If you think winter is hard on you, imagine how your car must feel.
Deep, cold temperatures make it harder for the engine to work properly. Salt on the road can cause erosion in the undercarriage. Not to mention, ice and snow can impede a car's ability to do the one thing it's supposed to be good at — driving. Winter is the absolute antagonist to your daily driving companion.
But the good news is that it doesn't have to be.
Paying a little extra attention to your car before Old Man Winter really sets in can ensure that you aren't left stranded with a hefty tow and repair bill.
And the best part? You can winter-proof your vehicle on almost any budget.
Here are a few tips based on how much you're looking to spend:
Less than $15
General inspection: The cheapest thing you can do to ensure your vehicle is prepared to hold up throughout the cold weather months is thoroughly inspect the outer body.
"It can be as simple as washing your car by hand," said Tony Molla, vice president of the Automotive Service Association and am ASE certified automotive technician. "If you do that, you're going to be going over the body closely to see if there are any obvious signs of damage that might need addressing."
Tire check: There are several popular ways to make sure your tires are in good standing. One of the easiest and most affordable methods involves using what's known as "the penny test."
"Insert a penny into your tire's tread groove with Lincoln's head upside down and facing you," Molla said. If you can see all of Lincoln's head, your treads are shallow and worn, so it's time to replace your tires. If not, your tires are fine.
Remember that when temperatures drop, so does tire pressure.
"Stop by a filling station and top off the tires to the pressure recommended by the manufacturer," Molla said. There's usually a label sticker on the driver's side door jam that lists the recommended tire pressure.
Battery cleaning: Look for green fuzz on or around your battery terminal. "If you spot some, it's corrosion. A stiff-bristled brush or wire brush and a little baking soda should get it off," Molla said.
Body wax: Winter weather can dull your car’s paint and shine, making it more susceptible to oxidation.
"A wash and wax can go a long way in terms of protecting your vehicle from winter conditions like rain, snow, salt and sand that erode paint and can also lead to rust," said Ron Margadonna, technical engineer at Michelin, a leading tire company.
While you’ll likely save some time dropping off the car for a quick wash and wax, Margadonna said, "these two critical steps can also easily be done in your own driveway."
Go to your local auto store and ask for the best cleaning and waxing agent for the type of vehicle you have. Professional wax jobs can cost more than $50.
Door hinges: To prevent squeaky hinges, Molla said its best to spray WD-40, a multiuse lubricant, on car locks and latches. You can buy a can for less than $5 on Amazon.
Windshield washer fluid: "Swap out your wiper fluid for a winter mixture that will help protect your visibility when driving in extreme cold," Margadonna said. Walmart has an option for just $2.
Less than $25
Wiper blades: 'Tis the season to inspect your windshield wipers. If your wipers are leaving streaks or missing spots, it's probably time to replace them.
"Replacing worn windshield wipers is a simple thing you can do on your own and will go a long way toward helping you maintain visibility all season long when sand, salt and precipitation are a lot more prevalent," Margadonna said.
Some premium winter wiper blades are on Amazon for under $25.
Lights: Polish 'em up. More than just a cosmetic issue, clouded lenses can pose a serious threat to safety by compromising night vision and reducing the effectiveness of your headlights by up to 80 percent, according to Consumer Reports.
To save money, take a DIY approach to scrubbing them.
Consumer Reports says the Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit for $20 on Amazon provides the best results.
Less than $55
Air filter: If you do a lot of off-roading in the warmer months, it’s a good idea to change your car’s air filter before winter arrives, according to experts. “The only real way to know if you need to replace it is if you take it out and give it a look,” Molla said.
In most cases, cabin air filters are also easy to access, and replacements can cost around $20. However, that price goes up if you need a professional to install it.
“If you aren't sure how to take out your air filter, you might want to lend that to a professional. It will affect the performance of your engine if you don't put it back properly,” Molla said.
Don't forget …
An emergency kit: "Lastly, carry an emergency kit in your trunk in case you find yourself in a sticky situation this winter," Margadonna said.
"Keep key items like jumper cables, a shovel, ice scraper, flashlight with extra batteries, flares, blanket, hat and gloves and a portable cellphone charger with full battery," Margadonna said. "Don’t forget to program your phone with key emergency numbers ahead of time."
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