Snow has fallen in some parts of Canada and it won’t be long before we are all experiencing winter driving again. Modern automobiles are very reliable and they don’t need the seasonal adjustments that cars before fuel injection did, but there are still some maintenance items you should check to make your winter driving safer and more comfortable.
Traction has to be a prime concern on winter roads. Most vehicles come with all-season tires but they will have far superior traction with dedicated winter tires. The cost of the tires and a set of spare wheels may seem high but if it saves you from just one fender-bender you will have paid for them. Even if you don’t have winter tires installed, you should check the tread depth and tire pressure on your existing tires. Wear bars (solid bands of rubber) start to show across a tire tread when there is about 2/32 tread left, indicating it is time for new tires. This is the minimum tread for safe operation on good road conditions. For snow traction, you should have about 6/32 (about half tread depth) or more left. The grooves between the tread blocks can grip snow and direct water away from the surface of the tire for better traction.
Tire pressure also plays an important part in traction. Unequal pressures between tires can cause uneven braking or a pull on the steering. Icy roads make this more noticeable and can make the car unstable on braking. Tire pressures too high don’t have enough tread surface on the road and tire pressures too low are unsafe at higher speeds. Don’t forget to check the spare tire too.
Correct wheel alignment is an important part of winter driving. Too much toe-out on the tires can make the car unstable and it may spin out on corners or when braking. Rear wheel alignment is as critical as the front. Alignment errors that would never show up on dry pavement can make a car a handful to drive on icy roads, so a fall wheel alignment is a good investment in safety.
Visibility is important at any time but winter means more driving time in the dark and you need to see and be seen. Check all the lights for operation and change the wiper blades. Most wiper blades will harden up after about two years and smear the windshield instead of clearing it. New blades make a big difference. Top up the washer fluid too with winter washer fluid so it doesn’t freeze on you. One of the “tricks” I use both winter and summer is to coat the windows inside and out with a chemical antifog and water repellent agent. Rain-X is one of my favourites and commonly available at auto parts stores.
A good defroster helps keep the windshield clear and a good heater enables the driver to relax. You may have noticed your heater/defroster isn’t putting out as much heat as it originally did. Some vehicles come with a pollen and dust filter in the heater system and it may be partially blocked. The thermostat could also be the problem, opening at too low a temperature. A drop in fuel economy is also a symptom of a poor thermostat, so have it checked to see if it brings the engine up to operating temperature quick enough. Replacing one can make the interior more comfortable and save you money at the gas pumps.
A quick check under the hood would include all fluid levels, a visual inspection of drive belts for large cracks or missing chunks and battery cable connections. If the battery connections look corroded, they need to be removed to clean them, but before doing that, check the owner’s manual to see if your vehicle’s radio needs a security code to reactivate it after a battery disconnect. Not all cars need to have a code to activate the radio, but if you need one, your dealer can usually supply the code.
Winter comes every year, so we might as well embrace it. Pack your survival gear in the trunk, ensure your car is in safe operating condition and enjoy the snow.
By: Jim Kerr