If there's any period of the year that's the harshest on automobiles, winter has to be the No. 1 offender.

How to protect your car from winter’s wrath

The daily commute in and of itself brings wear and tear to your car. The elements, bumpy road surfaces and microscopic debris – regardless of what time of year it is – is the reason why every vehicle has a shelf life. But if there’s any period of the year that’s the harshest on automobiles, winter has to be the No. 1 offender.

From frost heaves to frozen precipitation, salt and sand to tires needing inflation, Old Man Winter can really do a number on the average person’s vehicle. Perhaps nothing is more jolting than streets that are packed with potholes. These divots vary in size of course, and typically don’t result in severe damage. But you may be surprised by how many people do wind up filing auto insurance claims after going over an especially deep one. For example, according to a recent poll done by the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, nearly 1 in 3 car owners who reported pothole damage filed a claim with their insurer. Additionally for those who didn’t make a claim, the average amount paid out of pocket for repair work was $500.

“This survey highlights how widespread the pothole problem is on our roadways and that the costs are astronomical to both the insurance industry and to consumers,” said Madelyn Flannagan, vice president of agent development research and education at IIABA.

“Winter weather and poor road conditions have cost motorists $27 billion over the past five years.”

Robert Rusbuldt, IIABA president and CEO, added that it’s the changing conditions of wintry weather that make potholes and winter-related wear and tear so pervasive.

“Potholes and poor road conditions aren’t just an inconvenience, they are an expensive and dangerous result of harsh winters,” he said.

Potholes develop for a number of reasons, mainly due to the frequency in which water freezes and thaws. This freeze-thaw cycle causes water to expand and contract, slowly but surely eroding roads where precipitation pools. These freeze-thaw cycles are especially common in states like Missouri, Texas, Wyoming, Michigan, Connecticut, South Dakota, and Maryland, according to Pothole.info. This past year in Massachusetts, a Watertown-based mechanic told the Boston Globe that he’d never seen so many damaged tires and wheels in the nearly 40 years he’d been in business.

Though the wear and tear your car experiences may be unavoidable, you can manage the effects of potholes – as well as salt and sand – with the following tips.

Familiarize yourself with the road

Perhaps the best way to avoid a pothole is knowing where they are. Be observant in your daily commute so that you can telegraph when you’re about to go over a pothole so that you can quite literally steer clear of it.

Report potholes as soon as possible

Potholes don’t go away overnight, but they won’t go away at all if the highway department isn’t aware of them. When you spot them, make a point of reporting them to your local department of public works so that they can plan a time to fix them.

Avoid temptation to swerve

It’s virtually impossible to avoid every pothole, so there will be times when you have no choice but to hit one. What you don’t want to do is swerve in a last-ditch effort to avoid one and the jolt that comes with it. Swerving runs the risk of hitting another car, turning a minor damage situation into one that’s much worse.

Wax your car to prevent salt damage

Washing and waxing your vehicle may seem like an exercise in futility during the winter, but the waxing part can prevent your car’s exterior from being scratched when there’s a lot of salt and sand on the road. If possible, wax your car as early in the winter as possible. The coating serves as a shield to salt leaving scratches and chipped paint.

Following these tips can help make the winter driving season much more tolerable. Your car will thank you.