Winter is here, and Consumer Reports notes that now can be a great time to purchase a meaningful gift for yourself or anyone who owns a car – something that can give them convenience, safety and security.
While these items may not be fun and fancy, they’re practical and will help your car last longer and be safer on the road.
• Car battery. About as much fun to receive as the box a toy comes in, a car battery is nonetheless an essential automotive component – the car won’t leave the driveway without a working battery.
This year, Consumer Reports’ testers saw standout performance from DieHard, EverStart and Interstate in several categories, including the DieHard Advanced Gold 50778 (Group 34/78), EverStart Maxx-35N (Group 35) and Interstate Mega-Tron II MT-75 (Group 75).
• Car wax. A coat of good car wax can help protect a car’s finish from the potential hazards of road grime and salt.
Before buying a car wax, be aware that premium car wax brands don’t necessarily hold up any better than lower-priced alternatives. In fact, some moderately priced liquid waxes scored near the top of Consumer Reports’ Ratings – better than some products costing twice as much.
Testers find that paste waxes are easier to use than liquid waxes, but liquid waxes cleaned the best. For pastes, Nu Finish NFP80 is a Best Buy; for liquid, Nu Finish NF76 and Meguiar’s Cleaner Wax A1216 are smart choices.
• Headlight restoration kits. Headlights with an aged, cloudy or hazy look are becoming increasingly common, as the average age of all cars on the road continues to rise.
A headlight restoration kit can freshen the appearance of an older car and improve its safety for nighttime driving. Among the kits Consumer Reports evaluated, testers favor the Sylvania Headlight Restoration Kit ($21) and 3M Headlight Lens Restoration System 29008 ($15).
• Tires. They may be difficult to gift wrap, but a new set of all-season or winter tires can improve a car’s ride, safety and traction. Consumer Reports’ comparative tread-life tests demonstrate that a manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t always reflect how a tire will wear. In other words, focus on test results, not advertised claims.
For traditional all-season tires, top performers include the Michelin Defender and Continental ProContact EcoPlus.
• Tire-pressure gauges. Keeping your car tires properly inflated is an easy maintenance chore that’s vital to car safety, as well as a contributing factor to fuel economy. The good news is that a simple, affordable tire-pressure gauge and a monthly check can keep the tires in top condition.
Consumer Reports has tested stick, digital and dial gauges. Sticks may be the most practical, as they are low cost and readily fit in a glove box. Digitals require batteries but are easy to read. Dials can be expensive and more bulky to store but not necessarily more accurate. For sticks, testers favor the Gorilla Automotive TG1 and Slime 2005-A, each readily available for $7 or less.
• Wheel cleaners. Wheels have become like jewelry on a car, adding stylish, bright highlights at the corners – so long as they are kept clean.
Consumer Reports recently tested five spray-on, hose-off cleaners to see if they live up to the promise. In the end, the best results required some elbow grease. Testers found Eagle One A2Z All Wheel & Tire Cleaner to be the most effective, but there were more affordable alternatives.
• Wiper blades. It’s easy to forget that wipers are a safety feature – until you end up driving in heavy rain or snow, or are blinded by glare. Rather than looking to replacement blades, consider a whole-blade assembly for installation ease.
In its testing, Consumer Reports found that some of the best blades are among the least expensive, including the ANCO 31 Series and Michelin RainForce.