Depending on where you are in Canada right now, winter might be taking a nap – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the toughest seasons you (and your car) can face. From installing a set of four winter tires to changing out your wiper blades, there are countless things you can do to prepare for winter’s worst. Here are 10 of the most important tips
1. Winter tires.
A lot can be said about this topic. Regardless, all four wheels need them regardless of whether it’s a front-wheel, rear-wheel, all-wheel, or four-wheel-drive. All-season tires are not winter tires. When the province of Quebec mandated winter tire use for their residents, the number of collisions dropped by almost 20 per cent. Enough said.
2. Battery Test. If your drive is over three years old, it might not necessarily need a new battery, but having it tested is a quick, harmless, and often free procedure (many shops include it with seasonal maintenance specials). Would you rather find out you need a new battery when your vehicle is in for service at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday or at, say 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning in an empty parking lot of the office party banquet hall when it’s -30 ºC without the wind chill?
3. Block heater. First find out if you have one. While most Detroit Three carmakers still include them as standard equipment, many models don’t come with them anymore regardless of the logo on the hood. Your manufacturer’s dealership should be able to let you know if you have one if you call them with the vehicle serial number.
If you have one and your vehicle is usually parked outdoors in regions where the overnight temps dip to -20 ºC or lower, you might want to get an outdoor electrical outlet timer and start using it. All that’s needed for most winter nights is a few hours of plug-in time to guarantee quick morning start-ups, almost instant heat from the HVAC system, and improved fuel economy as the engine’s cold-running time is drastically reduced.
4. Fluids. While the use of red/orange coloured long-life engine coolant has increased, it and its regular green-coloured predecessor still should be checked for strength and condition every fall. As few do-it-yourselfers have a coolant strength tester, its best left up to a service provider. Remember engine coolant can be under pressure when warm and can be poisonous to small animals. Washer fluid is an easy DIY check and a spare bottle should be in your trunk all year long and especially in the winter. Engine oil takes a beating during winter operation thanks to fuel contamination from cold starts and water contamination from engine block condensation. Start off the season right with a fresh oil and filter change. Don’t forget to check brake, transmission and power steering fluid levels.
5. Vision/Wipers. Windshield wipers, no matter how fancy or how much you pay for them are a consumable item and due for replacement at around 18 to 24 months. Sheathed winter wiper blades will still freeze under extreme conditions. One of the best is Michelin’s Stealth wiper blade, available through retailers such as Costco. It combines all the best elements of various wiper designs: beam style with an aero-wing and a winter sheath. Take the time to spray a light lubricate at the base of the wiper arm where its pivot is located.
6. Locks, latches, doors. Before the deep freeze hits, take the time to lubricate door locks, latches, and hinges and treat the door and window seals. Silicone lubricating compound (available in aerosol cans in most auto parts stores) works well for mechanical and rubber components. By spraying the door and window weather seals, they will be less likely to freeze you out on a cold winter morning. Opt for the brand with a spray straw in order to get the spray into lock cylinders and down into the window glass channel-runs. Don’t forget hatchback lids or lift-gates and hoods. If you run into a stubborn sticking lock cylinder, try any trusted brand of lock de-icer. It will contain a light lubricant that may do the trick.
7. Floor mats. Never stack floor mats on top of one another or use a mat that’s too thick. The risk of jamming your accelerator pedal to the floor is real and the results can be catastrophic. Winter floor mats are great for reducing salt stains on the carpeting and floor liners from companies such as Weathertech, Aries, and Westin can provide much better coverage and absolutely no mat-creeping. Don’t forget to remove mats from time to time throughout the winter to dry them out indoors. Moisture on floor mats is the cause of hard frost appearing on the inside of windshields and door glasses.
8. Trunk necessities. If you mainly drive in urban areas there really isn’t much need for a full-blown survival kit in the trunk. Food supplies like granola bars just attract vermin anyway. But everyone should have a full container of washer fluid, a light-weight snow shovel, lined work gloves, a good quality ice-scraper/snow brush combo, a bright flashlight that will stand or hang on its own, a set of emergency reflectors, a first-aid kit that can withstand freezing temperatures, and some folding traction mats.
If you drive an older vehicle you may want to step it up with a set of booster cables with instructions on how to use them. Blankets, warming candles and such should only be considered for longer trips into sparsely populated areas. And always properly secure your cargo. For minivans, crossovers and SUVs that don’t have a cargo area separated from the passengers, all these items can become lethal projectiles in the event of a collision or roll-over if they’re not properly secured.
9. Ballast. Leave the idea of patio stones or concrete pavers at the curb. If you think a loose snow brush hurts when it hits your noggin in a collision, consider the damage a 40-pound piece of concrete will do. The best weight to carry to improve traction is fuel in the tank. This brings the mass lower to the ground for improved stability and reduces the effect of winter water contamination in the tank.
10. Clothing. This might seem like a no-brainer, but on your next commute on a –30 ºC morning, take a look at how your fellow commuters dress for the drive. If you’re not dressed to walk a few blocks in winter weather, you’re not dressed to drive. A warm comfortable driver is much safer than a frozen one and being stranded on the side of the road in sandals or running shoes is an invitation to frost-bite after only a short period of time.Dress in layers, remove what you have to during longer trips but keep the gear close at hand. Another benefit to the correct clothing is that at busy intersections, you can pop open a window a bit to hear what’s going on around you. This added sensory input can help you avoid collisions.