There’s very little that will put more stress on your vehicle than winter driving. The combination of cold temperatures, constant exposure to road salt and moisture, and pelting rain, ice, and snow can take a toll on even the most reliable of automobiles.
All this additional wear and tear means your maintenance needs to be up to date if you want to make it through the season with as little hassle as possible. Winter has a way of finding the weakest link in any car or truck—and then making you regret not putting in that extra bit of effort before the snow hit the ground.
Check out these winter maintenance tips on how to get through the roughest driving months of the year.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Duration: 10-30 minutes
- How often: every 3 to 5 years
Double Check Your Fluids
When you crank your engine on a cold, cold morning, your oil is forced to immediately spring into action and protect the rotating components inside your motor from the damaging effects of friction. The longer you go between changes, the more quickly you use up the additives in your engine oil—and the more sludge and debris can accumulate in your oil passages, making proper lubrication difficult.
While oil change frequency is typically based on the amount of driving a vehicle has done, it’s also important to consider time-based and seasonal change intervals. If you haven’t driven your car or truck much over the summer but it’s been six months or so since your last oil change, it’s worth swapping in fresh lubricant before winter starts. If you’re at or near your kilometre interval, don’t wait until January when you could easily get the oil change done in December.
Equally crucial is your engine coolant, which must withstand the freezing effects of winter weather. There are inexpensive testers you can buy that will tell you how cold your antifreeze can go before it’ll start to ice up. However, if it’s been more than two years since you last flushed out your cooling system, it may be a good idea to drain and refill with fresh coolant that is rated for the weather in your area.
Brittle Plastic and Rubber
Chilly weather also stiffens up materials like plastic and rubber, making them more brittle and prone to cracking or snapping. Engine and fan belts are especially prone to this type of failure in cold weather, so it pays to inspect them for signs of cracks, spider-webbing, or fraying before fall fades to winter.
The same is true of headlights and tail lights. What starts out as a small crack can easily expand or shatter once the temperature drops. Are your headlights fogged or hazed over? Polishing them before the days grow dark will keep you safer out on the road.
A dedicated set of winter tires will give you a braking and handling advantage that all-season rubber simply can’t offer. Before you mount those tires on your vehicle, however, you need to give them a once-over to make sure they have enough tread depth for one more year of use and no cracks, bald spots, or chunks missing from the tread or sidewall.
The R Word
Rust is a common enemy among Canadian drivers, due in large part to the steel-eating combination of road salt and moisture that is a frequent feature of our roads. Fortunately, there are a number of precautions you can take to prevent corrosion from making Swiss cheese out of your vehicle.
First obvious advice: wash your vehicle frequently. That includes an undercarriage wash. In an automatic car wash, this is often the forth step of the car wash, with pressurized water sent all under your car. When entering the car wash, take your time and let water do its job and remove as much salt and mud as possible.
Rust-proofing can take many forms. It’s worth investigating whether an undercarriage spray with penetrating oil or a more comprehensive full-body rust treatment process would be more suitable for your budget. Before going ahead with either option, make sure to clear away all of the dirt and grime that has accumulated underneath your car—including in the fender wells, behind the bumper, and in the floorboards—before the start of winter to make it that much harder for water and salt to get trapped against the metal.
Another weapon to keep in your anti-corrosion arsenal is wax. A layer of polymer or carnauba over your paint and trim can form an effective barrier against paint hazing and damage, as well as surface rust. It’s a quick and easy form of insurance you can apply right in your own driveway before that first snowfall.