If you live in Canada and you drive a vehicle of any sort, you’re no doubt aware of most or all of the treacherous driving conditions you face during our long Canadian winters: black ice, heavy snow, blizzards, whiteouts, freezing rain, frost… The list goes on and on.
The winter is inevitable, but stressful, dangerous drives on winter roads don’t have to be when you follow some of the basic winter maintenance tips that we’ve put together for you.
- Get a complete winter inspection. You always hear how important it is to go to the doctor for checkups, and the same principle applies to your car. Inspections are important at any time of the year, but their importance becomes a little more pressing as you start to transition into the winter. Do you really want to break down during a blizzard or try to get around in -35 degree weather while your car is getting repaired in the shop? Or even worse, do you want to be driving on black ice with brakes that are in need of repair? A winter inspection is one that focuses on the components that tend to malfunction in cold weather and those that you’ll need the most during the season, like the battery, fluids, filters, exhaust system, radiator, tires, ignition system, or anything else vitally important.
- Refill your windshield washer fluid. Don’t be tempted to use the same fluid you were using in the summer—you need something rated for winter weather so it doesn’t freeze freeze in the reservoir. You can keep a spare jug in your trunk in case you run out while you’re on the road and, if you haven’t already as part of your fall maintenance regimen, you should replace your windshield wipers too.
- Put your winter tires on. As we talked about in one of our recent posts about tires, all-season tires do a decent job under most conditions, including some winter conditions, but you can’t beat the performance and safety of winter tires in the colder months. Even if you’re not looking at temperatures of -40 just yet, the moment it reaches 10 degrees Celsius or colder outside, your summer or all-season tires are going to lose their grip on the road, which only gets worse as the temperatures continue to drop. Some professionals recommend that you switch your tires about two weeks before the first big snowfall, but predicting snow two weeks in advance, especially in Canada, doesn’t seem feasible. To be on the safe side, you can aim to change your tires in October or when you notice the temperature is dropping (anything 10 degrees Celsius or colder). Just don’t leave it until the weather starts getting really nasty. You don’t want to get stuck behind all the other people in a mad dash to get their tires switched out when winter finally rears its ugly head.
- Make sure your headlights and taillights are clean and functional. The colder months mean the sun will be setting earlier, the day will be darker, and the visibility will be reduced thanks to conditions like whiteouts and blizzards, so it’s imperative that all your lamps are crisp, clear, and in perfect working order. If your lamps are dirty or just look dull, you can clean them yourself quickly with a lamp restoration kit.
- Dig out the winter emergency kit. No ifs, ands, or buts. You need a winter vehicle emergency kit in your car at all times during the winter. Not having one can come down to a matter of life or death. You can buy kits that have already been put together, but you’ll still need to add some items yourself. Every emergency kit should have things like:
- non-perishable food that can withstand cold weather
- jumper cables
- kitty litter, salt, or sand for traction
- extra clothing
- first-aid kit
- water bottles that won’t crack or break in cold weather
- a small shovel, scraper, and snowbrush
- Drive safely. There’s so much advice about how to drive safely during the winter that it can be a little overwhelming. Just try to follow a few basic rules: keep a safe following distance between you and the car in front of you; reduce your speed as needed; avoid hard and sudden braking; give yourself extra time to arrive at your destination; monitor the weather reports; remove all the snow and frost from your car before you start driving; and avoid the roads whenever you can if the conditions are poor. More than anything, remember that your special winterized equipment and safe driving knowledge are only as good as your ability to adapt to the weather, because it’s certainly not going to adapt to you. Always drive for the conditions!
If that seems like a lot to process, just remember to maintain your car, drive with the right kind of tires, and drive for the conditions. Doing these things during the winter (or any other time of the year), is the best way to help keep your ride smooth, safe, and comfortable.
Happy winter driving!