The Winter Driving Hazard Most Drivers Don’t Think About

Driving during the winter months can be downright stressful. In our last post, we looked at preventable problems associated with cold weather driving, but, no matter how prepared you may be, slick roads are potentially dangerous for everyone. While road salt provides an effective way to deal with ice on the roads, it also creates an additional winter driving hazard that most people do not even think about.

icy-roads

Road salt exposure throughout the winter season has a punishing effect on the metal components of your vehicle. Most auto designs have an exposed underbody, which means the majority of salt damage occurs underneath the car, where it goes visually undetected. Rust on essential parts of your car can leave you with huge problems ranging from brake system leaks to frame damage. Rubber tires are mostly resistant to salt damage, however, your metal wheels are highly vulnerable to salt damage.

Vehicle manufacturers understand this winter driving issue, so the coatings and paint finishes used in today’s automotive manufacturing do a much better job of providing protection against salt damage. Also working to our advantage is the fact that corrosion and rust do not happen quickly. This means that you have time to undo salt damage potential with regular car washes.

Car Wash

It does not take long for salt and dirty snow to make your car virtually unrecognizable. But washing your vehicle when it’s just going to get dirty again the second you hit the road probably seems like a waste of time and money. On the contrary, regular washes are definitely worth the investment because they are the best way to remove the road salt that is a serious corrosion hazard. 

How frequently should you wash your vehicle? That depends on how much salt and road sludge it is exposed to on a regular basis. If you have really expensive wheels, consider swapping them out during the winter season, since salt is particularly hard on chrome. For extra protection, make it part of your fall routine to wax your vehicle. Waxing in the fall will help make your winter washes more effective.

Three Ways to Lower the Cost of Driving

In the past century, owning a car has gone from being a luxury to a necessity, with the average number of cars per household in the U.S. at 1.88 in 2017. While car ownership is more prevalent these days, it still is an expensive proposition. From the initial cost of the car and insurance, to the price of gas and maintenance, when you add it all up, the cost of driving is considerable.

cost of driving

There are definitely things you can do to get the most value from your investment, beginning with buying the right car. Make sure the car you select is dependable. It is also a good idea to choose one that delivers good fuel economy. Most importantly, during the car buying process, be honest and realistic about your budget so you aren’t weighed down with monthly payments you cannot afford.

Once you have purchased your vehicle and insurance, the opportunities to save don’t end. There are additional ways you can lower the cost of driving that will provide you with a little extra financial breathing room.

  1. Make sure you stick with a regular car maintenance schedule.

Following the regular schedule of recommended maintenance will not only keep your car running more dependably, it will decrease the cost of repairs and replacements for preventable issues. While you do have to pay for things like tire rotation, oil changes, and wheel alignment, these costs are far less than the major problems that will result from neglecting maintenance. 

Regular maintenance typically includes services like brake checks and service, wheel alignment, tire rotation, oil filter changes, fluid checks, air filter changes and brake checks. Always read check your owner’s manual for your car’s specific requirements. 

  1. Make changes to your driving habits.

It is actually surprising how much money you can save by making some changes to your driving habits. Ride sharing will save you gas and mileage on your car. Planning shopping trips and errands can also help you consolidate trips for additional savings. If you are not familiar with the route options when driving somewhere, use an app to help you determine the most efficient way to reach your destination. 

  1. Optimize your fuel efficiency.

Aside from buying a car with good gas mileage, there are other things you can do to improve your fuel efficiency. Avoid jackrabbit starts – make it a habit to accelerate gently. Do not use your car as a storage facility. The extra weight of a loaded trunk will have an impact on your fuel economy. Lastly, keep your tires inflated to the recommended pressure. This will improve fuel efficiency and extend the life of your tires.

Certified Pre-Owned – The Affordable New Car Option

Certified Pre-owned VehicleThere are few experiences in life that are as awesome as kicking the tires on a new car. Once you slide into the driver’s seat, take in that divine new car aroma, and realize that baby is all yours, well, it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.

Sadly though,  just because you want a new car, doesn’t mean you can afford one. If finances are a challenge, buying a “new” used car can be a great option. Though many car shoppers are wary of the risks that come with buying a used car, choosing a certified pre-owned vehicle can alleviate some of those risks.

Back in the early 1990s, automakers started offering certified pre-owned  vehicles to profit on low-mileage trade-ins and lease returns. Since vehicles were returning to dealerships in excellent condition, manufacturers decided to resell the cars complete with detailed inspections, reconditioning, and extended warranties.

Buyers usually get more car for their budget with a certified pre-owned vehicle than they can with a new car. To be considered certified, a vehicle needs to meet specific age and mileage requirements, and pass a dealership inspection. Certified pre-owned cars carry an extended limited warranty, but also go for a higher price. Many buyers are okay with paying that premium, because of the peace of mind the warranty gives them.

While a certified pre-owned vehicle, does minimize the potential for used car problems, there is no guarantee that you won’t have issues. With the certified used vehicle, you know that mechanics who are trained to spot trouble have inspected it. The manufacturers warranties vary, so it is important that you look at the warranty of each certified car you are considering. Depending on the program, you might get roadside assistance and a loaner-car when needed. Make sure you understand the extent to which the manufacturer will assist you if you need help resolving an issue at the dealership.

