November 16, 2012
By Autos.ca staff
Winter is coming.
While that line is used to dramatic effect in the hit TV and literary series, Game of Thrones, it is also a singularly appropriate maxim for automotive vehicle maintenance. Every year, we approach the fall with good intentions of preparing the car for our volatile Canadian winters. And most years, we are lucky if we get through half of them.
Warm fall days can make procrastinators out of the best of us, but fall is the time to get your vehicle ready. Many of the checks can be made at home or are done at low cost by most repair shops. Here are a few items that should be checked every year.
Waiting till the snow hits the ground can mean long waits for service at repair shops and tire dealers. Fall is usually a quiet time for many repair shops so convenient times can be arranged to have your vehicle serviced.
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 is a quick checklist that will help you make sure you are ready when winter comes.
First of all, invest in a good set of winter tires. They’ll improve traction, meaning you’ll be able to brake turn, and drive more effectively in cold weather. 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 ice, snow, or freezing temperatures.
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.
If you already have winter tires, check the tread depth—if they are severely worn, you’ll have trouble braking, accelerating, and handling, especially on slippery roads.
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, keeping your tires properly inflated will help maximize your fuel dollars.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before the season starts, assemble the things you would need if stuck somewhere on a remote winter road. Include all the usual emergency gear, but also extra items for the longer trips.
Here is a list of supplies you should always have in your car during winter:
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, and you’re pregnant wife will be super impressed that you bought her chocolate), tire chains, crowbar.