7 Ways to Protect Your Car This Winter

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Aside from owning a house, your car is likely the most expensive investment you’ve made. There are ways to make sure your investment stays safe all year long, including owning the necessary insurance, obeying traffic laws, and taking your car in for routine services if you’re not the kind of person who prefers to change the oil on your own. But as winter begins, there are a few other expenses you might have to make sure your car is ready to handle colder temperatures and inclement weather.

In some cases, you might have to spend a little bit of money to prevent yourself from paying larger fees when something goes wrong. Though it might seem like a waste initially, taking the proper steps to protect your car will help you save more money over the long run. It’s one case where “spend a little, save a lot,” actually makes sense.

No matter what, there are ways to make sure you’re only paying what you need to — not exorbitant extra fees that won’t end up helping you or your car. Take a look at some of the steps you should take to get ready for the coldest months, and how to make sure you’re not paying too much.

1. Check your battery

When the mercury in your thermometer outside dips into the coldest temperatures, it acts as an inhibitor to the chemical reactions in your car batteries. Hence, the reason more people call AAA and other roadside assistance companies when temperatures drop below freezing.

“At zero degrees, you lose 60 percent of your battery power. At 32 degrees you’ve lost 35 percent of the battery power if you didn’t have 100 percent to start with it doesn’t leave you with much,” Tom Cera, a AAA employee, told a CBS affiliate.

If you live in an area where temperatures routinely drop below freezing and you’re not sure how much juice your battery has left, take the preventative step to have it checked, before your car leaves you out in the cold on a morning when you’re trying to get to work. Your regular mechanic can do a quick check if you’re taking it in for a routine servicing, but Autozone also offers complimentary battery checks, and in some states will also check your alternator, starter, and voltage regulator. If your battery does die but you have another vehicle to use, Autozone will also charge your battery for free, a process they say takes about 30 minutes.

2. Wash your car

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you live in a region that seems perpetually gray and snowy from November until March each year, it can be tempting to forgo washing your car. What’s the point, if it will just snow a day later? But washing your car ensures that sand and salt from the roads won’t make your car their new home, speeding up the oxidation process of your paint job and making your vehicle look like a rust bucket.

How often you wash your car likely depends on how cold it is, and how much salt typically gets on your car. Try to wash the car on days when it’s above freezing, to prevent locks and door handles from freezing afterward. If you live in an area where 32 degrees feels like a rare balmy day during January and February, lubricating locks, gas cap, and trunk with WD-40 can help them from freezing when you have no choice but to wash it when it’s frigid.

A $6 to $8 car wash should do the trick — you don’t need to get “the works” to do the job right, Nick Burlow, owner of Isles Auto Repair in Minneapolis, told a CBS affiliate. However, you do need to make sure the undercarriage of your car is getting clean too, even if that means taking it to a self-service wash where you can spray it down yourself.

3. Get winter tires

If you have brand new all-season tires on your car, the tread should be enough to make it through winters in most climates. But if you’ve had them on your car and the tread is worn down, you might want to consider putting a set of winter tires on your car for the coldest months.

Winter tires are made with a rubber that’s designed to remain more supple in colder temperatures, meaning you’ll have a better grip on frigid roadways. A full set can be quite an investment, often in the range of about $1,000. However, if you live in an area where snow and ice are common during your commute, it might be worth the money.

A test by Tire Rack, a national tire retailer, found that braking improved by 35% with winter tires compared to all-season versions. And though the cost can be steep now, investing in winter tires can expand the life of your normal tires by a few years, said John Rastetter, former director of tire information at Tire Rack. “It may be an extra thousand dollars today, but it’s going to stretch them out from two to three years of service to five to six years of service,” he told Autoblog.

If you’re not sure where to start, Tire Rack reviews some new options for winter tires on its site.

4. Replace your windshield wipers

Snow and ice can wreak havoc on your windshield wipers, but there’s never a more vital time to have them working properly. The general rule of thumb is they should be replaced every six months to a year, but any squeaking or smears will tell you it’s time for a change.

Regular rubber wipers cost about $20 depending on the vehicle, Cars.com reports, though some higher-quality options made with halogen-hardened rubber or silicone will cost more. Of course, added to any cost of the wipers is the labor costs you’ll pay a mechanic if you don’t want to replace them yourself.

5. Know the costs for your area

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

If you’re lucky, you’ll already know a quality mechanic who won’t overcharge you or convince you to pay for unnecessary maintenance. If you’re still shopping around for that person, do your research ahead of time to make sure you pay a fair price for any work you have done.

Sites like Repair Pal can be a great tool in cases like this, where you enter your make and model of car, the ZIP code you live in, and the type of repair you need. The site will then give you an estimate with a price range for the labor and parts prices, along with options to find a certified shop in your area to complete the work. That way, you can be sure you won’t be conned out of paying more than you would down the street for the same quality of work.

6. Know how to get bids for repair work

If you’re doing preventive work on your car, check prices with a few shops in the area to find who will give you a good price — especially if you didn’t check the price range in your area in the step above.

If snow or ice does cause you to be involved in an accident, make sure you get bids from multiple body shops to repair your car. Angie’s List provides a good run-down of what that process should look like, but keep in mind you’ll be working with your insurance company and a repair shop. You’re likely not required to get multiple bids for the work, but it’s not a bad idea to make sure you’re getting the best deal, especially if you have to pay any money out of pocket.

7. Consider a AAA membership

Though most winter weather issues can be solved with some preventive action and awareness on the roads, having peace of mind is never a bad idea. A membership with AAA offers roadside assistance if you run out of gas, get a flat tire, or your battery won’t start, among other services. Your membership fees with vary by a few dollars depending on your location, but are often within the $65 to $75 range for a one-year classic membership and a first-year enrollment fee. Upgrades for free gas (if you run out on the road) and a larger free towing distance, among other perks, are available.

AAA memberships are assigned per person, meaning you can call for assistance in any car you’re traveling in if you’re a member. It won’t change the fact that your battery is dead or you got a flat, but it can ease the stress of taking care of it quickly.

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