We all prepare for winter in our own way; but, unless your preparations include ditching our cold climate for a warmer one, you’ll want to prepare your vehicle for winter as well. While there are definitely things that you can tackle on your own, there are some things that are best left to the professionals.
These tips will help ensure your safety by keeping your vehicle in good working order with some simple preventative measures.
Fluid check and top up
Fluids are the lifeblood of your vehicle. It’s important to maintain proper fluid levels to ensure that your vehicle can perform during extreme weather conditions. Just as the moving parts of your vehicle experience wear and tear that affect performance, so do fluids. In fact, some wear and tear of parts can actually be attributed to either ineffective or low fluids.
In as much as it’s important to monitor fluid levels, as part of routine maintenance, it’s also critical to periodically flush out or purge fluids that are no longer effective and replenish those fluids. It’s much more economical to perform this type of preventative maintenance than it is to be faced with a more costly repair, resulting poor lubrication or inadequate cooling.
Lube, Oil, and Filter Change
It’s important not to put off an oil change. This holds true year round; but never more so than when our temperatures plummet. Colder temperatures can cause oil to thicken, which affects its ability to properly lubricate the engine. Again, poor engine lubrication leads to issues that are both costly and easily preventable.
Get a Comprehensive Vehicle Inspection
How often do we see or hear of people stranded for over an hour because tow trucks can’t keep up with the demand? Now, imagine that experience without functioning heater. Extreme weather conditions – whether hot or cold – put a greater strain on a vehicle.
A proper vehicle inspection actually includes 40 points. While you’re encouraged to always keep an eye on many of these things, a thorough vehicle inspection by a trained technician will help ensure your safety and reduce the chance of a failure.
In the interest of time, we won’t list all 40 points here; however, a thorough inspection is “bumper to bumper” and will address 3 key things.
2. Identify potential issues early
As the temperature drops so too does your battery’s output. A battery that functions in summer could fail when temperatures slip below freezing. There are a few potential reasons for battery failure:
CCA: Cold cranking amps (CCA) is a term that refers to battery power. It takes up to two times more current to start a cold engine; therefore, a colder climate requires a higher CCA rating.
Poor Connection: Corrosion on battery terminals can compromise the connection and prevent the battery from giving your vehicle that extra boost of power it needs to get going. You’ll encounter the same problem if the battery cables are loose or damaged.
Power Drain: A dead or weak battery may simply be the result of leaving your lights on; but it may also be symptomatic of an issue with the charging system (aka alternator).
As part of your winter preparations, it’s important to have your battery tested and, as an additional safety precaution, ensure that you include booster cables in your vehicle emergency kit.
The four contact patches of your tires are quite literally what connects your vehicle to the road. When you consider the challenges that winter driving presents – snow, ice, visibility – you can appreciate that your tires play an important role in your safety. Let’s look at two key considerations when winterizing your vehicle.
The single most important purchase you can make to ensure safe driving this winter is a good set of winter tires.
All the technology in the world is no substitute for good grip – and only a genuine winter tire (bearing the industry-standard mountain snowflake) can provide sufficient grip when the temperature dips below zero
While the tread patterns on winter tires contain many more “sipes” – thin, zig-zag slits through the tread blocks to increase surface area and traction – it’s not just about tread.
Winter tires are created with a compound that remains malleable far below freezing, to provide a sticky, surface-adhering grip. Non-winter tires, including all-seasons, are formulated for much warmer temperatures and become hard and unyielding when the mercury dips below zero. For an example of how well hard rubber grips, picture a hockey puck gliding across the ice.
Many people cite cost as the main reason for not buying dedicated winter tires. But when you consider the amount of money saved in preventing expensive accident repairs and the resultant rise in insurance rates, winter tires sound like a wise investment.
Tire Pressure and Condition
Regardless of the type of tires, they must be properly inflated to ensure the best possible traction. As the temperature drops, so will the air pressure in your tires.
Ensure that all of your tires are properly inflated. Many people forget about their spare; but, since that’s your emergency backup, it’s particularly important.
Tread depth and tire wear should be checked regularly to ensure better traction and reduce the risk of both punctures and hydroplaning. Between service visits, you can check tread depth with a quarter. Simply place the quarter in the tread groove with the caribou facing you and nose down. If you can still see the tip of the nose, it’s time to bring your vehicle in for service.
It’s probably pretty obvious that maintaining your heating system is critical for winter. While it’s not just about comfort, if your coolant/antifreeze is low, your heater is the first thing to suffer. A 50/50 solution of antifreeze/water mixture will protect up to a temperature of 0 C. As part of your service visit, antifreeze should be adjusted for the proper seasonal temperatures.
Antifreeze is stored in the radiator and is carried from the radiator throughout the engine via heater hoses. This carries heat away from the engine and some of it is stored in the heater core and is used to heat the cab of the vehicle. If there are any leaks in this system, it compromises the entire system, so it’s important that the heating system is checked for leaks.
Your block heater and cord are needed to help warm the engine so that it will start in cold temperatures, so it’s also important to keep them maintained.
I don’t consider an emergency kit to be seasonal; but there’s no question that a winter emergency kit is critical. Below are some suggestions to have on hand in an emergency; but you can customize it to suit your own needs.
Extra set of warm clothes
Water and food (energy bars work well), including hard candies
Small shovel (folding shovels don’t take up much space)
Windshield washer fluid (winter strength)
Windshield wipers (every driver should learn how to change wiper blades)
Spare tire (ensure it has proper tire pressure)
Paper towels and/or clean rags
Traction material such as sand, cat litter, traction strips. Sometimes car mats will work in a pinch.
Note: a common cause of damage to an automatic transmission is excessive “rocking” out of a snow drift.
Keep the gas tank as full as you can to prevent the gas lines from freezing.