Think hard before ponying up those extra few bucks for automatic car washes at gas stations. They may not get your car entirely clean and might even damage the exterior.
"Some older car washes use abrasive brushes instead of cloth ones, which can leave small scratches in a car's finish," says Jody DeVere, chief executive at AskPatty.com, an automotive advice and education site for women.
Often, a more cost-effective option is a self-service wash, which requires you to physically scrub the car but can be useful for removing heavy, caked-on dirt. Or skip the wash altogether while you're on the road and periodically spot clean the headlights, windshield and mirrors for safety purposes, says Eric Wulf, chief executive of the International Carwash Association in Chicago.
Finally, if you can plan ahead, you may want to wash your car before you even leave home. "A good wash with wax or sealant goes a long way toward protecting your vehicle from road salt and corrosion," Wulf says.