Winter Driving Guide - Before You Head Out
The fall season brings with it beautiful colours and the urge to hibernate. Fall is the best time to prepare you and your car for winter driving. There are some simple things you can do to maintain your vehicle in preparation for colder weather.
Before you head out
The most important thing to do before you head out onto snowy roads is to plan and prepare for your drive. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
- Leave yourself lots of time so you're not rushing to get to where you need to be.
- If your battery is dead, contact CAA for a boost. If you're a CAA Member, a battery boost is included with your membership. Not a CAA Member? Join CAA today.
- If you're not a CAA Member, check your car owner manual for instructions on boosting your battery using jumper cables.
- Check The Weather Network before you head out and find out the current and forecasted weather and road conditions.
- Avoid driving in hazardous weather. You've heard the Police spokesperson tell us on those treacherous days, "Don't be driving on the roads if you don't need to be." Heed their advice and if you really have to travel, use a taxi or public transit.
- If you're nervous about driving in winter, take a friend to be your second set of eyes.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that builds up and can kill humans and animals quickly and silently.
- Let your engine idle briefly. Anything more wastes fuel, increases engine wear, reduces the life of engine oil, and puts extra emissions into the environment.
- Consider a block heater, which is an electric engine heater that you plug in at night to keep your coolant warm. The block heater will ensure you have instant heat in the mornings.
- Start out slowly; gauge the weather and road conditions before you attempt to drive at the posted speed.
- When turning, accelerating, or stopping, slow down to maintain control of the vehicle and avoid loss of traction on the roads.
- Leave plenty of distance between you and other cars. As winter progresses we tend to feel over-confident. Drive slowly.
- Keep your exhaust pipe clear of snow. A blocked pipe can force carbon monoxide back into your car's interior.
- Do not drive with the heater in recirculation mode. There's simply too much moisture from you and the melting snow on your boots for the defroster to do its job.
Items to keep in your vehicle
Be prepared for any unexpected emergency. Including just some of these items in your car could minimize the severity of a road side emergency:
- Winter gloves
- Blanket or extra clothing
- Extra windshield washer fluid
- First aid kit or CAA Road Safety Kit, available at CAA Stores, Members save $9.00
- Map (not just a GPS unit)
- Ice scraper and/or snow brush
- Flashlight and batteries
- Battery jumper cables
- A CAA membership covers you and not just the car. You can receive roadside assistance even if you're a passenger in another vehicle.
- Bag of sand, salt or kitty litter
- Small shovel
- Candy or chocolate bar for energy
- Dry cloth or paper towel
- Waterproof matches
- Appropriate footwear (if you tend to drive in shoes during the winter months)
- Cell phone with a fully-charged battery
You've seen it many times - disabled cars and their frustrated drivers waiting for a tow truck at the side of a snow-covered highway.
As the mercury drops to below freezing, motorists should prepare their cars for winter driving and protect themselves from car troubles. In cold temperatures, a minor car maintenance problem can turn into a real emergency.
Get a CAA Vehicle Inspection to find out if your vehicle is ready for winter driving. Our licensed mechanics will examine your car with a comprehensive CAA 170-point inspection. Or, check with your dealership to find out if a winter maintenance package is included with your warranty.
For many people, car care is a once-a-year concern. Yet, regular preventative maintenance by a competent mechanic is the best year-round insurance against unexpected breakdowns. For many late model automobiles, the service schedules have changed considerably, so it is very important to consult the owner's handbook before any maintenance is performed. If you've neglected to care for your car, the fall months are the best time to winterize your car. Otherwise, you may find yourself freezing at the side of the road.
Preparing Your Car for Winter Driving
There are a few simple things you can do before you set out for a drive in the cold and snow.
Your car's exterior
- Have someone help you check that all vehicle lights are working, including taillights, brake lights, headlights, turn signals and emergency flashers.
- Use your snowbrush and/or ice scraper to clear your car of snow and ice, especially the entire windshield, side and rear windows, your side mirrors, front and back lights, air intake grill and your roof.
- Check your heater, front and rear defroster for proper operation
- Keep your windshield washer fluid topped up and use washer fluid with antifreeze.
- Securely close the lid on antifreeze products and do not allow washer fluid to pool on the ground or garage floor, as even tiny amounts are toxic to dogs and cats.
- Carry extra fluid in your trunk
- Make sure your windshield wipers are in good shape. Replace your wiper blades every six months and only use heavy-duty wipers in the winter. Switch to summer wipers when the threat of ice and snow are gone to reduce the wear on your wiper motor.
- Make sure your wipers are turned off when you turn off your car's ignition. If you leave the wipers on and they freeze to your windshield, they will try to move when you start the car and this can damage the wiper motor.
- Periodic cleaning with a clean cloth dampened with windshield washer fluid can often renew the wiping power of dirty blades and extend their life.
Your fuel tank
Condensation can build up in a near-empty gas tank in extremely cold temperatures, which can cause fuel line freeze-up and no-start conditions.
- Keep your gas tank above half-full at all times. In the event you get lost or stranded, you'll need your engine's heat to keep you warm, which is another good reason to keep your gas tank above half-full. If such a situation occurs, always crack the window a little to keep fresh air coming in.
- Adding a can of fuel injection gasoline antifreeze every 3-4 tank fill-ups will also keep condensation under control.
Lubrication systems need the proper viscosity of oil to prevent excessive drag and wear during starting, especially when the engine is cold. Most car manufacturers recommend 5W-30 oil for year-round operating conditions because it improves cold-weather starting and provides better fuel economy and performance.
- Check your engine oil level. Oil marked "SAE or API-SJ" or higher provides the best protection.
- Owners of diesel-engine cars should check their owner's manual to determine the best cold-weather motor oil.
Your tires and brakes
A good set of tires plays an extremely important role in winter driving but it is often overlooked when preparing for winter. On front-wheel-drive cars, it is very important to have four identical tires at all four corners because these cars are more prone to rear-wheel skidding. However, even if your car is 4-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive, it will perform better with four identical tires, particularly on slippery roads.
- Check all tires for proper inflation pressure including the spare tire on a monthly basis. Tires lose pressure every month due to normal leakage. Tire pressure information can usually be found on the inside of the driver's door.
- For better stopping and handling control, have all brakes and suspension components inspected at least once a year or every 20,000 km. Have any defective or worn out components replaced promptly.
- Make sure your spare tire is properly inflated.
At 0° Celsius a fully charged battery loses 35% of its power. A weak battery simply won't make it through the winter. Even though most cars today are equipped with maintenance-free batteries, they still require periodical attention. Checking the state of charge and keeping terminal connectors secure and free of corrosion will ensure quick winter starts. The cause of inadequate battery charge may be as simple as a loose or worn alternator drive belt. A charging system check will confirm that the battery is receiving a charge.
A battery that is four or more years old must be considered near the end of its life. A test under load will confirm its fitness for winter.
A 50/50 mixture of anti-freeze and water in the cooling system gives -35° Celsius (-34° Fahrenheit) freezing protection in winter, which is adequate for most Canadian climates. In addition to winter protection, the antifreeze mixture protects the car's cooling system from corrosion and boiling-over all year round.
- Check coolant level, strength and condition.
- Get your cooling system flushed every two years.
The information above is intended to provide general information only. Nothing is intended to provide legal or professional advice or to be relied on in any dispute, claim, action, demand or proceeding. CAA South Central Ontario does not accept liability for any damage or injury resulting from reliance on this information.