10 tips to winterize your car in Canada

The long-term winter weather forecast is in for Ontario and overall, there is some good news for us. Although it’s going to start early, before actual “winter” begins on December 22nd, it’s not going to be too brutal, and should end relatively early.

Winter tires can also net you a car insurance discount, so it’s worth using them.

That’s the good news. Now for the not-so-good news: winter is still coming, and we should all be prepared with these easy tips to winterize your car…

1) Get snow tires

Winter tires should be at the top of your priority list because it’s the most important. Even if you drive an all-wheel vehicle or live where the streets are generally clear, winter tires improve surface grip in every type of road condition and in low temperatures. They help your car brake more efficiently in heavy snow and icy conditions because they constantly clear themselves of snow providing better grip as you go.

A note about all-season tires: When the manufactures say your tires are “all-season”, that’s true as they are designed to function better than single-season specialty tires. However, studies indicate that purpose-built winter tires offer up to 50% more winter traction than all-seasons. Finally, winter tires are great for insurance rates (hey, we’re an insurance broker so we think this is the good stuff).

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Not only are drivers with winter tires given a discount, they will also lessen their chances of having an accident, which will improve their driving record and lower their premiums. More importantly of course, winter tires keep everyone safer.

2) Change your oil

Cold weather is hard on all of us, but it’s also hard on your engine, especially when starting up. The viscosity of oil changes with temperature, so if you have the wrong oil in your crankcase, turning that engine over when the oil is more like treacle is like you trying to slog through ankle deep mud.

Next time you book that regular oil change, first thing you should do is check your owner’s manual and see what your manufacturer recommends for low temperature driving.

3) Winter wiper blades

Spoiler alert: Winter wipers have spoilers! That aerodynamic shape is designed to help keep them in contact with your windshield in the heaviest and worst winter weather, something that is key to keeping it clear. This is a highly underrated way to winterize your car, since visibility is such a huge part of road safety.

They are also much sturdier than summer blades so as to keep them moving (despite the cold and snow) and are covered by thick rubber so there are no exposed parts that can get clogged up.  Also, remember to fill up on winter windshield washer fluid and that your spray jets are working properly.

4) Service your battery

Did you know that the average life of a car battery in Canada is under 5 years? Car batteries are tasked at their hardest during our harsh Canadian winters. So if your battery is coming up to the 5 year mark, it will be worth having it checked as you wouldn’t want it to inconveniently fail.

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Even if your battery is 3 years old, it might be a good idea to have it tested as winter weather weakens batteries and the last thing you want is to be left stranded in the cold. Also, remember to carry a set of jumper cables for all those people who, unlike you, didn’t proactively take care of their battery. It’s always good to lend a helping hand.

5) Check your tire pressure (annoyingly often)

We all know that proper tire pressure gives the best traction and fuel mileage. But did you know that cold weather causes tire pressure to change by as much as 1 psi (pounds per square inch) for every 5.6°C (10°F) shift in temperature either up or down? That means if there is a cold snap and a snowstorm overnight, you could be riding to work on soft tires at the worst possible time.

Check your owner’s manual. It will probably recommend operating your winter tires several psi (typically 3-5) higher than their recommended pressures for summer and all-season tires. Who knew? Check on your tire pressure once per week as a part of the process to winterize your car.

6) Check your lights! See and be seen.

Did you know winter is hard on your car’s bulbs? It’s all about the condensation that naturally occurs with all that freezing and thawing happening all winter long. Most manufacturers have switched to LEDs now, which are mostly immune to this issue.

But if your car doesn’t have LEDs then make sure all your lights are working properly so that you can see and be seen in the coming cold and dark nights.

If your plastic headlight protectors are worn by road rash, invest in a headlight restoration kit. It’s a cost-effective DIY way to get them back to their original crystal-clear state, making it an easy win when you winterize your car.

7) Check your antifreeze

The fluid found inside of your radiator should contain a 50/50 mix of antifreeze and water. To make sure you have the right ratio, pick up an inexpensive antifreeze tester, or ask your mechanic to do it for you (usually it’s a free check). Also, though there are many, “it’s just a scam” stories, you really should flush your system regularly to get rid of corrosive by-product chemicals that accumulate over time.

One more antifreeze note: In your emergency kit that you carry with you always, that bottle of gas-line antifreeze will help prevent fuel line blockage in the nastiest conditions.

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8) Get a tune up

Winterize your car 101 here. As you know weather will always take a toll on a car’s performance. Be sure the easy fixes are taken care of before the season gets started. Inspect your spark plugs, brakes, steering and suspension. If there are squeaks, squeals, knocks or thumps, better get them fixed now instead of later.

Special attention should be paid to all your belts and hoses, as those sudden temperature changes makes them especially susceptible to failure.

If a cheap belt that costs just a few dollars to replace saves you from waiting for a tow in the cold it’s well worth that is no place to be hanging out waiting for a tow.

9) Get an emergency kit

In March of this year, parts of Quebec were hit with severe winter storms and snow clearing equipment couldn’t keep up. On Highway 13, outside of Montreal, more than 300 cars were stranded for 12 hours unable to move. Six people died in that storm, including two who were stuck in their pickup truck after it was buried.

Having an emergency kit in your car really could save your life if you find yourself and other drivers stuck or stranded. Check online for the recommended items to include in your winter emergency kit.

10) Get better at driving in winter

As Canadians, we’re well-equipped to handle winter. It’s kind of our national superpower. Yet, statistically speaking, as drivers, we don’t seem to be nearly as good compared to countries to a similar climate, like Sweden. Here are some tips to improve all of our chances of staying on the road and remaining in control when the snow hits.

  • Keep two hands on the wheel
  • Ensure your lights are on (use fogs or high-beams if you must)
  • Slow down
  • Leave several car lengths between you and the next person
  • Signal early and often when changing lanes

It takes a bit of work to winterize your car properly, but it’s time and effort well spent when you think about the alternative of sitting in a freezing car waiting for a tow truck!

Get a 3-minute quote to see how winterizing your car can improve your insurance rates!

Seriously, what else can you do in 3 minutes?

Boil half an egg?

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