Every year, we tend to treat winter like a pop-in visit from the in-laws: Unexpected and a little scary. While there’s not much you can do to brace for the last minute house guests, preparing a checklist for your vehicle before the first snowfall can keep you and your family safe, secure and (relatively) stress-free throughout the winter season. It’s all about equipping your car to start easily in the morning and stop quickly in traffic when the need arises.
A Charged Battery is a Happy Battery
“The most important thing with winter driving is to make sure your car will start on those cold mornings,” said Chris Rechner, spokesperson for the Alberta Motor Association (AMA) in Edmonton.
That means the battery and electrical system should be your first priority, keeping in mind that the average lifespan for car batteries in our climate is three to five years. Rechner advises a battery test to see if it’s getting a full charge. As he puts it, “don’t wait until that first day of minus 20 to find that you don’t have the juice to do the job.”
The most important thing with winter driving is to make sure your car will start on those cold mornings. – Chris Rechner
Building Blocks for Success
When it drops below minus 15, Rechner suggests plugging in your vehicle to ensure that it’s ready to go the next morning. Of course, that only helps if your block heater is working, so confirm that it is, and don’t forget the heater cord. He finds that many drivers will check the block heater while overlooking the cord and, like Canada and the cold climate, you can’t have one without the other.
Stopping on a Quarter
In winter, starting is critical. And as anyone who has felt the terror of a skid will tell you, so is stopping.
“Your tires need to have good traction in winter conditions, so make sure the tread depth is adequate.”
To do that, Rechner has a novel tip. He suggests taking a quarter and sticking it in the tread. If it goes up to where the queen’s head would be, you’re fine.
Also, proper inflation of tires is important as it can affect traction on slippery roads and improve stopping distance by up to 25 per cent.
If you have a mechanic you trust, have them check these items as well as your brake and transmission fluids, antifreeze and coolant. If you’re an AMA member, they can make a service call to check your battery and replace it on the spot if need be.
While these guidelines give you the best chance of success with winter driving, Rechner urges you to still prepare for the worst.
Your tires need to have good traction in winter conditions, so make sure the tread depth is adequate.
“We strongly recommend having an emergency kit in your vehicle with a blanket, candles, granola bars, water bottles and winter clothing.”
Add to that a full tank of gas and a fully charged cell phone, and you can leave your worries behind when you hit the road.
Of course, you’ll still have to shovel the walk and shiver through some chilly days this winter. But with proper preparation, at least you’ll know your family is safe and sound wherever they go, and that’s an idea that’s easy to warm up to.