Getting Ready for Winter Driving on a Budget

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Do you experience a winter with snow? I find that a preparedness mindset is helpful for getting ready for this challenging driving season. In this article, I am going to share my own checklist that I use to prepare for winter driving in my usual thrifty manner. I hope that this Frugalite list will give you some ideas that will help keep you and your loved ones safe on the roads this winter season!

Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are those of the writer and based upon her own winter driving experience with her own car. Due to the many variables involved in winter driving, including the road conditions, driving speeds and other drivers, the OP cannot be held liable for any claims resulting from readers using advice from this article.

Snow Tires

This is my number one item for being prepared for winter driving in both snow and ice. But how to source snow tires when money is tight? For me, the secret is to seek them out in the off-season. I use online buying forums like Craigslist, Kijiji, and (yes, even) FB groups to seek out snow tires in the spring and summer.

There are many people whose car dies or they sell the car and they forget the tires are in storage. Upon this discovery, they’re often more than willing to part with their tires for a cheap price. I have always been able to find decent snow tires for low prices this way. If I stick with my make model and year range when I search, the tires are also often on suitable rims.

Here’s a recent example: I found snow tires for my new car, Lucky, a Toyota Corolla on Kijiji. The seller had four high-end Bridgestone Blizzaks on brand new rims for $125. He said the tires should last two seasons. Upon inspection, it was clear that the tires only had enough tread for one season, if that. He immediately offered to reduce the price and I got four decent tires with four new rims for only $94. I feel pretty confident that these tires will get me through this winter season.

However, if they don’t, I actually have the next set of tires at the ready. Why do I do this? Because if you buy in a rush in winter tire season, you are very unlikely to get a deal. So, before it got cold, I went to my local wreckers and picked up four MORE tires in case my current ones wear quicker than I would like. I got two high-end tires (off rim- remember, I already have rims!) and two decent tires for only $94 more.

What is that motto again? That’s right! Be prepared! So, now, I can feel confident that I can get through this winter season safely.

Snow Brush

Another winter driving item I don’t like to scrimp on is my snow brush. You know those cheap ones? They break and don’t have a good reach or a decent scraper.

Check out sales in the off-season, at the end of winter, or just check your local thrift shop regardless of the season. You may find one as a loss leader at a hardware store just before Christmas. I always have two in my car. My good one is my main one and I have a cheaper, dollar store handheld scraper just in case my good one breaks.

Like I said, I like to be prepared.

Winter Driving Safety Kit

Winter driving in my rural area is a serious business. I have been on my way home from a neighboring town or city and seen cars on the ditch on my way. I take it slow and (see above) drive with high-quality thrifty winter tires on my frugal car.

However, at all times, I am prepared if a road is closed or my car breaks down in the winter. I make my own winter driving safety kit. This doesn’t cost me a lot of money: I put it together from items I already own, for the most part.

In a previous article, I raved about my uncle’s quality insulated coveralls that my Aunt gifted me when he passed. They are in my car at all times in the winter. If there is a problem of any kind, they are so large that I can easily throw them on over anything I am wearing and put either of my large winter coats on top of them. That many layers will keep me quite warm!

In my winter safety kit, I also have a box of matches, an emergency beeswax candle (which I made myself), and a tin can to put it in safely while it burns. I always have some food items that can be eaten frozen as well, such as granola bars.

Additionally, there are a couple of things that I bring into the car each time I drive. I own a small booster pack that has the power to boost my small car. I don’t like it to be frozen, so I bring it in and out of the car each time I drive. Wouldn’t you like to have the power to boost your own car YOURSELF if something happens? I sure do! The booster pack is also capable of charging a cell phone, if required. THAT’S safety!

A water bottle is something I like to keep available in my car as well. It is not likely to freeze solid during the time I’m at work or grocery shopping, even in Canada. I carry it in and out of the car with my booster pack. I don’t mind this minor inconvenience compared to the inconvenience of being without these two items when I need them the most.

Extra Wiper Washer Fluid

My thrifty tip about this is to buy in bulk. Recently, I bought a case of four 4L jugs (almost one gallon each) of wiper washer fluid, good to -50 Celsius (-58 Fahrenheit). Now, the coldest I have ever seen is -40, which is the same in both scales. It’s good to know this fluid could go colder, if required. This case was on sale for only $6, which is at least 50% off this premium product.

Who knows, this amount might last me all winter.

Trunk Ballast for Front Wheel Drive Car

Another must-do on my winter driving checklist is to weigh down the rear wheels of my front-wheel drive car. I feel this gives me better traction in snow and ice. Beside one wheel well, I place a 40-pound bag of ice melt. Beside the other wheel well, a 40-pound bag of sand. Both were purchased on sale, of course!

In the center of the trunk, I usually place a good-sized bag of non-clumping unscented kitty litter. This is great for placing under your wheels when you are stuck in an ice rut. I have helped many people with stuck cars with this combination of items.

