Next to home costs, vehicles can be the biggest financial investment for a household – and can cost big bucks when something goes wrong. With winter upon us – the toughest transportation season for your car – now’s a good time to assess your car’s shape, and look for ways to save amid the snow and cold.
Must-Have Tire Math
Purchasing a set of winter tires — and possibly a second set of rims — will run you between $500 and $2,000 (rims start at $250 each and go up from there). If you own two cars, double those costs. Snow tires are an annoyance on one level: you must store them during warmer weather and you need to either install and remove them yourself twice a year – or haul everything over to the mechanic to do the job for you – at a cost, of course.
However, for many people, the cost weighs out. An accident due to skidding in slippery roads and putting your car in the ditch or colliding with another car comes with serious costs. That can simply be the hassle of reporting the accident, paying some or all of the insurance deductible (check your policy, it is often $500 or $1000) if you are entirely or partially at fault for the accident and managing the car repairs. However, if you are at fault, not only will you pay deductible, but your premiums will go up in the future. And if someone in your family is injured, you have to deal with the repercussions of that — be it stress, not being able to work, extra healthcare costs, or worse.
Add up the costs: if you live in a warm part of Canada (Vancouverites, we’re looking at you), or you don’t drive much in winter, tires might not be worth it. In a rural area with lots of snow and the need to drive even to pick up milk, you need them.
Get A Tune Up
While you’re moving those tires around, get a proper winter check up on your vehicle to be sure it’s in prime running condition and your fluids are topped up and tires fully pumped. Avoiding a breakdown on a cold, snowy evening is worth the cost of avoiding a rough walk or a tow.
Your mechanic may encourage you to switch to a synthetic oil: a smart choice for climates where there’s rapid temperature changes in winter such as southern Ontario and Alberta. These oils cost more, but you need to change them less frequently.
Clean Up Your Car’s Act
Having your car fully detailed inside and out before winter may seem decadent: how does a clean and vacuum help save money? These services remove dirt and mess from the inside of the car, making sure things don’t turn into permanent stains that could, eventually, impact its resale value. Meanwhile, getting a deluxe clean should include a wax, which protects against salt and rust for the winter. With body work being easily the most expensive fix a car needs, particularly later in life, this is worth it.
Invest In Roadside Service
Now’s the time to also do the math on a service such as CAA. If you are driving long distances on the highway, the $69 (or so, rates changes depending on where you live) for a basic package could save you a lot of stress later on.
Stock Up On Safety
The trunk of your car should turn into a safety paradise in the winter. That starts with a car safety kit, available at hardware stores. It should include flares, flashlights, tools and a jumper cable. Add your own items to your kit, such as blankets, water, a bag of salt and a shovel.
Budget For Cold Weather Costs
Be sure you have enough in your household emergency fund to deal with a winter-related car repair, particularly if you have an older vehicle. (Tip: if you are thinking of buying, consider doing so now. A newer car will keep you safer in winter; dealerships are often unloading old models this time of year and even the used car market is a buyers’ market right now.)
Sitting in snowy gridlock can also be a big drain on your gas tank. Try offsetting your costs with a cash-back gas credit card, like the Shell CashBack World MasterCard, or the MBNA Smart Cash Master Card. The latter offers up to five per cent cash back on gas and grocery purchases (plus, until the end of 2013, you’ll score a FREE $100 gift card when approved).