Prep Your Car For Winter

Is Your Car Ready For Winter Driving?

Canada faces extremely inclement winter conditions making it very hard for commuters all across the land. In such circumstances, our only hope lies in our vehicle to get us to our destination safe and sound. Along with preparing ourselves for the upcoming chill, we must also ensure our vehicles are well-maintained and are able to conquer the frigid roads and icing temperatures without leaving us stranded. Follow a few simple guidelines to thoroughly ready your car for winter driving. 

Are Your Tires Good For Winter Driving?

Starting with the most imperative section that needs addressing is our tires. Keeping apart how mechanically healthy our vehicle is, a wrong set of tires can diminish any chances of safe driving on snowy roads. Since tires are what connect us to the roads and provide traction on any surface, using summer tires or even all-season tires on snow, slush and ice can prove fatal. These tires are not designed for use in temperatures below 7℃ (45℉) and so when the mercury drops, these tires tend to stiff up and provide marginal to negligible traction (grip) on snow and especially ice-covered roads. This means sacrificing safety as you lose the ability to drive over snow or ice - common in winter across most of Canada. 

Hence, Winter tires are necessary for safe driving in even the worst winter conditions. These tires have unique tread patterns and are made from special compounds that remain flexible in temperatures way below freezing. Winter tires provide superior grip on snow, slush, and ice compared to any other tire allowing you to stop at shorter distances, accelerate faster, and have more control over the vehicle. Sp using winter tires is recommended especially in BC and Quebec where they are mandated by law. You can learn more about winter tires and their effectiveness in this guide. Also, make sure to adhere to all winter tires and related laws showcased in this article.

Check Tire Tread Depth

A tire with no tread is just as good as a pair of shoes with no sole or a heater that produces no heat - they’re useless. So making sure the tire has enough tread depth is vital. This can be done in many ways; a penny test, using a tread depth gauge or assessing the wear indicator bars. You can refer to our tire buying guide for finding all three methods of tread depth evaluation. If you find that the tires have limited or no tread left then make sure to replace them asap as driving on snow or ice is going to be impossible without sufficient tread. 1.6 mm tread depth is considered the minimum standard for a tire’s tread depth and anything below that necessitates tire replacement.

Check Tire Air Pressure

Another crucial element of a tire is its air pressure. The air pressure within the tire is constantly fluctuating along with temperature differences in the atmosphere. So as winter approaches and the temperature gradually declines, the air pressure within the tire keeps reducing which can lead to an underinflated tire. A 5-degree Celsius (10℉) change in ambient temperature causes the air pressure reading to dip by 1-2 psi. So in order to maintain the tire pressure at the recommended levels, you need to check the tire pressure regularly. A tire pressure gauge is a handy tool to keep in your car at all times.

Do You Have Car Starting Trouble? Check Your Battery

As the temperature becomes colder, the battery has to work harder to provide enough energy to crank the engine for starting the car. If you have trouble starting your vehicle now, then the problem will only get worse in winter since the failing battery will make it all the more difficult to start your vehicle. First, assess the battery condition to ensure the battery still has life. Clean the battery terminals, inspect the battery cables and check the charging system as well. To carry out these inspections you can refer to our battery maintenance guide for analyzing the battery’s state and also prolonging its life.

Check Your Engine Coolant

Addressing issues with the engine coolant will solve three problems - firstly it will ensure the engine functions at operating temperature without overheating. Secondly, the coolant fluid will not freeze in the winter and thirdly, it will maintain the heating system in the cabin. The engine coolant needs to have sufficient amounts of antifreeze to prevent it from freezing as the temperature reaches minus degrees. The ideal ratio for extreme winter temperatures is 60:40 or 60% antifreeze to 40% water (distilled). The coolant also needs to be in proper condition for it to flow throughout the engine and heater core. Coolant that hasn’t been flushed in a long time will cause corrosion in the engine and deteriorates gaskets and the water pump. It is important to check the condition of the engine coolant and flush the system before the temperatures become too frigid. While you are at it, be sure to also check out and maintain other vehicular fluids

Switch To Winter Wiper Blades

Wiper blades are used to rid the windshield of any dirt, water, snow, or splatter that can hinder the driver’s vision, especially in monsoons or winter. The wiper blades are an important part of your car’s safety feature and must be replaced regularly as they can prevent proper vision. During cold winter weather, raising the blades off the windshield prevents them from freezing to it. In the winter snow and ice can clog up and freeze the wiper blade mechanism which may render it inefficient and can also damage the windshield. This is why Winter Wiper Blades are recommended that have a rubber lining that seals the mechanisms and extends the life of the blades in the winter, preventing the blades from sticking to the windshield and freezing. These blades are made from a softer rubber compound that remains pliable during cold temperatures and performs better than regular wiper blades. Remember to add antifreeze or alcohol to the washer fluid to prevent it from freezing. 

Service Brake Pads And Rotors

If you have driven in the winter, then you know that the hardest part while driving on the snow or on wet roads is braking. On snowy and wet roads, the wheels start to hydroplane causing the car to spin off even when the brakes are applied. This is because the ABS system tries to moderate the braking to allow maximum traction. But all the efforts are not just down to the ABS, even the brake pads and rotors must contribute significantly in order for the best braking results. Thus it is essential to get a fresh pair of brake pads and brake rotors, especially for the front wheels, that can perform well when required and prevent mishaps.

Prepare Winter Survival/Breakdown Kit

Winter weather is unpredictable and so we must take precautionary steps to ensure that we are ready for the worst that winter has to offer. A winter survival or breakdown kit is a useful emergency solution for immediate problems that may befall stranded passengers. The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA®) recommends packing these items in your trunk and vehicle to tackle various problems. 

Keep the following items inside your vehicle.

  • Blankets (special "survival" blankets are best)
  • Ice scraper and brush
  • Road maps
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit

Keep the following items in your trunk:

  • Small tool kit (screwdriver, pliers, etc.)
  • Extra fuses (for the vehicle’s electrical system)
  • booster cables or jump starters
  • shovel
  • sand or kitty litter
  • traction mats
  • tow chain
  • compass
  • cloth or roll of paper towels
  • warning light or road flares
  • fire extinguisher
  • extra clothing and footwear
  • emergency food pack
  • matches and a "survival" candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink, or use as an emergency light)
  • extra windshield washer fluid
  • fuel line antifreeze
  • reflective vest
  • Lock out-tools
  • Flares

Following these few steps before setting out for a winter drive is going to ensure your vehicle is equipped for handling the inclement weather conditions and you are ready to tackle any uncertainties or face an emergency situation with confidence. Installing winter tires and servicing the brakes and engine components will provide you with the best performance and handling in severe winter weather. With minimum braking distances and faster acceleration over slippery icy roads, you can be sure to have a safe drive no matter the weather outside. 


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The grade or viscosity of the engine oil is determined by the numbers on the oil bottle like 5W-30, 10W-40, etc. The number before ‘W’ stands for the SAE viscosity of the oil at lower temperatures, whereas the number followed by ‘W’ denotes the viscosity at higher temperatures. The lower the value of the first digit, the thinner the oil is at lower temperatures. So a 0W-20 oil will be thinner than 5W-20 oil at 0℃. These are called multi-grade oils and they can be used throughout the year without switching oil grades. So in theory, you do not need to change the engine oil in your vehicle if you are already running an oil with the right winter viscosity like ‘5W’ or ‘0W’. Since Canada is prone to harsh winter seasons, your vehicle manufacturer may recommend switching to thinner oil for the winter seasons. Refer to your owner’s manual for the right engine oil grade for your vehicle.

If you are using your vehicle on the regular during the winter months, you do not need to start it every day just to keep it running. Your normal driving routine will take care of maintaining the vehicle. However, if you are planning on storing the vehicle for the winter, then you may come across many people that suggest running it on an idle daily or weekly for a few minutes to keep the battery charged and the condensation away. However, doing this will actually have negative effects on the battery since it does not gain enough energy in the short idle run to restore the energy used while starting the engine, plus it amounts to wasted fuel. So the best thing to do is to leave the vehicle in storage for the winter with the battery disconnected and when you plan on driving it again, recharge the battery or jump start it and go for a drive to recharge the battery using the vehicle’s charging system.

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John Framigllia
Technical Writer
Our technical writer is known for simplifying automotive parts and services. Intuitive with various vehicles and manufacturers, he knows how to simplify complicated problems.