Grumbling about the weather is as natural as the cloudy sky itself, but a stormy day or snowfall can do more than just sour your mood. It can damage your car — or just make it less efficient — costing you more in gas, maintenance and repair costs.
Understanding and anticipating how weather will affect your car and its performance helps you plan ahead. In some cases, you can beat the weather through a few smart tweaks to your driving habits and maintenance schedule. A well-planned emergency car kit and a bit of planning can also help you reduce your cost of owning a car.
Reduced Gas Mileage
The U.S. Department of Energy's FuelEconomy.gov website says your gas mileage drops by about 12 percent in freezing weather, and by up to 22 percent for those quick trips to the store.
If you normally get 30 mpg, cold weather drops it to 26.4 mpg, or 23.4 mpg for short trips. With the national average price of gas at $2.37 per gallon, and the typical American driving a little over 1,100 miles per month, your gas costs can rise between $10.77 and $22.28 per month.
Cold weather affects your mileage for a number of reasons. First, your car spends more of its time operating at below-optimal temperatures. Cold engine oil and other fluids increase friction. The heater and window defroster take up energy as well and, therefore, cut into your mileage. Snow tires improve traction but impact your mileage because they have high rolling resistance, meaning your car has to work harder to keep moving.
Meanwhile, cold air is denser than warm air, and offers more wind resistance. Slippery roads take away mileage as well, because every time your tires slip on ice or snow they're turning without generating forward motion. Idling your car to warm it up is worst of all, since you're burning gas while going absolutely nowhere.
How to reduce your costs: Park your car in a warm or sheltered place, and use a block heater to help warm up your engine before you drive. Change to an oil recommended by your car's manufacturer for cold weather. Combine errands into one trip to cut down on gas costs.
Tire Wear and Aging
You don't need to see snowfall to pick up snow tires. Low temperatures make your tires more rigid, which means they don't grip the road as well. Winter tires use rubber that's specially formulated for cold weather, staying more flexible and helping you maintain traction. That could potentially save you from a costly repair or serious personal injury.
Cold weather also tends to reduce the air pressure in your tires, leaving them under inflated. Low tire pressure decreases your mileage by up to 4 percent and can reduce the life of your tires by a little over 6,200 miles. If you paid $500 for a set of tires with a 40,000-mile treadwear warranty, you'll lose $77.50 of value by driving them under inflated.
Meanwhile, intense sun can age your tires, especially if you frequently park outdoors. Check your tires often for damage, especially if you own a vehicle that sees little use, like an RV or vintage car.
How to reduce your costs: Buy a tire pressure gauge and check your air pressure regularly. You can also buy a portable tire pump at Walmart for about $17.50 so you can keep your tires properly inflated. During warm weather, park in the shade and spray or wipe your tires with a protectant that inhibits sun damage. Alternatively, keep a set of tire covers in your trunk and use them to shield your tires from the hot sun.
Wiper Blade Wear
No matter how good your tires are, or how carefully you drive, it's hard to be safe on the road if you can't see where you're going. Keeping your wiper blades in good condition is a vital part of winter driving, but they're regrettably vulnerable to bad weather conditions.
Wet and cold weather means your wiper blades can freeze to your windshield. Factor in that your blades will be more brittle from the cold, and you'll find yourself needing to replace them more often. With wiper blades at Walmart selling for upwards of $18 per pair, it pays to take preventative measures to ensure they last longer.
How to reduce your costs: Lift your wiper blades away from the windshield after parking, and wipe them clean before driving. Alternatively, purchase protective slipcovers for your wipers.
Read More: Car Repairs You Can Do Yourself
The cold might make your car battery work harder some mornings, but it's hot weather that can wear on your battery.
In the scorching summer, battery fluid evaporates, which can harm the internal workings of the battery. The heat can also speed up corrosion inside the battery or cause water from the liquid electrolyte to evaporate, decreasing your battery charge and its ability to start your engine.
Although you might not immediately notice the adverse effects of hot weather on your battery, problems can come up unexpectedly, like when you're hopping in your car in the dead of winter to drive to work. A new car battery isn't cheap either, costing $50 or more depending on your car model. But it's really the headache that comes with a dead car that you should be worried about.
How to reduce your costs: Proper battery maintenance and check-ins can prevent you from getting caught with a dead battery. You can also upgrade to an absorbent glass mat (AGM) battery, which can stand the heat better.
Your car tires aren't the only part that suffer from intense sunlight. In fact, they're not even the most visible. That distinction goes to your vehicle's paint job.
Over time, sunlight will rob your car's finish of its shine. Paint will fade and often discolor, leaving your once-glistening ride with that distinctive old-car look. It isn't just an aesthetic problem, either. When it comes time to trade or resell your car, a faded finish will take away from its resale value.
Road salt, which helps keep roads safe in the winter, is corrosive and can damage your car, too. And, of course, leaving your car out in rainy weather invites rust.
How to reduce your costs: Park under cover and wash and wax your car regularly. Don't use regular towels or dish soap to wash your car, because they can damage the finish. If you must park outdoors, use a weatherproof car cover.
Increased Gas Prices
Sometimes, you can't avoid higher car costs. The seasons affect gas prices, while weather disasters can cause spikes in pricing.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says gas prices tend to rise in spring and peak during the summer. Historical data from GasBuddy.com shows that the average price of gas hit $2.39 in June, up around 70 cents from early February.
Storms can also affect pricing when they threaten or affect refineries and ports where petroleum is imported. Hurricane Ike in 2008, and Katrina and Rita in 2005, hit major production centers and caused gas prices to spike.
How to reduce your costs: Aside from filling up before gas prices spike, there's not much you can do to curb increased gas prices. Avoid driving as much as you can and use apps like GasBuddy to compare gas prices in your area.
Total Car Loss
Extreme weather events can do more than just ding up your car — they can total it.
Major storms can drop trees and other debris on your car, denting or even crushing it. A heavy hailstorm can leave you needing extensive work at the body shop, or just a new windshield.
How to reduce your costs: Cross your fingers and hope that storm misses you. Look into comprehensive coverage, as collision coverage only protects you when your car hits or is hit by another car or object. If your area doesn't regularly see bad weather conditions and you're a safe driver even in the worst conditions, you can opt for an insurance policy with a higher deductible to save money.