5 Ways to Save Money, Your Sanity for Winter Driving
By Trent Hamm
There are few things more miserable than being stranded along the road on a cold winter evening. Not only are you dealing with the stress of your car's situation (and the bill that will result from it), you're also freezing to the bone.
I've been a driver in the Midwest my entire life. I know from experience that winter car troubles can be miserable and expensive. However, there are several things you can do to prevent most of the common reasons for car troubles in the wintertime.
1. Check and Air Up Your Tires
One of the most common causes of a winter automotive emergency is a flat tire. The reason is simple: On a cold day, your tires slightly deflate compared to a warmer day, and that's often enough to expose any weaknesses in your tire.
You can take care of this problem by keeping your tires adequately inflated. Check your owner's manual for details on proper inflation for your make and model, then stop at a gas station that offers free air, and follow your manual's instructions for airing up your tires. You may need an inexpensive air pressure gauge, which shouldn't cost more than a dollar or two.
It's also worthwhile to inspect your tires, and make sure they're not overly worn. The procedure here is simple, too. Just examine the treads on your tire, and find the most worn spot. Then insert a penny into that tread with Lincoln's head facing the center of the tire. If the tread doesn't cover any of Lincoln's head, you need to replace your tires because the tread is dangerously low.
2. Pack an Emergency Kit in Your Trunk
If you find yourself in an emergency situation during the winter, adequate supplies are necessary to stay safe and warm and perhaps even fix the problem yourself. Of course, this only works if you've already packed an emergency kit for your trunk.
Put together an emergency kit with several blankets, a change of warm clothes for each common passenger in the car, a couple road flares, a first aid kit, extra hats and gloves, jumper cables, a simple tool kit and some ice melt. Those items are enough to get you out of many common jams.
3. Keep Your Car Fueled Up
During the winter, a low fuel level in your car can cause a bit of ice to form in your fuel line, making it very difficult to start your car if the temperature remains below freezing.
The simplest way to avoid that problem is to keep your car adequately fueled during the winter months. Avoid letting your car get below half a tank of gas and whenever you're in doubt, err on the side of refueling now rather than later.
Also -– and this is the voice of experience speaking here -– fuel up just before arriving at your destination at the end of a long holiday trip. It's often tempting to just "get there" with only a quarter of a tank of gas, but doing so can put you at risk for real problems on a very cold winter night.
4. Use a Winter Windshield Wash
During winter weather conditions, it's common to have ice and frost build up on your windshield at unexpected moments. Even when the car's interior is warm, a sudden drop in external temperature can cause frost to build up, leaving you with ice on your windshield and horrible visibility. That's in addition to the icy spray that can happen on a cold night when the temperature is several degrees below freezing, and the salt on the roads really isn't helping.
The problem in both cases is that you can't simply use normal windshield cleaning solution to take care of these problems. It will freeze, making things worse. Instead, you need winterized windshield cleaning solution.
If you shop around, you can get winterized windshield cleaning solution at a cheap price -- it's mostly just water and methanol mixed together. Add that to the windshield washing container under the hood of your car, and you're ready for one of the big hazards of winter driving.
5. Get a Full Tuneup
Not only does the temperature change wreak havoc on your tires, it can also cause expansion and contraction of other fluids and components in your automobile. That's why early winter is a great time for a full maintenance checkup on your car.
Take your car to your trusted auto mechanic, and ask for a full checkup. The key here is to use a trusted mechanic, not a place that will find all kinds of reasons to "fix" your car.
The best step you can always take with your car, regardless of the season, is to stay up to date with the maintenance schedule and keep an eye on things that wear out, like the belts and the brake pads. A good auto technician will help you do just that.
Trent Hamm is the founder of TheSimpleDollar.com, which provides consumers with resources and tools to make informed financial decisions.