Wintertime is seemingly always right around the corner in Canada. Like your home, your car needs extra love, known as winterization, as the cold temperatures approach. Winterizing a car ensures it handles winter conditions, including sub-zero temperatures, heavy snow, slippery ice, and slush.
Below, we'll cover 10 tips for winterizing a car so it's ready for the upcoming season change.
It’s common for our lives to get in the way of important tasks, and we tend to put off car winterization until we see that first snowflake fall. However, if you get the job done ahead of time, you can save yourself some headaches. Early winterization keeps you from being caught in a sudden snowstorm unprepared and keeps you from fighting through the rush of people who also procrastinated winterizing their cars.
It’s best to plan on winterizing your car in early- to mid-October so you know you have plenty of time before the first snowfall of the year. Doing it this early means you likely won't run into your first big snow and ice issues for at least a few weeks, but you’ll be prepared when it does come — and it will come — without dealing with all the last-minute winterizers at the auto repair shop.
So what does it mean to winterize a car and what processes are involved in it? Following these 10 winterization tips will ensure you perform everything you need to ensure your car is ready for almost anything the Canadian winter can throw its way.
Antifreeze — also called coolant — is a mixture of water and anti-freezing chemicals with two primary functions. First, it’s responsible for keeping the engine and, in some cases, the transmission cool. However, it also has the critical responsibility of preventing the fluid from keeping the engine cool from freezing when the temperatures reach sub-zero levels. If the antifreeze-to-water ratio is too low, the mixture can freeze. This frozen liquid will then expand within the engine and could damage the coolant reservoir, thermostat, hoses, and other components.
Before freezing temperatures arrive, make sure your antifreeze mixture is up to the task of preventing freezing in the cold Canadian winter.
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 — you can find this ratio in the owner’s manual or online. If the ratio is off, drain the coolant and replace it with the correct mixture. If you’re not confident draining and refilling it yourself, take the vehicle to a service centre 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 antifreeze level to that mark. If it's low, refill the reservoir with the correct mixture of antifreeze and distilled 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 winter in Canada comes winter tires. It’s so important to install these season-specific tires that some provinces even require them by law during certain times of the year. Even with four-wheel or all-wheel drive, winter tires are important to give you that added grip you need to handle our slippery roads. These tires also have a specialized rubber compound that prevents hardening in low temperatures, maximizing their lifespan and improving handling.
If you already have a set of pre-mounted winter tires, check their tire pressure with a pressure gauge and adjust them to the recommended air pressure listed in the owner's manual or on the tire placard inside the doorjamb. Never use the maximum pressure listed on the tire itself as the default pressure setting. Also, check the tire tread depth and verify there is at least 4 mm of tread depth left.
If the tread depth is low, replace them with new ice and snow 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 to 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.
Your wipers not only endure wiping away snow in the winter. The rubber blades must also endure 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 during 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. It's best to swap them for new ones, even if they are just borderline.
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 hardening in the cold and a rubber cover to keep slush and ice out of the blade's various pivot and movement points to ensure optimal contact with the windshield.
Salt and slush leave a nasty mess behind on your windshield, making it hard to see. You can keep your windshield clear by ensuring your windshield washer reservoir is filled and ready for action. It’s also a great idea to consider swapping out any summertime wiper fluid with a winter-specific one with anti-freezing properties. This windshield washer fluid also works as a de-icer to eliminate thin coatings of ice on your windshield.
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 anti-corrosive 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 it constantly receives 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 on vacation since springtime, but it's now time for it to get back to work clearing the ice off your windshield.
Dig that ice scraper and make sure it’s still in good shape before the winter conditions come. It wouldn’t be great to walk out to a few millimetres of ice on your windshield and learn your ice scraper somehow broke over the summer, or you can’t find it.
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, gather up a collection of emergency items and stash them in your trunk. Also, ensure all your winter emergency kit items are in working order.
Some items to keep in your trunk in the winter include:
Before the cold weather arrives and makes it much more difficult to wash your car, give it an in-depth wash and wax. Get inside the door jambs, wheel wells, and all the other nooks and crannies to ensure all the summertime grime is gone.
Once it’s all clean, coat it with 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 — protecting them from road salt and other debris to help 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.
Winter’s not the most enjoyable time of year to drive for many Canadian drivers, but it's unavoidable here in Canada. Whether you're winterizing the car you already owned or 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.
Keeping ahead of the changing season 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 winterization supplies. So, complete these tasks a few weeks to a month before the harsh weather arrives, and you’ll be ready when winter strikes.