If you find a used car you like and it happens to not be certified, you might not have to rule it out. There are resources such as CARFAX and AutoCheck, which allow you to check on the background of car using its vehicle identification number (VIN) . The VIN can be found by looking at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle or on the door post of the driver’s side door.

It is also a good idea to test drive the car and if you are seriously considering it, ask your own mechanic to check it out.  To assist you with what questions to ask and organizing information, Edmunds has a downloadable used car questionnaire you can use for each car you are considering.

With a little research and smart shopping,  buying a used car can be just as fun and rewarding as buying a new one. Plus you may end up with some remaining funds to take a nice summer road trip in your new ride.

Start the Holiday with a Safe Road Trip

safe road tripAccording to the American Automobile Association Travel Forecast, 48.7 million people will travel 50 miles or more over the holidays. More than 89 percent of holiday travelers will be driving this Thanksgiving. The 43.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip represents an increase of 1.9 percent over the previous year. If you are among the travelers, be sure to make it a smooth and safe road trip.

Although the fuel prices travelers will pay are slightly higher than last year, those prices will be the second cheapest we’ve seen in nearly a decade. According to the AAA forecast:

“Today’s national average price for a gallon of gasoline is $2.16, 11 cents more than the average price on Thanksgiving last year ($2.05). Most U.S. drivers will pay the second-cheapest Thanksgiving gas prices since 2008, when the national average was $1.85.”

Holiday road trips can be a fun part of the season’s festivities, as long as you are prepared and have a safe road trip. Whether you are driving home or to another special destination for the holidays, here are a few preparation tips:

  1. Be sure your vehicle is ready for the journey with a service check. Things to inspect include: battery, brakes, wipers, lights, oil, coolant, fluids, and tire pressure.
  2. Download an app like GasBuddy to help you find the best gas prices along the way.
  3. Be sure your maps are current, whether it’s updating your GPS or getting the good old paper kind from a gas station.
  4. When packing the car, you may need to remove things you normally keep in the trunk in order to make room for gifts and your luggage. Just be sure not to leave behind your roadside emergency items such as jumper cables or a folding shovel.
  5. If you are traveling with kids, make sure they have something to do to pass the time. You don’t necessarily need a DVD player or a tablet to keep kids occupied. There are plenty of classic travel games for you and the little ones to enjoy together.

Whatever your plans are, have a safe road trip and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

Do Fuel Additives Really Improve Gas Mileage?

Every driver, especially in today’s economy, wants to improve gas mileage and save money. Courting these desires are enthusiastic advertising claims that fuel additives are the way to substantially save on fuel costs. But do fuel additives actually provide gas-savings? According to  the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information website, the touted advantages of fuel additives generally have little to back them up.

The vehicle engines of today are the product of decades of extensive research and technology. Engineers understand the demands placed on engines and have been able to design engines for optimal performance under the most challenging conditions. There are some fuel additives that may offer some modest benefits, however your engine was developed to perform without the need for enhancements like these.

If you are considering investing in fuel additives, rather than going with the recommendation of a clerk at your local auto supply chain, talk your mechanic. Your car care professional will have the experience and knowledge to advise you on the needs of your particular vehicle.

Fuel additives aside, here are some proven ways to improve your gas mileage:

Do not neglect  oil changes

Stay on schedule and use the manufacturer’s recommended grade of motor oil for optimal performance.

Maintain the correct tire pressure

Regularly check your tire pressure and keep them inflated to the manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

Regularly check tire tread

Keep in mind that worn out tires are not only unsafe, they cause your vehicle to operate less efficiently. 

Use cruise control  on the highway

Avoid getting a ticket and improve your gas mileage by maintaining a safe and consistent speed on the highway.

Always combine trips  

You’ll be surprised to find out how much you can save on gas by simply planning and combining trips. 

Simple Car Maintenance: Windshield Wiper Check

When your windshield wipers are worn or damaged, they will not be able to adequately clear the windshield. Windshield wipers are extremely important to ensure visibility for safe driving.

A number of factors contribute to the deterioration of your windshield wiper blades. These can include UV damage from the sun, oil from car waxes, dirt and other airborne debris, as well as salt and other contaminants in rain.

Checking your wiper blades every six months and replacing them annually is a very important part of your simple car maintenance routine.

Problems that mean your windshield wiper blades may need to be replaced include:

  • Corroded metal, particularly around the claws and joints
  • Frame is detached at any connection points or joints
  • Cracks, tears, or damage to the edge of the rubber squeegee
  • Lack of flexibility in the squeegee rubber
  • Rounding at the edges of the squeegee
  • Rubber blade is loose or not in secure in the frame

Along with inspecting your wipers, look for signs that your wipers are not working correctly:

  • Streaking on the windshield
  • Squeaking sound when in use
  • Skipping across the windshield

You can also care for your windshield wiper blades on a more frequent basis by cleaning your windshield and your wipers every time you fill your gas tank. In the winter months, clear snow and ice from your windshield before turning on your windshield wipers.

