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Tis the season for gearheads to hunker down

Photo of Jeff Yip

Whether it’s due to quarantining, working from home or lockdowns, COVID-19 has put a huge dent in the number of miles Americans drive. From March, when the coronavirus was declared a national emergency, through September, the Federal Highway Administration’s most recent report, traffic volume was down an average of 18.4%.

The virus may cut in to our joyriding, but here’s the “glass half-full” take: less time behind the wheel can mean more time maintaining, repairing or accessorizing your car, truck or SUV. If you’ve got a car guy or gal to shop for this holiday season, here are a few gift ideas to make sure busy hands stay happy hands in the time of COVID.

Keeping your vehicle clean is vital. Not only will your vehicle look its best, you’ll get some exercise and there’s no better way — literally and figuratively — to stay in touch with your ride. Washing the car forces you to pay attention from the roof to where the rubber meets the road. You may spot issues like a cracked lens, uneven tire wear or even damaged or worn tires that need replacing. (A tread depth of 2/32-inch or less is not only an indication the tire needs to be scrapped, it might be illegal in your state.) There’s a wealth of consumer-friendly information at the Tire Industry Association’s website. (https://www.tireindustry.org/consumer-safety)

Modern car finishes feature tint coats and clear coats for pizazz and protection, so regular washing works wonders. But you need to clean properly. Meguiar’s Classic Wash & Wax Kit makes the task affordable and straightforward. ($30.39; Amazon) Included are the company’s Gold Class shampoo and conditioner, quick cleaner for interiors, wheel and tire cleaner, wax and quick detailer spray. Meguiar’s also throws in a bone-shaped sponge, foam applicator pad and microfiber towel.

Some drivers find that their windshield is plagued with a greasy film that’s nearly impossible to remove and/or leaves streaks. Say hello to “outgassing.” Turns out that that “new-car smell” many of us love comes at a price. The coating on the inside of the windshield is caused by organic solvents used in interior components can cook off in a hot, enclosed cabin. I tried the usual suspects in glass cleaners but they left streaking. Happily, Meguiar’s Perfect Clarity Glass Cleaner finally did the trick. ($4.11; Amazon)

Griot’s Garage’s G9 Random Orbital Polisher takes the drudgery out of the “wax on, wax off” routine. The polisher’s 5.6-lb. weight and balance are user-friendly. The ergonomic grip points are rubberized, while power is up 17% to 1,000 watts. Griot’s says constant pressure is maintained, no matter how hard the operator bears down. The inner works have been beefed up by 45% and the rate can be dialed-in from 2,000 to 6,400 orbits per minute. The G9 uses 6-inch pads and has 9mm of pad rotation. It comes with a 10-foot detachable power cord. ($159.99; Griot’s Garage)

Today’s vehicles rely on electronics whether it’s lighting, suspensions, sensors or myriad onboard computers. That 12-volt battery must supply adequate, clean power. The NOCO Genius10 is an automatic charger and battery maintainer that works with auto, marine, powersport, and deep-cycle batteries whether they’re lead-acid, gel, lithium-ion or AGM (absorbent glass mat). A sensor tracks the ambient temperature and tailors the charge to prevent over-charging in hot climates or under-charging in the cold. It charges batteries that are down to a single volt. The manufacturer says the Genius10’s “force mode” can even charge dead batteries, i.e. zero volts. ($96.39; Amazon)

If you have a late-model vehicle, it has onboard diagnostics (OBD). If the dreaded “check engine” or “service engine soon” warning pops up and stays on, tools like the Ancel AD410 enhanced OBD-II scanner will decipher the diagnostic trouble code (DTC) or codes so you can address the problem, very possibly saving the trouble and expense of driving to a shop or dealership for answers or a fix. (A gas cap that wasn’t tightened sufficiently the last time the tank was filled can trigger a code.) Drivers who like data will also value the AD410 for its real-time information such as temperature, volts, rpm and speed. The scan tool has a 2.4-inch color display and provisions for online updating. ($44.99; Amazon)

Driving has its perils, whether it’s inattentive operators not checking their blind spots or distracted drivers running a stop and causing a collision. Religiously using a dash cam like VAVA’s 2K dual dash cam can pay for itself many times over by providing proof of who or what was at fault. The forward-facing camera records in 2560x1440 pixels @ 30 frames per second (fps) and the rear-facing camera covers the cabin at 1920x1080 @ 30 fps, helpful to taxi, Uber or Lyft drivers. The Sony sensors have infrared LEDs to help capture clear video and photos at night. The dash cam comes standard with a 320mAh battery, powering the camera while the vehicle is off. The dash cam automatically starts recording video when a bump or other movement is detected by an integrated sensor. The dash cam can accommodate up to a 256GB memory card. ($159.99; Amazon)

If you tend to forget where you put your car keys and could use a tracking device, there’s an app for that. The 2020 Tile Pro uses Bluetooth to connect to Android or iOS mobile devices. The app will trigger the Tile, which is about 1.75x1.75-inch and a quarter-inch thick. Tile says the Pro has a range of up to 400 feet, but your mileage will vary depending on the surroundings. Should the Tile be outside Bluetooth range, the app shows its most recent location so you can try tracing your steps. The Tile Pro, which also syncs with Alexa, uses a replaceable CR2032 battery that lasts about a year. ($29.99; Amazon)

The Complete Book of Corvette by Mike Mueller delivers, examining all eight generations of Chevrolet’s iconic sports car: from the first 1953 roadster and its 150-horsepower six to the game-changing 2020 V8 mid-engine Corvette armed with nearly 500 horses. But it’s also a visual and fact-filled buffet for any auto enthusiast interested in the history, design, engineering and personalities behind the Corvette. With ironic humor, Mueller includes a photo of an early 1980s Corvette speedometer that topped out at a paltry 85 mph. There are beaucoup behind-the-scenes photos and cutaway illustrations of engines and transmissions. A bonus is an index of every model year’s options, the option code, quantity ordered and the then-retail price. ($55; Amazon)

Note: prices were accurate as we went to press.