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Winter car care

Winter car care is a big part of staying safe and be able to drive safely too. Throughout the year, you'll be having regular car maintenance checks for oil change, lube change, brake check and other parts replacement as needed. However, it's a really good idea to have a complete car check in the fall to better handle the winter weather. Knowing that your vehicle has had this detailed inspection will give you confidence that your car is a reliable workhorse. It will also help you cope with winter road conditions and winter driving conditions as best as you possibly can.

Winter car care checklist

The common components that makes up your vehicle is the place to start. And there are a lot of them to have checked by a qualified mechanic. All of the parts need to work properly so your car is in tip top shape. I'm by no means, a car-nut or gear-head but I am just car-savvy enough to know that good car maintenance is crucial to being safe and driving safe in the winter weather.

Here's my own maintenance checklist for winter:

  • Tire treads
  • Tire pressure
  • Battery check
  • Belts and hoses
  • Coolant (or antifreeze) in the radiator
  • Exhaust system
  • Oil pressure
  • Brakes
  • Windshield wipers and fluid
  • Heater and defroster working properly
  • Clean ignition turn-over upon starting
  • Vehicle lights including daytime, nighttime, reverse lights and indicators checked.

Quite often, in the fall lead-up to winter, auto shops will start advertising a "winter car care special" so keep an eye out for that. Just confirm what is included (or not) so you know if all of your car concerns are addressed.

Pro-active winter car care

There are some other preventative steps you can take to prolong the life of your vehicle.

- Oil Undercoating:

  • Because of all the salt and sand used on the roads, having the underside of your vehicle's chassis sprayed with an oil undercoating is a smart thing to do. This treatment can last for up to several years before it needs to be redone. Again, this depends on how mild or severe the winter weather is where you live.
  • Slowing down the rusting process underneath and around the sides of your vehicle will make it last longer and be in better shape because of it. There are local auto shops that specialize in doing this service for you or ask your regular mechanic for a recommendation. It's recommended that you do this every year although it's up to you.

- Car washing:

  • Make a point of getting your vehicle washed several times during the winter season. It will help to get all the debris and crud off but also to reduce the potential salt damage. The build up of salt causes corrosion so the life of your vehicle is going to be shorter rather than longer.
  • If left unchecked, you'll start to notice the paint begins to breakdown beginning with discoloured spots appearing then as the breakdown continues, rust spots next show up. Where salt spray splashes your vehicle, in particular along all sides around the wheel wells are the most vulnerable areas for rust to form. Over time, other rust spots will gradually pop up in other places on the car body as well.

More winter car care tips

Here are some other things you might want to know about cars, driving and winter:


  • During winter, cold temperatures are tough on vehicles so the engine has to work harder. Where the temperature dips to -20 and -30 Celsius, block heaters are necessary so the engine oil doesn't seize the motor.

Tire rotation

  • Depending on the type of tires you have on your vehicle, you may need to change them every fall for what is known as "winter tires". These types of tires are broad with a wider tread so they can grip the road better so you get better traction. Those tires billed as "All-season tires" can remain on your vehicle all year round although during winter they are not as good as getting proper winter tires.

Tire type

  • This will also depend on the depth of tire tread meaning that a winter tire has more than an all-season tire. Many vehicles come with all-season type tires now but those that don't, you definitely need snow/winter tires. All the main tire manufacturers have a variety of winter and snow tires to choose from to suit your vehicle. Keep an eye out for fall tire sales when they advertise regularly leading up to winter.

Tire pressure

  • Tire pressure is lower in winter so its PSI (pounds per square inch) is reduced by a small amount (1 to 2 PSI). It's important because it will improve traction and to some extent, reduce potential damage to the wheels and rims when you drive over rough, broken pavement or through potholes. You'll need to check the tire pressure regularly over winter. If it is a bit too low, it will affect your steering as well as your braking power. You need to read your vehicles owner's manual to get the proper tire pressure.

Braking power

  • Using your brakes to stop your vehicle takes longer in the winter weather i.e. up to 10 seconds. To do this properly and safely, you pump the brakes gently several times to come to a stop. If you brake fast, there's a good chance the brakes will lock (if you have ABS brakes) and you could slide or skid into the intersection, a post, a tree or another vehicle and hopefully, not a pedestrian crossing the street.
  • Braking distance between vehicles in winter is much less due to the presence of snow, ice, rain and everything in between that reduces the tire traction between the wheels and the wet pavement so rule of thumb is, brake early and gently.

Your own "must do" winter car care checks

Although regular servicing will cover most of the vehicle's maintenance, you'll still need to be checking on some things yourself during the course of the winter. The two most common tasks are:

  • Regularly checking the tire pressure, (which makes for easier steering)
  • Keeping the windshield washer fluid tank always topped up.

Nothing more anxiety provoking than running out of washer fluid and having to stop on the side of the road or during a snowstorm or both!

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