Your Next Car: Buying a vehicle for the winter

Depending on where you live, winter can range from merely chilly and rainy to snowy and down right cold.  If you live or work in a clime that is generally unfriendly during the winter or subject to extremes, you may want to consider a vehicle to address these unique seasonal issues.   There is so much to review!  Let me help by offering you a few guidelines…

Reseach – This is the probably the most important and least appreciated aspect of vehicle buying – regardless of season!  If you feel that you need a special vehicle for the winter months, this becomes even more important.  The many different types of vehicles offered for sale in the American marketplace have evolved dramatically in recent years – more versatility, longer durability, more creature comforts and more safety features.  If you happen to live “in the country” or far away from paved roads, you probably already own a rugged all-wheel drive vehicle. However, you don’t have to necessarily replace that vehicle with the same.   Obvious choices – Compact to mid-size SUVs, full-size AWD pickup trucks.  Not so obvious – Four-door sedans with all-wheel drive.  If traction in less than ideal situations (i.e. dirt roads, gravel roads) is the issue as opposed to snow drifts is the issue, there is quite a roster of capable vehicles available in the marketplace today with traction control, stability control and all-wheel drive.  Combined with an aggressive winter radial tire, they are literally unstoppable in all but the most extreme winter conditions.

Pricing – Your budget defines the scope of what type of vehicle you might consider.  Understand that trucks and truck-based SUVs will command a premium over other vehicles.  The good news is that it’s not necessary to spend $30,000 or more to purchase a good, reliable 4WD pickup.  With the availability of automaker “Certified Used Vehicle” programs and the quantity of “off lease” vehicles available (yes, even upmarket trucks and SUVs get leased these days!) you can find the right vehicle to meet your needs and save money in the process.

Condition – If your budget sends you in the direction of a used vehicle, additional care should be taken to inspect the condition.  Since the truck/SUV is going to be used for your transportation during moderate to severe weather and road conditions – subsystems like the electrical, cooling and running gear (front/rear axles, 4WD hubs, tires and transmission) should be closely inspected for condition, abuse and/or damage.  While documentation like CARFAX is helpful, actual inspection and examination by a trained mechanic would be worth the $100 or so it would cost to be sure.  I prefer taking the vehicle to the local service department of a dealer who sold the model new.  They have the service bulletins for the make, model (and occasionally specific VIN).  They also have the knowledge of any quirks with the vehicle as it aged and gained mileage.   If it was traded locally, talking to the previous owner is always a good idea when possible.

Ken Chester, Jr. is President & CEO of Motor News Media Corporation – an automotive news service founded in 1989 as The AutoBuyer Plus Corporation. Featured on numerous television and radio programs, viewers, listeners and readers alike relate to Ken's friendly manner and wealth of information about the many vehicles currently for sale in today's complex automotive marketplace.

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