As precipitation levels increase and temperatures drop, road conditions are growing increasingly hazardous. To learn more about how to better prepare for winter driving conditions, I spoke to automotive mechanic Linden Schultz. Schultz illuminated three basic points: optimize your visibility, ensure everything is in working order, and be prepared.
Optimize Your Visibility
The first step to readying your vehicle for winter is ensuring your vision is not impaired by the condition of your windshield. After a summer of little precipitation, it’s easy to forget about your vehicle’s windshield wipers, which become much more important as the rainy weather sets in.
“Replace them if they’re streaking,” Schultz recommends. Check the rubber on the windshield wipers—if it’s peeling off, it’s time to change your wipers. If you have any chips in your windshield, Schultz recommends you repair them now. Staff at windshield repair shops can inject a small amount of resin into the chip to keep it from spreading. Left untreated, water can seep into the chip and expand as winter temperatures turn the liquid into ice, further cracking the windshield.
As the saying goes, a stitch in time saves nine (and will save you money in the long run). ICBC will even pay for small windshield repairs, as long as you have purchased the optional comprehensive coverage for your vehicle.
Keeping your windshield clean is another way to prepare your vehicle for winter, as a clean windshield reflects far less glare than a dirty windshield. Eric Callewaert, a VIU heavy duty mechanic student, suggests using road film remover in your windshield washer fluid to keep your windshield free from grit. Schultz recommends using a windshield washer fluid that is suitable for winter. “In the summer they sell washer fluid that’s good for bugs, but doesn’t work for cooler temperatures.”
He also advises inspecting your lights to make sure they’re all in working order, as they’re more necessary than ever in days of poor road visibility. If your headlights are at all cloudy, clean them with a headlight restoration kit, which can be purchased at any automotive shop. Cloudy headlights reduce your visibility, making driving potentially more dangerous during foggy or snowy days. It’s good practice to keep your headlights on all the time, as the added light makes your vehicle that much more visible.
Give Your Vehicle a Check-Up
Schultz recommends getting your vehicle checked out by an automotive shop to ensure that it’s winter-ready. “Some shops might check your vehicle out for free—some might charge a small fee.”
“Have your battery tested,” Schultz adds, “because when it’s cold out, it makes more of a difference if your battery is weak. Batteries don’t work as well in colder temperatures.”
Schultz suggests you have your antifreeze checked to make sure it’s temperature proof, and also to have your tires inspected to ensure the tread is thick enough. The toonie test (in which you stick a toonie in the grooves of your tires to check the thickness) is good for keeping an eye on the state of your wheels, but it’s far safer to let professionals inspect them. Speaking of tires, Schultz recommends your vehicle have winter tires. “Or at least mud plus snow tires—there is a difference. But preferably winter tires.” Under 7C, winter tires outperform every other tire.
In addition to vehicle maintenance, Schultz advises you be proactive about the weather. Know the driving conditions and give yourself extra time to get to your location on days when those conditions are poor.
Dress for the weather. If your vehicle breaks down on the way to the gym, you don’t want to be without warm clothing—especially if temperatures are below freezing. Stashing an emergency preparedness pack somewhere in your vehicle is a good idea, as is saving the phone numbers of your automotive shop and tow truck company in your cell.
When it comes to winter driving conditions, the more prepared you are, the safer you are. You don’t want to learn how to change a tire for the first time while pulled over on the side of an unlit road in the middle of a blizzard (although if you do find yourself in this situation, look in your owner’s manual. It’s really not as hard as you’d think). Know how to do basic roadside repairs.
Watch for ice (especially on bypasses and bridges) and drive as slowly as you need to to feel safe. Winter can be a dangerous time of year, but being prepared and avoiding risks can help you and your vehicle make it safely through the toughest season.