Wintertime is seemingly always right around the corner in Canada. Like your home, your car needs special care as the cold temperatures approach. Winterizing your car ensures it's up to handling all the conditions winter throws at it, including sub-zero temperatures, heavy snow, slippery ice, and slush.
Below, we'll cover 10 tips for winterizing your car so it's ready for the upcoming season change.
Often, winterization gets put off until that first snowflake of the season falls, but getting the job done ahead of time can save you a lot of headaches. Getting it done early keeps you from being caught in a snowstorm unprepared and prevents you from dealing with the rush of people who also put off winterizing their cars.
Plan to winterize your car in early to mid-October to be safe. Sure, you likely won't run into your first big snow and ice issues for at least a few weeks, but it's better to be prepared too early than too late.
These 10 winterization tips will ensure your car is ready for almost anything the Canadian winter can throw its way.
Before the cold strikes, make sure your antifreeze — sometimes referred to as coolant — is up to the task of preventing freezing in the cold Canadian winter. If your coolant freezes, it can cause severe damage to a range of internal engine components.
Using an antifreeze tester, draw an adequate amount of antifreeze and check the ratio the tester displays. Compare that ratio to the manufacturer's recommended ratio for your area. If the ratio is off, drain the coolant and replace it with the correct mixture or take the vehicle to a service center and have them do it for you.
You'll also want to check your antifreeze level. If your antifreeze reservoir — the translucent container under the hood that holds your antifreeze — has a "Full Cold" mark, compare the level of the antifreeze to that mark. If it's low, refill the reservoir with the correct mixture of antifreeze and water until it reaches that mark.
If your reservoir only has a "Full Hot" mark, start the engine and allow it to reach operating temperature. Check the antifreeze level. If it's below the "Full Hot" mark, refill the reservoir with the correct mixture of antifreeze and water until it reaches that mark.
Never remove the radiator cap to refill or check the cooling system — only refill and check it through the reservoir. The radiator cap is under pressure when hot, and opening it can cause hot coolant and steam to spray out and cause harm.
With winters in Canada comes winter tires. In fact, some provinces require them by law during certain times of the year when road conditions are at their worst.
If you already have a set of pre-mounted winter tires, check their tire pressure and adjust them to the recommended air pressure listed in the owner's manual. Also, check the tread depth and verify there is at least 4 mm of tread depth left.
If the tread depth is low, replace them with new winter tires. If the tread depth is OK, swap them in place of your summer or all-season tires.
Always torque the lug nuts to the manufacturer's specifications, as over- or under-torquing the lug nuts can be dangerous.
If you need to buy tires for the winter months, head to the tire shop and pick out the best set of winter tires that fit your budget. You may also want to get inexpensive wheels for winter driving to mount these tires on so you can prevent salt damage to your expensive wheels.
Review all your provincial and local ordinances regarding winter tires before deciding on a set. Some provinces have strict rules regarding what types of tires are required and what types are banned.
In the wintertime, your wipers not only endure wiping away snow, but the rubber blades must also deal with the blistering cold temperatures, ice, and salt from the road. This can cause the blades to wear even faster.
To avoid running into streaking or skipping windshield wiper blades in the midst of a snowstorm, check your blades early.
Spray water on the windshield and use the wipers to wipe it away, they should wipe all the water off and leave no streaks behind. If they are even borderline, it's best to swap them for new ones now.
If you live in an area that gets hit particularly hard with winter storms, you may want to invest in winter wiper blades. These blades have specialized rubber and plastic compounds to resist the cold and a rubber cover to keep slush and ice out of the blade's various pivot and movement points.
Salt and slush leave a nasty mess behind on your windshield, so you want to make sure your windshield washer is filled and ready for action. You may also want to consider swapping out any summertime wiper fluid with one that has anti-freezing properties.
Without a freeze-resistant washer fluid, it could freeze and not allow you to spray the fluid when needed. Also, frozen washer fluid expands and can crack your washer fluid reservoir or damage the sprayer motor.
Cold weather can quickly make a weak battery fail, and the last thing you need is to be stranded on the side of the road in the frigid winter temperatures. Now's the time to head to a service shop and have your car battery and the charging system tested.
If the battery tests weak, replace or charge it as recommended.
Also, if you notice white corrosion on the battery terminals, use a battery terminal cleaner and a wire brush to remove it. Then, apply an anticorrosive treatment to keep it corrosion-free all winter long. You can pick these products up at any auto parts store.
If your car sits in cold temperatures for an extended period — several days in a row — without moving, you may want to buy a trickle charger or battery maintainer. Hooking one of these machines to your battery ensures your battery is constantly receiving a small charge, which helps extend its life.
Plus, it can raise the battery's temperature to prevent freezing in the winter weather.
Your ice scraper has been in retirement since springtime, but it's about to make a comeback.
Find your ice scraper and verify it's not broken or damaged before the winter conditions come. It would be a pretty bad situation to walk out to a few millimetres of ice on your windshield and learn your ice scraper broke over the summer.
If it did break or you can't find it, pick up a new one at your local retailer or auto parts store.
Before the temperatures drop, stash a collection of emergency items in your trunk. Also, ensure all the items in your winter emergency kit are in working order.
Some items to keep in your trunk in the winter include:
Before the cold weather arrives and makes it nearly impossible to clean your car, give it an in-depth wash and wax. Get inside the door jambs, inside the wheel wells, and all the other nooks and crannies to ensure all the summertime grime is gone.
Apply a high-end wax or paint sealer to ensure the paint and clearcoat have fresh protection against the salt and other grime on the roads in the winter.
And don't forget to vacuum out and do a full clean inside the vehicle.
An undercoat protection seals all the sensitive under-car bits — inside the wheel wells and the entire undercarriage — are protected from road salt and other debris, which helps prevent rusting. Just before winter hits, you may want to consider having this done if you've never done it or it’s been over 10 years since your last undercoating.
To many drivers, winter's not the most enjoyable time of the year, but it's unavoidable here in Canada. Whether you're winterizing your existing car or you just recently bought a new or pre-owned vehicle and are getting it ready for winter the first time, these tips will ensure you're prepared.
Staying ahead of the cold weather keeps you from getting caught off-guard and helps you avoid the mad rush of people lining up at the tire shop and auto parts store for their wintertime supplies. So, complete these tasks a few weeks to a month before the harsh weather arrives, and you’ll be ready when winter strikes.