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Undercarriage Car WashBillions of pounds of debris
As much as we don't like to acknowledge it, a little bit of our car, truck, minivan, or station wagon wears out every time we take it for a ride. Tires leave a small amount of themselves behind. Brakes pads dust themselves all over wheels, calipers and suspensions. Clutch discs deposit miniscule fragments of disc as they grab the flywheel. Coolant overflow tanks drop a few drops here and there. Multiply these factors by the unfathomable number of people turning the key and going to and fro everyday and it all adds up to literally billions of pounds of debris deposited on the roadways of America every year.
Seasonal sources also add to the soup. Wintertime brings a load of steel munching salt and "construction season" brings mud, tar, and other road grit along with otherwise breezy summer traveling. Unfortunately, a significant amount of this roadway refuse ends up making a home on the undercarriage of your vehicle. While we all know the benefits of keeping the topside clean, it's also important to periodically clean the underside as well.
Crud. Dust. Grime. Junk.
A good rinse will not only help your vehicle last longer, but it can also help it to run better. Road salt can cause major corrosion in the long run and the best way to get on top of the inevitable rust is to stop it before it starts. Rinsing the underside of the body and fenders helps to remove the salt from the cracks and crevices where it lies in wait to start eating steel from the inside out. Getting rid of caked on road gunk will also help the engine and transmission run cooler. Besides escaping through the radiator, a good amount of engine heat wicks into the air through the oil pan and block. The transmission also gets rid of heat through the fluid pan and case. This operating heat can't escape as efficiently as it should if everything is encapsulated in crud. Keeping the underside of the vehicle clean can also help keep rubber boots and seals pliable and preserved by removing material that can cause them to dry out and crack. Any fluid leaks and potential undercarriage problems are much easier to spot and diagnose if things are spic-and-span on the south side of the vehicle.
Mr. & Mrs. Clean
Hosing down the undercarriage is best done before you wash off the top. While many commercial car washes offer this service as an added feature to the regular wash, keep in mind that some also recycle this water, which is a concern when it comes to road salt. If your vehicle is truly caked with crud down under, then a commercial steam cleaning should be considered as all that gunk may need to be professionally removed and disposed of. For the rest of us, using the hose on the bottom before going to wash the top is an easy way to stay on top of undercarriage ugliness.
Start with hosing under the engine and transmission and then work your way out to the fenders and wheels. Pay particular attention to cracks and crevices where corrosive salt or debris can collect. Brushing unusually heavy deposits can help loosen them up. For even greater undercarriage access, a set of drive-on ramps or jack and jack stands can give you a better shot with the hose. Always be safe, and keep it clean.