to have to deal with pulling off a cover that was frozen to a vehicle. In theory, this might sound like a good option. In reality, it’s not.
The harsh truth
The key to removing snow safely is to clear off just enough to be safe and legal. Don’t try to make it look perfect because that will require touching the paint. The best plan of attack is to leave a thin layer of snow behind, then let the heat from your engine or the sun finish the job.
Winter is hard on vehicles, period. The road salt and brine that they use to keep the streets clear will try its best to corrode and destroy our metal. We’re forced to risk scratching our paint in order to remove snow. When it’s well below the freezing mark, a seemingly healthy battery can surprise you when you try to start your car. Diesel engines want to run like vintage tractors. This season has a real talent for hurting vehicles.
Damage is inevitable for those of us that use our cars and trucks year-round. All we can do is minimize it the best we can, then polish them up to their former glory in the spring.