It’s winter, when most people fall into one of two, clearly-defined camps: those who count the days until the first day of spring, anxiously awaiting the sun’s returning warmth; and those who actually look forward to the cold’s embrace as an opportunity to participate in a favorite winter season sport. If you’re in the latter camp, weekends become the time to load up the car for a ski trip. Whether skiing (or snow-boarding, or snowmobiling) is a new activity, or something you’ve been doing for years, you always need to be certain that your car can carry your gear.
That said, your vehicle needs to get you to your destination and back safely and securely.
We’re here to inform you that there are a number of new and exciting automotive products to help you accomplish both these goals. You may already have some of these things, and if you do, check to see if they are worn to the point of needing replacement. Some of your old standbys have been modernized, so here’s an opportunity to upgrade. Other items, which have become available just recently, may cause you to want to investigate further.
We want you and your gear to get there with minimal hassle. So here’s our product list below, starting with items for the car itself, followed by items to help you carry your sports equipment. Feel free to print this out to use as a shopping list!
Winter Driving Improvements:
Winter Tires: No longer content with calling them just “snow tires,” the tire industry has made that name change for good reason. Back in the good old days, snow tires had more aggressive tread to get a deeper bite in the snow. Today, that blocky tread remains, but modern science has developed newer rubber compounds which actually stick better to the white, slippery stuff. If your snow tires are just about worn out, or if you’ve never tried the modern tires, it could be time to take the plunge.
Related: Winter Driving 101: The Ultimate Guide to Winter Driving
More than front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, great winter tires are the ultimate must for driving in the snow.
Winter Tire/Wheels Combo: If you have been a devoted snow tire user, are you still paying for them to be mounted and dismounted twice a year? The expense and effort isn’t worth it because the industry has responded with affordable, correctly-sized steel wheels. If you’re handy, you can do the swap yourself. If you need to pay someone to make the switch, you’ll still save in the long run by buying “steelies.”
Even with TPMS sensors thrown in (a must on newer cars), we calculate that two seasons of driving will pay back the cost of the wheels over what you were paying for all that mounting and balancing.
Winter Tire Add-Ons:
Chains: Whether you’re driving on winter rubber or not, let it be known that modern snow chains are easy to install, safe to use, and provide unsurpassed traction. These are NOT your father’s snow chains! The industry has developed these to the point where a set can be installed in a few minutes, and they are self-centering. Remember that there are parts of the country where, depending on weather conditions, tire chains are required!
Slip-on Traction Aids: The latest innovation is the “snow sock,” a plastic, slip-on bootie for your tires that performs almost as well as chains. The snow sock is lighter, easier to store, less noisy, and less damaging to roadways.
Studs: Tire studs work best in ice, so if icy roadways are a regular occurrence in your neck of the woods, these are worth considering. Two important caveats: your snow tires must be pre-molded to accept studs, and most locales severely limit when you can drive with studs. But if you need them, there’s nothing like them.
Fog/Driving Lights: Standard on many sports and luxury cars, but if your vehicle does not have these auxiliary lights, consider adding them. One bit of good news is that it’s possible your vehicle’s front bumper has the factory locations molded in, making installation almost a plug-n-play. When the weather turns nasty, and you’ve got that death grip on the wheel, every extra bit of illumination will help keep you on the straight and narrow (meaning the pavement).
Windshield Protection: We don’t need to tell you to carry a snow brush and ice scraper, do we? (Or are you still using a credit card to push snow off the hood?) If you think that the ice scraper and proper windshield washer solvent mix are all you can do, think again. Windshield “ice screens” are now available, which, unlike a sun shield, lie on the outside of your windshield glass. Put it on in the evening and leave it there overnight. In the a.m., pull off the shield, and with it, the frost and ice accumulation.
You’ll be back on the road without waiting for the defroster to warm up!
Floor Liners: Whether you intend to or not, winter’s mess gets dragged into the car too. The vehicle’s carpets can get destroyed from melting snow, often mixed with salt and dirty slush. A set of tray-type floor liners will contain that mess, keeping it from the carpet. Most floor liners can simply be picked up and emptied outside the car.
The smart money says to have a set of winter mats and a set of summer mats.
Seat Covers: Don’t forget your seats! If you’ve been outside while it’s snowing, you’re covered with it too. Rather than mess your precious upholstery, leather, velour, or whatever, invest in a set of washable seat covers. In a few years, you will be thankful for the increased trade-in allowance when the next owner sees that clean interior.
Carrying Your Winter Sports Gear:
Roof-Mounted & Hitch-Mounted Carriers:
Skis and snowboards are long items. Even if you own an SUV or big station wagon, the skis may not fit inside. If they do fit inside, you may have people and other cargo in the way. No matter what kind of vehicle you have, sedan or wagon, the roof becomes the most logical and appropriate place to carry skis. The winter-sports industry has responded in kind, giving you a great choice of roof-mounted carriers for skis and snowboards.
BEFORE you plunk down your hard-earned cash on a carrier, though, take a peek up there. Do you have roof rails? Do you have cross bars? Do you know what we’re talking about? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” (or “I don’t know”), investigate what you’re going to need. You CANNOT mount a ski carrier without the proper rail & bar set-up. The good news is that most modern cars can easily accept such a set-up and most of these are removable in the off-season.
Cargo boxes, while certainly not limited to ski-season use, are worthy of your consideration. You always have extra stuff to carry (like bulky clothing) and there isn’t always room inside the vehicle. Many modern roof rails allow a combination of items, so you might be able to fit the ski carrier AND the cargo box. Win-win!
Do you have a trailer hitch (receiver hitch) already installed under the rear bumper? If you do and don’t want to bother with reaching up to the roof, consider a hitch-mounted ski/snowboard carrier. By avoiding the big stretch up to the roof, they make it super-easy to load and unload your sports equipment. If you don’t have a receiver hitch, then certainly think about getting one! You do not have to own a trailer to make good use of one. They are surprisingly affordable, easy to install (most late-model vehicles are pre-drilled for them), and can be used year-round to also carry bikes and cargo trays.
Some styles will swing out of the way to give you tailgate access without unloading the carrier.
While our focus here is on winter sports, chances are if you like skiing, you probably also like biking (or kayaking, or ATVing). These may be warmer-weather pursuits which don’t require winter tires and the like, but know that all kinds of carriers, both roof-mounted and hitch-mounted, are also available for your other sports equipment.
In the meantime, winter is here, so prep the car, load it up, and we’ll see you on the slopes!
*Richard Reina is a Product Trainer at CARiD.com and lifelong automotive enthusiast.