The 10 things you should do right now to prepare your car for winter
It’s coming. Try as we might to resist, winter is fast approaching. Hoping for a few more months of above-zero temperatures is not a plan. Preparation is the only way to survive the season of discontent — especially when it comes to your car. Here, then, are ten tips to help you get ready for the worst of what mother nature will absolutely dish out in the coming months.
Stand in your kitchen and arrange four slices of bread on the floor in approximately the same way as your car tires touch the ground. Stand back, fold arms, observe. Those four patches are about the same as the contact points between a cold road and your 3,500 pounds of rolling iron, glass and plastic. Those little squares are all that keeps your car adhered to the road. Wouldn’t you want those points to be the best they can be? Only winter tires can do that. All-seasons are, in truth, three-season tires. True winter tires — those with the snowflake symbol on the sidewall and on dedicated winter rims — are the only way to give your vehicle the traction it truly needs to avoid an accident this winter and protect your regular rims.
How old is your battery? Three years? Seven years? If it’s older than four, start watching the flyers for battery deals, because the average life for a car battery is about 48 months. Sure, some batteries work well beyond that, but the clock is ticking after the four-year anniversary. If in doubt, have it checked by a shop, or by yourself with an inexpensive tester available from parts retailers. But don’t push your luck with an aging battery that will most likely fail on the coldest day of the year, just when you need your vehicle most.
In summer, when you ran low on washer fluid and topped up the tank with water from the garden hose, the world was green and the birds were singing. In November, that same water will turn to hard ice, blocking or damaging the washer fluid pump and preventing you from cleaning the front glass from road salt and sand. Take a few minutes now to fill the washer fluid with genuine washer fluid rated for -30 or -40ºC, and make sure the fresh fluid streams through the nozzle jets, accurately hitting the windshield. An oil change and coolant check now is also a good idea, if either of those vitals haven’t been changed or checked since spring.
The hot summer sun and rainy fall probably took its toll on your wiper blades, wearing out the rubber “refills.” Replacing just the rubber parts instead of the whole wiper arm is easy and inexpensive. Usually, it’s not much more than $20 and it’s a task many people can do themselves. Rubber refills can be ordered from parts counters at most dealerships or parts suppliers. Lots of shops will also replace these at little to no cost, setting you up for clear vision in the darkest days ahead. If your car has one, don’t forget the rear wiper, too.
Are your headlights cloudy? Do you have a burnt-out bulb? Do you forget to turn on your headlamps? With daylight becoming as scarce as cheap flights to Cancun, getting as many lumens on the road is not just so you can see better, but so others can see you. Ensure all bulbs work, replace faded headlights with new ones or try to polish them up, and leave your lights in the ON position — all the time. In most newer cars, headlights automatically shut off with the ignition anyway after a preset time, so leave them on to see and be seen. Don’t be one of those driving around in a storm with only the DRLs.
Even two snowflakes seem to trigger municipalities into launching full scale, army-like attacks of salt trucks onto our roads, so get ready for the war with rubber floor mats. Digital-fit mats specifically made for just about any vehicle from aftermarket companies, or even all-weather OEM mats, are excellent at keeping salt and dirt off your vehicle’s carpets, where it will stain, cause rust and become hard to remove in spring. Add a moving blanket to the cargo area and/or back seat of your SUV or truck, too, to keep salted gear from spoiling these heavily used areas.
All that salt will attack your vehicle’s frame, suspension and body, so if you plan to keep the vehicle a long time, have it oil sprayed by a reputable applicator. Oil spraying doesn’t guarantee protection against rust, but it definitely slows its advance. The cost for this ranges depending on vehicle and thoroughness of the spray job, but keep in mind the vehicle will drip for days and weeks afterward, potentially staining driveways or garage floors. It’s a good idea to park on a tarp if you’ve had the service done.
Lots of lube
Rubbers seals around doors and windows harden over time, so lube them with a can of silicone spray. The stuff costs as little as $3, but it goes a long way to keeping doors — especially sliding van doors — from being stubborn to open in the biting cold, when rubber seals stick if there’s any moisture about. Spray a little silicone into the door locks and gas cap door while you’re at it, and give the door latches and door hinges a shot of white lithium grease as well.
Be ready, even when ready
Even the most prepared drivers can encounter problems, so stock your vehicle with a good LED flashlight, jumper cables, blanket, gloves, toque, tow rope, a power bar for your phone and high protein bars for yourself. Know where the recovery points of your vehicle are located. Check the weather before any trip, and ensure your roadside assistance number is handy. And remember that every winter drive comes with higher risk, especially after a big dump of fresh snow, when it might make more sense to leave the car or truck at home.