Safe Winter Driving
Winter weather is hard on your vehicle and its engine, now is the time to prepare your vehicle by getting a complete check-up of your battery, ignition system, lights, brakes, exhaust system and windshield wipers.
We also recommend always investing in winter tires because they can help reduce breaking distance on cold, wet, ice and snow-covered roads by up to 25 per cent.
We can help by recommending an auto shop with our Approved Auto Repair Services, testing your battery through our Authorized Battery Service to make sure it’s winter ready, and even helping you make sure you’re getting the best deal on Auto Insurance.
Keep reading to learn about winter car prep, for some great winter driving tips and tricks, and also for some clarity around some winter driving myths:
Safe Winter Driving Tips
Before You Leave
Don’t rely on GPS. Winter driving safety begins even before you leave the driveway. First, check the weather forecast. Depending on the weather your drive may take longer. If using a GPS, don’t rely on the estimated arrival time. Add at least 15 minutes to your drive to allow for additional traffic due to weather.
Make sure your view is clear. Don’t be that igloo on wheels. Clear ice and snow from all exterior windows and mirrors before you start driving. Don’t forget about the inside of the car, either. Your AC is also a dehumidifier—use it to clear foggy windows for better visibility.
Be prepared. Keep an emergency car kit in your car. You don’t need to spend a lot of money – most items can be found in your home. Be sure to pack items such as gloves, hats, a blanket, a first aid kit, booster cables, a small shovel, a flashlight, and anything else that can help keep you safe in an emergency.
Put your phone away. Your phone is an important tool, but you should never use it while driving. Decide what music you want to listen to, and then put your phone away. Make sure your phone is charged, too – in case you need to call CAA.
While You Drive
Keep a full tank. At minimum, keep your tank half-full. If you’re ever stuck in an emergency on the road, you’ll be able to run your car for short periods of time to stay warm.
Wear your seatbelt. It may seem obvious, but you should always wear your seatbelt. It can save your life. According to Transport Canada, more than a quarter of drivers and passengers who were fatally injured in a collision were not using a seatbelt.
Turn on your lights. Don’t be a phantom vehicle. Make sure your lights are on. Not only does it make your path clearer, it also helps other drivers see you. The Government of Canada is making automatic tail and headlights a standard lighting requirement for new vehicles sold in Canada as of 2021. For now, if your car does not have automatic lights, make sure to turn them on.
Don’t use cruise control. Cruise control is helpful, but not on slippery roads. Stay attentive and be ready to brake. The best way to avoid a skid is by driving at speeds that are safe for the weather and road conditions. Remember, speed limits are posted for ideal weather, which means in the winter you should always drive below the speed limit.
Just in Case
Stay calm. If you do get stuck, stay calm. Don’t do any heavy lifting or try to push your car by yourself. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure the tailpipe of your car isn’t blocked by snow. Then keep a window slightly open for fresh air and stay awake.
Be sure ot have your CAA Membership card handy. CAA provides 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Emergency Road Service (ERS) to Members.
Is your vehicle winter ready?
Give your car a checkup.
Whether you do it yourself or you hire a professional, here is what may be included in a winter car checkup:
- Your battery. It works harder in cold temperatures, so a weak one is a liability. If it’s between three to five years old, chances are that it could fail. Check for signs of corrosion, wetness or bulges in the casing. Battery tests are available with your CAA Membership with the CAA Authorized Battery Service.
- Your ignition system. Check the condition of your ignition components, including spark plugs, wires and distributor cap. Faulty components can make starting your car a game of chance, and can even cause breakdown.
- Your tires. Tire pressure goes down in cold weather. What was okay for fall could result in low tire pressure during the winter. Check your tire pressure regularly. Remember to check your spare, too.
- Your lights. Make sure all your interior and exterior lights are working. For safe driving, ensure your headlights are aimed correctly.
- Your brakes. If you’ve noticed any change in the feel of your brakes, or if they’re squealing or grinding, it may be time to have them serviced. With black ice and unpredictable weather, having good brakes can mean the difference between stopping and sliding.
- Your windshield wipers. Did you know that the average wiper blade lasts only six months? Check the condition of your blades if you notice streaking on the windshield. Some drivers prefer wipers designed specifically for winter driving.
- Your fluids. The fluids in your car help things run smoothly. If it’s been around six months since your last oil change, it’s a good idea to get it done before winter. Make sure your engine coolant meets the requirements of your area’s cold temperatures. Replace the coolant if it’s been more than two years since the last flush.
Now that you’ve made sure your car is ready for the winter season, here are some additional items to keep in mind:
- Consider winter tires. Even if it’s not mandatory in your province, winter tires provide extra safety. Winter tires bring many benefits, like the fact that their rubber remains flexible in cold temperatures, unlike all-seasons which lose elasticity below 7ºC.
- Pre-heat your engine. If the temperature in your area drops below -15ºC, consider using a block heater to reduce engine stress.
- Keep your wiper fluid full. Keep extra fluid in your trunk. Make sure it’s rated for -40ºC.
- Prevent your gas line from freezing. Keeping your tank at least half-full reduces the build-up of condensation, which can freeze and stop fuel from reaching your engine.
- Combat rust. There are several ways to avoid rust: frequent car washes that include an undercarriage wash; rustproofing; and applying a layer of polymer or carnauba over paint and trim.
- Prepare for the unexpected. Emergency car kits can help you out of a bind. Some items you should pack include: gloves, hats, a blanket, a first aid kit, booster cables, a small shovel and a flashlight. Learn more about emergency car kits.
Winter Driving Myths
Winter Driving Myth #1
Heat your car for at least 10 minutes. Today’s engines don’t require it. Letting your vehicle idle wastes fuel and won’t speed up warming your vehicle’s engine. At the most, heat your car for a couple minutes, if only for your own comfort.
Winter Driving Myth #2
Hot water can clear your windshield. Hot water can cause the glass to crack. The best way to clear your windshield of ice and snow is to use a window scraper and your vehicle’s warm air. Clear visibility is very important, so make sure to leave enough time to properly clear your car of ice and snow, including headlights and taillights.
Winter Driving Myth #3
All-Season tires are fine for winter. With low temperatures, the tread rubber, depth and pattern and biting edges on winter tires provide essential traction in winter. Additionally, they provide far better breaking power in snow and ice – up to 25%. Winter tires are, hands down, the safest option in winter.
Winter Driving Myth #4
Put anti-freeze in your brake lines to avoid them from freezing up. Brake fluid is designed to never freeze. It’s not only unnecessary to add anything, but it could cause serious mechanical issues.
Winter Driving Myth #5
Four-wheel drive helps you brake better. Four-wheel drive can be helpful in snow, but it doesn’t help you stop. Braking is the same in two-wheel or four-wheel drive, so remember to always allow extra stopping distance in winter conditions.
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