I lived in Toronto for most of my adult life, until a few years ago when I moved to a smaller city in southern Ontario. I spent my first winter here remarking to my neighbours “Wow, there’s, like, so much SNOW.” My neighbours would just shake their heads at city slicker me and chuckle “Well, yup, this is the snowbelt.” Driving in snowbelt took some adjustment but taking these steps to prepare for the cold, ice, and all that white stuff helps to put my mind a little more at ease when I hit the road in winter.
After being pushed out of a snowbank by some kind strangers, and driving home though my first whiteout (with very white knuckles), I decided to invest in a set of winter tires. I get my local garage to swap out my “All-Seasons” when it looks like the temperature is going to stay below 7 degrees Celsius. My garage also keeps track of my tire tread for me, and will give me a heads up when it might be time to consider new winter tires (although if you want to keep tabs on your tread yourself, you can try this classic trick, with the helpful caribou on our Canadian quarter.)
I make sure to check my tire pressure (including the spare hiding in the trunk!) before any long trips, and if there has been a wild swing in temperature. I bought myself a digital tire gauge that lights up. It was a little pricier than an old fashioned one, but well worth it for the accuracy and ease in reading it. Less time freezing my fingers!
Wipers and fluid
I’ll check periodically to make sure my wipers aren’t sticking or streaking, and top up my fluid with Petro-Canada’s 4-Season Advanced Non-Smear Windshield Washer Fluid (designed for Canada’s freezing temperatures and winter conditions). On a longer drive with mixed precipitation, I can go through A LOT of it, so I keep some extra in the trunk.
I’ll dig out my scraper and brush from under that pile of junk in the backseat, and put a roadside emergency kit in the trunk. I got my emergency kit from the Red Cross. They do a great job of putting it all together for you, but if you want to make your own, make sure you’ve at least got a small shovel, a blanket, jumper cables (and instructions on how to use them) and something to aid in traction (sand, cat litter, or a traction mat). A more comprehensive list of what you could need can be found here. Have an extra charger in your car for your mobile phone too. I keep my roadside assistance number handy as well.
Keeping things clear
I always clean off all the snow and ice before I leave my driveway: windshield, windows, mirrors, top of the car, wheel wells (if it’s building up), hood and trunk. That “it’ll blow-off eventually” attitude doesn’t cut it if I want to be safe, and courteous to others – plus, you may get fined by police if your vehicle is insufficiently clean. I find it’s also helpful to give a gentle wipe to the back-up cam. With working from home this past year, the car can sit for days and accumulate a lot of snow and ice, so I’ve gotten into the habit of clearing off the car when I shovel the sidewalk and walkway each day. That way, it’ll be ready to go if I need to get somewhere in an emergency (or will just make the next time I go out to get groceries a little less of an ordeal).
Slush and mud can quickly accumulate on the headlights and really dim their strength, not to mention my car’s visibility to others, so I do a quick check to make sure they’re clean before heading out.
For all the “under-the-hood” stuff that isn’t easy to spot, I make sure that I’ve taken my vehicle in for its routine oil change and maintenance check-up at my trusty garage before the snow flies. I feel better about going out into challenging weather knowing the belts, hoses, brakes, systems and fluids are all good, and the battery’s been tested and is up for the colder temperatures and extra strain of the winter months.
Keeping the tank full
Keeping the tank at least half full also means I’ll be ready in case of an emergency. It also helps to keep gas lines from freezing.
I like to keep an eye on the forecast and road conditions and alter my plans accordingly. In Ontario, I’ve found this site particularly handy. Consult your local ministry of transport for warnings and websites that show current and expected road conditions. Your ministry will also have recommendations and requirements specific to the winter challenges in your area.
That’s how I’ve been keeping things moving during winter. The CAA provides a handy list, if you’re looking for more details on how to keep your vehicle (and your driving skills) in good shape during this tough season.
How about you? What maintenance tasks do you perform in the coldest months? Do you have any tricks or tips? Share in the comments!