Cheap ways to keep your car safe during cold weather

CREATED Dec. 11, 2013 - UPDATED: Dec. 11, 2013

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MILWAUKEE – Cold can take its toll on humans and animals but it can also impact the vehicles we ride and drive in. But there are several things you can do to make sure your car is safe in the cold without spending too much.

Tire Pressure

Warm air takes up more a lot more space than cold air does, you can tell the difference from a balloon that's been inside and a balloon that's been left out in the cold.  The same applies to your tires Riverside Automotive auto technician Christian Bilgo explains, "Tire pressure is very important, in the colder weather, the air tends to condense a little bit and the tire pressure can drop."

Especially when temperatures drop into the single digits quickly Bilgo says.  “Ultimately that's a bad thing on wet winter roads.  The best way to get the information you need to fill your tires up properly is usually on the inside of your door.  On most cars, there's a placard on what to fill your tires to for the proper inflation."

You should check your tire pressure once a month and keep them filled to the recommended amount on the door placard.  If you don’t, you may lose more than the air inside them.  "It is not as safe, stability-wise, you can lose gas mileage and you can also lose traction," Bilgo says.

Tire Treads

Tire treads are another big thing when it comes to safety and one of the best ways that anyone can check is to use the penny method.  You may think you are familiar with putting a penny into the tire treads to check if the tire comes up past Lincoln’s hair but in states with snow, like in Wisconsin, it is recommended that you have even more space since you need somewhere for the snow to go.  “It becomes very important that the water and the ice has enough of a channel to get out from underneath the bottom of the tire," Bilgo explains.

You still use a penny but where you check is different Bilgo demonstrates, “You just look and you make sure the tread meets at least the bottom of the Lincoln Memorial and if it doesn't then you might need some new winter tires."


 “Over time just sunlight and UV rays they eventually cloud the plastic that's in most headlights today and it can really diminish how bright your headlights shine on the road," Bilgo says.  So TODAY’S TMJ4’s Jesse Ritka tried using toothpaste to clear some of the yellow and film from the headlights.  Using a regular tube of toothpaste (not mint or one with whitening properties) you put the toothpaste onto a rag and wipe the headlights in a circular motion until they start to clear up.  Bilgo was somewhat skeptical of the trick, but agreed that it may work, “Toothpaste has rubbing compound in it, so it might work.”  And using toothpaste may actually take a bite out of your bills since Bilgo admits replacing headlights “could be very cost prohibitive.”

After less than one minute of rubbing the toothpaste on the headlights, even Bilgo could see a definitive difference, “It's a lot clearer, a lot brighter and you'll get a lot more visibility out of a headlight that's clear.  In winter driving and at night, it's especially important to have clear visibility all across the road.”

So a little toothpaste, time and elbow grease may go a long way.


When the temperatures are this cold, sometimes your windshield wiper fluid can actually freeze, icing over your back and front windshields, making conditions for you, worse.  “Some windshield wiper fluids will come pre-diluted, ready to put into the car and sometimes those can freeze up on ya,” Bilgo says.  Fluid that may ice over your view of the road, potentially resulting in dangerous driving.  But there are other options than the ready-to-use wiper fluid Bilgo ads, “Many kinds of washer fluid comes as a concentrated form, it'll say on the bottle for different temperature ranges, mix it at different strengths with water.  In the summer you can mix it four to one with water where in the winter sometimes they want it to run at full concentration strength.”

But you can make your own windshield wiper solution that doesn't freeze.  Combine equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use it on the glass to help prevent ice and frost from forming.  There are several other liquid solution ideas online.