Nobody is ever really ready for winter...but your vehicle can be!

Canadian drivers are often caught off guard when bad weather first hits. Last weekend Ottawa got its first taste of Winter when wet slushy snow rained down on the weekend! According to insurance statistics, December typically sees the highest number of auto claims due to collisions in comparison to other winter months. In the second of this series, I offer these useful tips to help prepare your vehicle for the winter.

Car Starter: Consider installing a car starter if you don’t have one already, especially if you park outside. There’s nothing better than pre-heating your frozen car before getting inside of it every morning or at the end of the work day!

Clean Your Vehicle: I drive a 5-year old Crossover SAV that many people say looks almost brand new! That’s because I give it a deep clean, both inside and out, each Fall and Spring. A good car wash with warm soap and water will clear off the summer dust and “bug-kill” on your grille. Apply car wax to coat and protect the exterior from road salt. This makes it easier to brush away snow and ice. I would also suggest repairing any scratches or chips to prevent rust corrosion. Do remember to clean out your trunk and make space for your winter emergency kit. I like to replace the carpet floor mats with rubberized ones as it keeps the car floor dry and free of salt stains.

Clean Your Garage: Many of us are guilty of using our garage as a storage space instead of what it’s actually intended for. Consider decluttering your garage so you can park your car inside over the winter months. Vehicles stored in a garage won’t have frosted windows and have less risk of a frozen engine – and if I’m honest – a warm vehicle is just more comfortable to get into on the cold blizzardy mornings! Don’t forget to remove any slip and trip hazards (think wet shoes and slushy floors) that may pose a danger or impede your access to the garage.

Defroster & Heater: Check that your defroster and heater are both working properly. These will help to keep your windows clear during the cold temperatures.

Lights: Winter days are shorter which means you’ll be depending more on your lights to illuminate the road when driving in the morning and evening. It’s important to check your headlights, taillights, backup lights, signal lights and your hazard lights to confirm that they are all in working order. I also recommend cleaning your lights to ensure you get maximum illumination when in use.

Maintenance Inspection: Get a maintenance inspection from your mechanic to check the engine, brakes, oil, belts, hoses, battery fluid levels, battery posts and cable connectors. Bad connections can keep your car from starting. I had my Winter Inspection done at The Garage in Ottawa last week. The guys there are fantastic, speedy, have outstanding customer service, and can perform all the above for you at an affordable rate!

Winter Tires: Invest in a good set of winter tires for your vehicle. These provide better traction control while driving in snow or on slippery roads. Do check that each has a snowflake symbol ❄ on them. The ideal time to switch to winter tires is when the temperatures start dipping below 7 degrees Celsius. This is when most summer tires start hardening and become ineffective when breaking. I recommend installing them now if you haven’t already done so! I had mine installed two weeks ago, two days after Ottawa was hit with a blast of freezing rain and hail! Most insurance companies offer a Winter Tire Discount so remember to ask your insurer for it!

Tire Pressure: Make sure your tires are properly inflated as tires lose a pound of pressure for every 5 degree Celsius the temperature drops. You can easily locate your car’s tire pressure requirements on the inner ledge of the driver’s door panel.

Wipers: Check that your windshield wipers are in good condition as worn wipers can reduce visibility in bad weather conditions. If I am parked outside during a snow storm, I keep my wipers turned up and place a long woollen sock over each wiper. This keeps the wipers warm, dry and free of snow and ice thus increasing their performance.

Washer Fluid: Use a brand of windshield washer fluid that has a lower freezing temperature. Do make sure your wiper fluid reservoir is topped up before each trip. I always keep a spare container of washer fluid in my trunk as a back-up!

Gas Tank: Fill up often! Keeping gas in the tank is more important in the winter months than in summer. A full tank can help prevent gas line freeze ups, especially if you park your vehicle outdoors. If you’re stranded by the roadside, your engine may be the only thing to keep you warm until help arrives. I recommend filling up your gas tank once the level falls below the ½ mark.

Roadside Assistance: I strongly recommend purchasing an Emergency Roadside Assistance program if you don’t already have one. I remember suffering a mechanical breakdown while driving back from a road trip some years ago. It was cold, dark and I was stranded on the highway shoulder. Roadside Assistance was a lifesaver for me! I always believe it’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!

Winter Tools: Keep a set of gloves, a snow brush and an ice scraper in your car at all times. Canadian Tire sells a new scratch-free snowbrush made from soft rubber. This is a good alternative to the traditional brush with bristles that could damage your vehicle. I picked one up this weekend. It’s a telescopic brush-scraper tool with a swivel mechanism to make clearing snow more efficient and less tedious. It’s a worthwhile investment especially during heavier snow storms. I also recommend keeping a spare brush & scraper in your trunk. Last winter, I broke an ice scraper after a particularly nasty episode of freezing rain. The spare indeed came in handy!

Winter Safety Kit: In Canada, blizzards can come out of nowhere. Keep a winter emergency roadside kit in your trunk which includes a warm blanket, candles and matches, flashlight and batteries, gloves, boots, flares, shovel, booster cables, a bag of salt and sand, and a first aid kit.

Don’t forget to keep a good ice scraper, washer fluid, non-perishable foods and water as well. I would also recommend adding a portable Cell charger as well as a few glow sticks in your kit.

Stay tuned to the next article where we’ll discuss some Winter Safety Driving Tips!

“All opinions and views expressed in this blog are of my own and do not represent the views of Allstate Insurance Co. of Canada.”