Tax day is upon us and unfortunately for many of us that means paying up. Freelance writers like myself know this pain quite well, trust me, my eye is still twitching. However, in the best case scenarios mailing in the tax forms is a little like winning the lottery. You fill in the blanks and wait for the check to arrive in the mailbox.
While I may not see one of those checks this year, there is no reason I can’t offer some automotive-themed ways to help you spend yours. I mean, that’s what friends are for, right? In today’s article, in celebration of Tax Day 2016, we will look at five ways to spend that hard-earned tax return. Whether you are getting back $100 or $10,000, I hope you can spend at least a portion of it on some car-related fun.
Even if you aren’t going to see any cash back from Uncle Sam this year, you might want to reward yourself just for remembering to file. It doesn’t take too much of an investment to pick up a vehicle themed t-shirt, baseball cap or a pair of earrings. Local big-box stores and auto parts suppliers often have a small selection of Ford, Chevy, and Hemi-powered shirts and hats for relatively inexpensive prices. If you strike out around town, car clothing and knick-knacks is big-business online and you can often find the most make-and-model-specific apparel is readily available with a few mouse clicks.
A classic Ford Torino t-shirt? That’s child’s play. How about a pair of Triumph TR3A earrings? Fancy a Rolls-Royce necktie or a Lancia wallet? Just search online, they are all waiting for you.
A Track Day for Almost Everyone: Go-Karting
I have yet to meet an automotive enthusiast who doesn’t enjoy the thrills of racing. Even the most mundane automobile takes on a whole new level of enjoyment when you place it on a closed race track and have permission to drive it to its full potential. Unfortunately, motorsport racing can be an expensive endeavor. Track rental, maintenance and upkeep on the vehicle, fuel costs and travel often keep most people far from the track.
Perhaps you’re getting a refund that makes a track day in your daily-driver or weekend fun-mobile a possibility. If this is the case, I say contact your local facility and book some time with an instructor and get a feel for what your car can really do. If you have no idea where to even find a local track, I would recommend contacting a local car club for advice. Unlike a random Internet search, a local club member can often provide unbiased information and some helpful tips too.
If you don’t want to allocate a big portion of your tax return to a few hours on the track, or you’re simply not even getting a triple-digit check this year, the good news is that you don’t have to spend a small fortune to experience the thrills of racing; today’s go-kart facilities offer a large percentage of the fun for a fraction of the cost.
I recently participated in a semi-pro six-hour go-kart race for charity with a group called Endurance Karting. I found the experience to match much of the excitement I’ve known in racing full-size, high-horsepower cars on the racetrack, but without the steep learning curve, expense, danger and time-commitment of learning to maneuver a pricey vehicle around a full-size track. Almost all major cities have an indoor or outdoor go-kart facility and most are open for inexpensive racing adventures seven days a week. Unlike track days that usually require a valid driver’s license, go-kart racing is for people of almost any age, which means you can share your passion of driving, and sudden tax return windfall, with your children.
New Wheels and Tires
Very few upgrades make as much of a visual and performance impact as a new set of wheels and tires. While I’ve never been an advocate for ditching high-quality manufacturer alloys for an inexpensive set of aftermarket wheels, I do appreciate the enhanced curb-appeal and ride quality of a nicely-matched combo from a well-respected wheel builder. If your tires are already worn and ready to replace, a sticky set of summer tires just might be the tax return treat that instantly transforms your so-so in the rain ride into a better handling, more comfortable and stable street machine.
Many third party wheel and tire websites contain nifty interactive wheel virtualization programs that allow you to pull up a digital representation of your specific vehicle and then “try” on different wheel choices with a few clicks of the computer mouse. This will give you a really good idea of what the wheel is going to look like on your vehicle, eliminating much of the guess work. Even if you aren’t in the market for a new set of rims, an interactive wheel configurator can be an amusing way to spend a half an hour.
Detailing and Paint Protection
It doesn’t take long for a new car to lose a bit of its luster, inside and out. That tax return money can go a long way in bringing that “showroom shine” back to your car, truck, or SUV. Do-it-yourselfers will want to make a trip to the local auto parts store and pick up a five gallon bucket and car wash soap, polish, wax, tire shine spray, window cleaner, engine detailer and a handful of towels and sponges to compete the job. For interiors, a good vacuuming goes a long way and spray-on upholstery cleaner can erase years of stains in a single afternoon.
If you want to spoil yourself, a day at the detailer will allow you to sit back and let the pros do the job for you. Many finer detail shops also have paint correction techniques they can use to get rid of paint scuffs and surface scratches. If your car is in need of dire help, you might even consider some body and paint work or a vinyl wrap.
Once your vehicle is looking its best again you may want to spend a few more of those tax return dollars and cover your investment with an invisible paint protection film. Many dealers apply the film before you take your vehicle home for the first time, but there are aftermarket companies that can install the paint protection film long after the new car smell is gone. You can opt for a standard package that covers the most vulnerable areas of your car from chips, rocks and insects, or you can have your entire car wrapped with the stuff for maximum protection. Charles Bonfiglio from Tint World recommends that if you do opt for the minimal coverage you should choose a product without the UV protection, as compelling as that sounds. Automotive paint has a natural tendency to fade in the sun and when you protect certain sections with UV resistant wrap color inconsistencies, or what he affectionately refers to as “tan lines,” can occur over time.
My final suggestion doesn’t really involve buying anything at all. Why not load up the car with your family or a close friend and set out on an epic road trip? Use some of that tax return money to visit a fantastic car museum like the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, California, or my personal favorite, the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Baseball season is upon us, so why not take a road trip to watch your childhood favorite team play on the road? In reality, it doesn’t really matter where you end up. More often than not, the best part of a road trip isn’t reaching the destination at all, it is the joy of the journey.