Don’t Forget Your Shovel!

Another item that has unstuck me and helped me get others back on the road is my car shovel. It is a small, compact snow shovel I like to keep in my car all winter.  I’m pretty sure I got it for free when someone I knew was giving away extras. A great place to get one is end-of-season sales or summer yard sales or thrift shops.

Winter Driving is “Snow” Joke!

Despite my bad pun, I take winter driving seriously. Could you see yourself trying any of the thrifty tips offered here to get ready for winter driving? Do you have one you can share with us? Please tell us in the comments below.

Getting Ready for Winter Driving on a Budget
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Colette is passionate about sharing her knowledge of thrifty living and self-sufficiency. She has developed her skills in self-reliance living in the suburbs, the city, and more recently, on her own Half-Acre Homestead. Colette lived five years completely off-grid and without running water in an eight by 24 foot tiny home while designing and building her own 18 by 24-foot eco-cabin. Her website, Half Acre Homestead is attracting followers from around the world who want to become more self-sufficient.  Colette invites you to stop by the Homestead and check out all of the great resources including the practical How To Guides, A Tiny Home Resource Center and her organic gardening stories on her blog. She shares her wholistic model (body/mind/spirit) for achieving self-sufficiency in her Free Course, "Growing Self-Sufficiency: The Whole Picture." Stop by the Homestead today to register free of charge!

7 thoughts on “Getting Ready for Winter Driving on a Budget”

  1. I beg to differ on the weight in the trunk of the car. Front wheel drive cars also have the majority of the weight of the car in the front especially with the engine compartment. Putting weight in the trunk throws off the balance of the car and makes it even harder to drive in snow. I actually did this years ago, and immediately noticed how much harder it was to drive in the snow, my car slid everywhere and I ended up taking the weight out. If your car is rear-wheel drive, then this practice is better. Check your owners manual of your car, or a trusted mechanic. This practice does not apply to cars with all wheel drive.
    Having good tires, whether they are snow or all seasons, plus keeping them properly inflated, is what you need for snowy driving. Chains are good for extra heavy snow, especially if the roads haven’t been plowed but are generally not needed and also cause damage to the roadways.
    I live in western New York state and for the most part roads are well maintained in the winter, but there are areas that can be challenging.
    The key to winter driving is, slow down, keep your steering in the direction you want to go in if you start to skid, and of course keeping your car properly maintained.
    If you do not feel safe driving in snow, especially when it’s measured in feet, then stay home.

    If you slide off the road, and get stuck – DO. NOT. LEAVE. YOUR. CAR. Stay in, and use something brightly colored as a flag to get other drivers attention that you’re there. Call 911, and they will send you help. Your car, even if it’s stuck in snow, is the safest place you can be.

    1. Hi Julie C, Thanks so much for taking the time to post. I welcome all comments and don’t mind at all if there’s a difference of opinion! There’s a great community here and a diversity of opinions. I appreciate your taking the time to explain your thoughts on trunk loading for front wheel drive cars. I have never tried chains, but I’m sure I could have used them sometimes, as our roads can be quite dangerous in the winter….sometimes quite an accumulation of snow. This is especially difficult on the back roads. Thank you, as well for your winter driving tips. I always like to go somewhere safe early in the season and practice some stops and turns in the snow. Wishing you a safe winter driving season in western New York State.

  2. Admittedly from a non-driver: ice cleats! I second the principle of staying in your car if there’s a severe problem. However, if the problem involves something simpler, as in changing a tire, then ice cleats will help ensure traction while walking on snow and ice. Falling is no fun, especially as we age! While cleats aren’t infallible, I’ve found them incredibly helpful. I too live in snow country 😀 For those unfamiliar, look under Yak Trax.

    1. Hi Jayne, Yes, thank you for sharing about cleats! I own several pairs in different sizes and styles for different boots (for different heights of snow)! They were on sale in the fall for about 50% off. I scopped up another set. The staff member had to go and get them from the warehouse for me. I was stupified that everyone wasn’t grabbing them too. She said, “You’re lucky that we have these today, as they’ll be all sold out come winter.” Our winters here are getting icier and icier. One night last winter, one of my cleats fell off in the snow (on top of the ice) and I didn’t notice it. The next step I took……sliiiiiiide…..and…..DOWN. Ugh! I will be more careful with them this winter. Wishing you a safe and high traction winter!

    1. Hi Ranger Rick, In my own experience, which has been in quite frozen conditions, it seems to work quite well especially the more granular ones. I used to it climb up a sheer ice hill covered by light snow at my aunt’s house last year with good success. However, I would agree that where it is quite wet, it could be quite a mess! Some local people throw the (cooled) ashes from their woodstoves on their icy driveways to improve traction. Wishing you a safe winter driving!

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