By Ken Mitchell and Stephen Miller

It’s never fun if your vehicle lets you down, but it can be downright miserable or even dangerous if it happens on a cold winter day. Here’s a few things you should know about “winterizing” your vehicle:

Winter tires

Make sure you have a good set of winter tires. They’ll improve traction, but if they are severely worn, you’ll have trouble braking, accelerating and handling, especially on slippery roads. If you choose winter tires, put them on all four wheels.

Many people opt for “all-season” tires. Depending on your local climate, they can be an adequate compromise for average year-round weather conditions but won’t perform as well as genuine winter tires in the worst ice and snow.

Whatever you choose, buy them before winter arrives, and don’t rush to remove them in early Spring if more bad weather is a possibility.

Tire pressure

Since traction is compromised when driving on ice or snow, the correct
tire pressure is critical. Properly inflated tires ensure good contact with the road and protect the wheels from pothole damage. Your owner’s manual should list the recommended pressures. Remember that tire pressures drop in cold weather and will require topping up.

Additionally, you can maximize the use of your fuel dollars by keeping your tires properly inflated.

Engine oil

Oil doesn’t wear out, but it does become contaminated, and the performance additives are used up in service. So, change your oil and filter in time for winter and check the engine’s dipstick yourself each time you stop for gas if you use self-service stations. Even engines that are in good shape can consume some oil between changes.

Using proper oil can mean longer engine life and improve fuel efficiency. It’s important to match the oil’s viscosity, or thickness, to the temperatures at which the engine is likely to operate. In winter, an engine is colder at start-up than in summer, so it might be advisable to use a multi-grade, low-viscosity oil such as 5W-30. Being thinner than, say, 10W-30, it flows easily between moving parts when cold, but will remain thick enough to adhere to internal surfaces when the engine is completely warmed up. Even though some vehicles now recommend 5W-30 and even 5W-20 for year round use, there are still benefits to entering harsh winter driving conditions with fresh oil from a pre-winter oil change.

In addition, high-quality oils contain special additives to help ensure easy starting and full engine protection at all speeds.

Refer to your owner’s manual for more complete information.

Never continue to drive if the oil-pressure light comes on. You’ll risk engine damage. Stop, turn off the engine immediately and investigate. You may be very low on oil. For emergencies, take along an extra container of oil with a screw top.

Last but not least, if you’re planning on changing your own oil, remember to always properly dispose of used oil, filters, and plastic containers by recycling all contaminated materials at your nearest local collection point.

Block heater

Consider using a block heater to pre-warm your engine before operation in cold weather. It only needs to be plugged in for three or four hours before start-up, so hook it up to an electrical timer. A block heater helps both your battery and your oil to do their jobs.

Exhaust system

Be sure to check the muffler and exhaust pipes for leaks and for their general condition each Fall. Corrosion or perforations in the exhaust system can permit leakage of lethal carbon monoxide fumes into the passenger compartment.

When there’s snow on the roads, ensure your exhaust tailpipe isn’t obstructed by it when starting the engine, and never back into snow banks.

Wipers and washer fluid

Typically, there is reduced visibility in winter due to reduced daylight, snow and ice. In most parts of Canada, wiper blades last one year before needing replacement, and sooner if damaged. If you live where there is lots of ice and snow during the winter you should consider investing in wipers made specifically for winter.

During the winter months it is best to use windshield washer fluid made for colder temperatures to avoid further reduction in visibility. Also check your reservoir on a regular basis before heading out.


Very cold temperatures will reduce a vehicle’s battery power. If your vehicle battery is older than three years, have it tested at a certified automotive repair facility. Also, make sure the posts and connections are free of corrosion.


The ideal mixture of antifreeze (coolant) and water inside your vehicle’s radiator in winter is 60:40. If the mixture deviates from this norm, then hot- and cold-weather performance can be compromised. Pure Anti-freeze actually has a warmer freeze point, do not use more that 66:33 anti-freeze:water.

You can check the composition of a radiator’s mixture by using an antifreeze tester. These can be found at all auto parts stores, and they are inexpensive and easy to use. If the mixture is off, adjust it by adding either coolant or water. It is preferable to use de-ionized or de-mineralized water.

Belts and hoses

The belts and hoses in modern cars lead long lives, but that doesn’t mean they don’t die. Cold temperatures can accelerate the wear to belts and hoses. Part of your winterization should include having the belts and hoses inspected.
Put an emergency kit together

Before the season starts, assemble the things you would need if stuck somewhere on a remote winter road. Include all the usual emergency things, but you should also have extra items for the longer trips.

The things you should always have in your car during winter.

  1. Flashlight

  2. Flares
  3. Blankets
  4. Shovel
  5. Gloves
  6. Fuses
  7. Booster cables
  8. Sand bags
  9. Traction pads
  10. Scraper and brush
  11. Matches and candles
  12. Gas line antifreeze

Extra equipment for longer trips:

  • First aid kit

  • Extra clothing
  • Tow rope
  • Chocolate bars-they won’t spoil and they provide food in an emergency
  • Tire chains
  • Crowbar

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