How to Beach-Proof your Car

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As summer gets into its swing, car owners both new and old trade off the winter car worries (ice, chains, antifreeze damage, and so on) for a whole new set just for summer. Beach vacations are the most common culprit: it’s one thing if you live near the ocean year-round, but visitors often don’t realize how much damage sand and salt air can do until it’s too late. Even the locals may not be aware of the options that exist to mitigate environmental damage.

Starting on the level of regular maintenance, if your car is exposed to sand and salt on a regular basis it is important to wash and wax it as often as possible. Don’t be stingy with the water, either: flushing the contaminants from the painted surface is far preferable to grinding them into the car by wiping it dry.

Car covers are a much-vaunted solution to sand’s paint-scratching ways, but for everyday use, they may do more harm than good. Any sand on the car when it’s covered remains trapped under the cover, and movement of the cover only makes scratching more likely. Worse yet, over time layers of sand will build up on the inside of the cover, making it a source of the very contamination it’s trying to stop. Frequent, thorough cleaning of the cover is critical to get good results.

If you don’t mind a sizable initial time or cost investment, try using a paint protection shield of some kind. Many manufacturers offer professionally-applied coatings either from the factory or at the dealer, though the cost of either is considerable. Not compared to repeated paint jobs, naturally, but a lump sum may be harder to come up with. If you have more time than money, consumer products have recently become available that allow you to apply the coating yourself. Even a partial coating, applied to areas like the fenders and door panels most likely to take paint damage, can seriously cut down on the repainting you’ll have to do. If you choose to purchase such a kit, take care to follow the directions closely. Cutting corners will end up costing you more than getting a professional would have.

Despite all this talk of sand, the biggest beach-borne danger to your car is less obvious: salt. The corrosive properties of wet, salty air can and will damage your car in far more critical locations than the paint job. (Of course, it will damage that too; salt is a bit of an overachiever that way).

The most important thing you can do is be aware of this problem! Keep an eye out for corrosion in unexpected places. As tempting as it is to crack your car windows in summer to keep the car interior from overheating, leave windows and sunroof closed when the car is parked to reduce exposure of the interior. Another area to watch is your tire air valves. For best results, make sure the valve caps are always on, even if it means buying extras when the originals go missing; an annoyance, perhaps, but one you can’t afford to ignore.

On the bright side, most of the methods used to protect your car exterior from sand have an effect on salt as well. Car covers do help here, as do frequent washings with lots of water. Paint-protection coatings, naturally, keep salt off not only the paint but also the metal beneath.

Whether you’re a seaside resident or just a weekend vacationer, taking precautions to beach-proof your car now will increase performance and appearance in the long term.

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