By: Brendan McAleer
Fall's here, and that means it's almost time to put away the sandals and dust off the ol’ snow boots. Being a card-carrying Canadian, you've already slapped snow tires on your ride, but what of the other winter automotive necessaries?
Windshield washer fluid
Winter safety kit
Doors and locks
We’ve all seen them, drivers peering out of those tiny view holes they cleared with their sleeves. Make sure you have an ice scraper and snow brush at the ready for those frosty mornings. For fogged or iced-up inner windshields, try using an anti-fogging cleaner that’ll prevent the accumulation of moisture. After all, it’s the daily commute, not the ‘Hunt for Red October.’
Perhaps no other part of your car takes a kicking in the winter months more than the humble battery. For every degree the temperature drops, your battery drops in cranking power as well. If it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, time to swap it out, lest you get stranded — if you’re dealing daily with cold-snaps, look for a battery with a high CCA (Cold Cranking Amps) rating.
Gasoline doesn’t freeze, right? Well, sort of: over time, water can accumulate in your fuel tank, which can lead to ice crystals gumming up the fuel lines in cold weather. The simple addition of gas line anti-freeze will help prevent the two from mixing, making sure the flow of fuel to the engine is uninterrupted.
After a long and bug-filled summer, your wiper blades are probably chewed up and streaky. You may have put up with them through the autumn rains, but chattering, ratty old blades will get even further destroyed by iced-up windshields — try out a silicone-based material to help clear snow and ice.
Coolant courses through the chambers of your automobile’s heart, but if you’ve been topping off with water throughout the summer, you may have skewed the mixture somewhat. Get the blend wrong (most manufacturers require a 50-50 mix of anti-freeze and water) and the coolant will move slowly on cold-start. Worse, it might actually freeze and expand, ruining vital components. Make sure to check with a tester, or better yet, book your car for a full flush.
Even if your anti-freeze mixture is dead-on, it won’t do you any good if your car’s thermostat freezes open or shut. A constantly open thermostat will circulate coolant continuously, preventing it from getting warm enough to heat the cabin; a stuck-closed thermostat will cause both overheating of the engine and again stop the interior from warming up.
Ever wonder what the numbers on a jug of oil mean? The two-part rating (as in the commonly-seen 5W-30) is a measure of the liquid’s viscosity, or resistance to flow, which changes with temperature. In hot summer months, higher viscosity is slightly better as you don’t want oil simply running right off heated moving parts; in the winter, lower viscosity will prevent metal-on-metal contact if the oil is too sluggish on cold-start. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations, or ask an expert if moving to a slightly thinner mixture would be a good idea until the spring thaw.
You’ll likely go through windshield washer fluid at twice the rate in winter as in summer — what better time to fill up? Summer-based washer fluids can have more detergents to help clear bugs and tar off the windscreen. For the cold and icy mornings, switch over to a more winter-friendly mix that includes a de-icer.
“Be prepared” is not just the Boy Scouts’ motto — it should be yours as well. If you don’t already have one, make sure you’ve got a kit for winter emergencies, including jumper cables, first aid supplies, visibility aids, a small shovel, and either sand or kitty litter for extra traction. If you’ve been carrying a kit around in the trunk for years, now’s the time to check and see what’s gone missing, and what you need to add.
It’ll usually happen on the day you forget your gloves: rush outside to your car only to find that you can’t get in! Either the locks are iced-up, or the door seals are frozen. You can remedy the former with specialized lock de-icer that’ll help lubricate tumblers and servos. To deal with sticky door-seals, a silicone-based lubricant spray will stop you getting stuck out in the elements.