There are things you can, and should, do yourself to get your vehicle prepared for winter
Originally published: November 25, 2015 (includes video)
I have this terrific way of getting my tires changed. I drop my car off to my mechanic and then I pick it up. Though my father made me learn how to change a flat a billion years ago, I’ve officially entered the world of don’t ask, don’t tell: do these things I am able to do myself and we will speak no more of it.
In the spirit of digging into more of the dirty jobs we take for granted, I decided it was high time I revisited my rusty tire changing ways. The timing was perfect; the temperature has been staying low and it was time to haul out the winter tires. What did I mostly learn? It’s more about the tools than the determination. I don’t own a torque wrench, and I’d prefer my tires were installed with one. So what else is your mechanic doing behind closed garage doors this time of year?
- Start with those tires if you’re in one of Canada’s many snowbelts. Remember: it’s about temperature as much as snow and the more flexible compound of winter tires will keep you better adhered to the road.
- A mechanic will also check all fluid levels, including antifreeze. You can do this yourself, but never release a hot radiator cap. A mechanic will also let you know if you should change to different weight oil for the cold weather.
- Check your battery. A display will tell them not only if your battery is good or not, but how much life it has left. If you’ve always leased or turned cars over every few years, you may not know you’ll be replacing a battery around the four- or five-year point. Get it tested before you get stranded and remember – deep temperatures can still tax even a good battery.
If you do get stranded, you might have a tougher time getting a boost. Many manufacturers warn owners against boosting another battery; touchy electronic systems can be adversely affected and most don’t want to take a chance. Instead, consider a self-contained booster. A check on Amazon reveals prices that are all over the place, so do some homework and be sure you’re comparing apples to apples.
I really like the Noco Genius Boost lithium 12V charger; it’s advertised as Lorraine-proof – err, goof-proof – and it really is. You can use it to charge your electronic devices as well, extending its use far beyond a dead car battery. It retails for about $160, but watch for sales from now until Christmas at retailers and other websites; stick with reputable places if you’re ordering similar devices, as prices fluctuate wildly.
There are things you can – and should – do yourself.
- Have a good snow brush. Make sure it’s long enough to let you clear the roof of your vehicle, because driving with that muffin on top of your car is not only dangerous, you look ridiculous. Make sure you clear off all your lights, too.
- Swap out your wiper blades for winter ones. These will be a solid or encased design, so snow and ice doesn’t collect in the crevices of the blade. They should also be made of a compound similar to winter tires – they stay more flexible in cold temperatures. Follow the package instructions; they can be a little tricky at first, but usually just snap in place in a minute once you have it figured out.
- Change to low temperature windshield washer fluid. Always carry an extra one (bungee it in your trunk so it doesn’t fly around) because being unable to see clearly in bad conditions can be deadly.
- Have a first aid kit for emergencies. Retailers have kits ranging from about $15 and up, but once you pass $100, you’re probably in Never Gonna Use It territory. Several at Canadian Tire, for instance, come with a one-year road side assistance program, though I still prefer CAA. These make great Christmas gifts in any price range, but you can also make your own kit up. Last winter saw more motorists stranded due to inclement weather than in recent memory. It might not happen, but if it does, make sure you could live in your car for a few hours. If you typically go from house to underground parking, keep a pair of boots in the car. I have a pair that one of the kid’s outgrew; they look ridiculous but I’ve hauled them out more than once.
That’s the hardware, but also consider these reminders:
- Determine if your car is operating with only daytime running lights if you don’t have your full headlight system on. There’s much more to talk about in this area, but especially in winter weather, you want to be visible the whole time you’re on the road.
- Your smartest bet in maintaining your automobile all-year round is to read your owner’s manual. Yep. That book might still be wrapped in cellophane in the glove box. Bring it in and put it in the bathroom if you’ve been ignoring it. Everything about your warranty starts here, so you should learn it. Remember that we’re considered an extreme climate zone in Canada. That means every direction and recommendation for extreme climate zones means you.
Even if you do everything right, you still might find yourself in a collision. Most people are familiar with sharing insurance info and snapping pictures. But do yourself a favour and have a list of dealers or repair shops you could have your vehicle towed to should this happen.
Most of us follow a standard commute, and could know the most likely places. If not, you’re at the mercy of tow truck operators who may have their own ideas about where to take your vehicle. Police clearing a chaotic crash scene aren’t going to wait for you to make up your mind.