Simple Car Maintenance

There are few possessions you depend on in life as much as your car. For most it is a huge investment. We rely on our cars each day to get us to work, help us run errands, and transport us to the fun destinations we enjoy in between. It is easy to take your ride for granted, but eventually the day will come when your vehicle will fail. If you don’t take proper care of it, that day maybe sooner than later.

Taking care of your vehicle means making sure that you take your car into a professional for the regular maintenance it needs. Not only do you need to protect your investment, you need to know that you and your passengers are as safe as possible while on the road.  Your trusted auto service provider can help you be sure your car stays in top condition.

There are also some basic auto maintenance things you can check on your own to keep your car running smoothly:

  • Oil Check
  • Engine Leaks
  • Air Filter
  • Accessory Belts
  • Wiper Blades
  • Tire Care

Over the next several weeks, I will expand on how to do these checks on your own. In the meantime, knowing your vehicle and finding a trusted local auto service professional will keep you driving safely,  reliably, and efficiently.

Storing Winter Tires

Could it be true? It looks like winter may finally be behind us! As thoughts turn to warmer weather and Springtime, there is something you may not be thinking of, but probably should consider – your winter tires.

An important part of tire maintenance, proper tire storage is typically overlooked. Storing your winter tires the right way will keep them looking great and performing well.

Tires should be stored in a clean, cool and dry place. Keep them away from sunlight and be sure they are not exposed to strong air currents. It is true that the rubber used to make tires is engineered to resist the effects of sunlight, ozone, and water, however these elements still cause wear. Seasonal storage time provides a great opportunity to minimize exposure to these stresses and give your tires a break.

The following are some storage tips to keep in mind:

  • Tires stored while mounted on rims should be inflated to 10 psi.
  • Tires that are put in storage during warm weather should be inflated to about 15 psi to offset the pressure drop during cold weather months.
  • Cover or wrap tires for storage. Many types of covers are available from auto parts retailers.
  • If tires are mounted on rims, they should be stacked four deep underneath a tire cover.
  • Tires should be stored upright and under a cover if they are mounted on rims, rather than stacked or suspended from the ceiling.
  • Tires with whitewall or raised white lettering should be stored with the whitewall or raised white lettering facing each other to avoid black rubber staining.
  • It is best not to store tires outside, but it is unavoidable, keep them raised off the storage surface.

Winter Wash

Dear Tracy,

I am concerned about the salt that has been building up on my car this winter, but I am reluctant to wash it because I have heard the locks, trunk, and gas cap can freeze. Is freezing a problem or is it okay to wash during winter? I am really worried about the salt damaging my car and my tires!

Rachel B.

Dear Rachel,

It is definitely a good idea to keep your car washed in the winter. While salt is a quick and effective way for municipalities to make roads safer during periods of ice and snow, it is also a very caustic substance that can lead to pitting and rusting on your car’s finish. To prevent lock freezing and other such issues, you can apply WD40 to help water from penetrating these areas.

If you have newer winter tires that have a decent amount of tread, you shouldn’t have to worry about salt damaging your tires. But the metal surfaces of your vehicle, including your wheels, are vulnerable to salt damage. Salt can ultimately lead to rust occurring on the body and underside areas of your car.

Fortunately the process of salt leading to rust takes time. The coatings and paint finishes used today do a very good job of providing protection.  With regular washings during the winter months your car should handle the salt abuse just fine. How often you need to wash the car will depend on how much salt and road sludge you encounter. Since salt is particularly hard on chrome, it may be worth swapping your wheels out it the winter months, if you have really expensive wheels. Also, waxing your car during the autumn months will provide extra protection that will make your winter washes more effective.

Home for the Holidays – Make it a Safe Trip!

Image courtesy of Pintrest

The American Automobile Association Year-End Holiday Travel Forecast reports that 98.6 million people will travel 50 miles or more over the holidays, and that year-end holiday travel volume will reach the highest peak since AAA began recording holiday travel stats in 2001.

According to the AAA forecast, nearly 91 percent of all travelers will celebrate the holidays with a road trip, which is an increase of 4.2 percent from last year. With today’s national average price of gas at $2.53 per gallon (70 cents less than last year), the report also says that lower gas prices will help boost disposable income this holiday season.

Holiday road trips can be a fun part of the season’s festivities, as long as you are safe and prepared. Whether you are driving home or to another special destination for the holidays, here are a few preparation tips:

  • Make sure your vehicle is ready! Get a service check including: battery, brakes, wipers, lights, oil, coolant, fluids, and tire pressure.
  • Download an app like GasBuddy to help you find the best gas prices along the way.
  • Whether it means updating your GPS, printing a fresh set of Mapquest directions, or picking up a paper version from a gas station, make sure your maps are current.
  • As you pack the car, you might be tempted to remove things you normally keep in the trunk in order to make room for packages and luggage. Be sure not to leave behind roadside emergency items such as jumper cables or a folding shovel.

Whatever your plans might be, have a Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays!