How to prepare your vehicle for winter
Car on a snowy winter road

Winter comes pretty reliably every year in Canada, but it still manages to catch many drivers by surprise when the snow hits the ground for the first time. With a few simple precautions, however, you and your vehicle can be ready to tackle the worst of winter in safety and comfort. Here are the most important things you should do to prepare your vehicle for winter.

Put on snow tires

Whether your area gets a lot of snow or an occasional dusting, snow tires are a must. Putting aside the fact that weather is unpredictable and snowstorms can arrive with little warning, snow tires aren’t just designed for use on snow and ice - instead, the rubber in your snow tires is formulated to be softer and grippier at temperatures below seven degrees celsius, a distinction that can make a big difference regardless of whether there’s any snow on the ground. Likewise, despite their name, all-season tires are formulated to work best above seven degrees, making them unsuitable for winter driving. 

Check your wiper blades

Having a clear, unobstructed view of the road is vital for navigating safely, and it’s hard to see much of anything behind a windshield obscured with ice, snow or sleet. While it’s always important to have your wiper blades in good repair, in winter it becomes even more so. Experts recommend replacing your blades annually, so give them a thorough visual inspection for cracks and other damage, and don’t hesitate to put on a new set if needed.

Top up wiper fluid

Much like wiper blades, wiper fluid is an essential part of your winter safety checklist and is especially helpful for driving on wet, slushy roads and highways. Top up your tank early in the season and check your fluid levels every time you fill the gas tank to ensure you don’t run out.

Get roadside assistance

Whether you have an older vehicle or a new one, breakdowns can still happen at any time, and you don’t want to wait until you need it to put a roadside assistance plan in place. If you have a newer vehicle, check to see what kind of roadside assistance plan you have under your warranty. If you don’t already have one, purchasing an annual plan is a good investment in your peace of mind, and will make things much easier the next time your battery dies or you get a flat.

Assemble an emergency kit 

A roadside emergency kit is a valuable thing to keep in your vehicle any time of year, but particularly in winter. If you’re driving in rural areas where help may take some time to arrive (see the importance of a roadside assistance plan above) it’s vital to keep some essentials on board. Food, water and warm clothes or blankets are the basics, but other things like a flashlight, spare batteries, emergency flares, and a mobile phone power bank (check it’s fully charged!) could come in handy as well.

Check the battery

Cold weather is particularly hard on batteries, and if yours is on its last legs it’s a good idea to replace it before it dies at an inopportune time. You can certainly check the battery yourself with a voltage meter, but if don’t have the right tools (or are just nervous to go tinkering with your battery), have your mechanic take a look when you get your winter tires installed. The price of a new battery is worth it, if only to avoid the dreaded moment when you turn the key and nothing happens – which will inevitably occur when you’re already late for work.

Add traction, not ballast

You may have heard that adding a bag of road salt (or something else heavy) to your trunk in winter will help your rear-wheel-drive vehicle with traction on the snowy ground. This may have been true decades ago, but these days a good set of winter tires will give you all of the traction you need, no ballast required. Despite this, keeping a bag of salt, sand or clay-based cat litter in your trunk can come in handy if you get stuck in the snow and need some extra grip. 

Check your floor mats

If you, like many drivers, swap out carpeted floor mats for winter rubber ones, make sure they are properly installed and secure (and not simply placed on top of your old floor mats), as a loose or ill-fitting mat can interfere with pedals and cause an accident.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.
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