With snowfall hitting the streets of Calgary, many citizens are preparing their vehicles for the winter conditions.
However, not everybody knows where to start or what is most important when it comes down to protecting their vehicles, and themselves, against the elements.
“Coolant strength is a going to be a number one concern as it prevents your whole engine block from freezing up, cracking and causing a ton of damage,” said Derrick Rust, a second year student in the Ford ASSET (Automotive Student Service Educational Training) Program.
Coolant strength can be checked at a service shop or at home with a hydrometer to determine its water concentration: aiming for a temperature rating of -40 Celsius.
Equipping a vehicle with appropriate tires is a vital step to ensuring safe driving on wet, slippery roads.
“Winter tires are the best because of the rubber compound in them, so that when it becomes really cold, it still maintains softness so they can flex,” said Ben Haggeman, an Automotive Service Technician instructor at SAIT.
However, even if winter tires are not a feasible option, drivers are advised to check the condition of their vehicle’s tires this time of year.
Rust recommends replacing tires once the tread has worn down to less than 6/32 of an inch thick, where brand new tires are generally 10/32 of an inch.
Tires should be inflated to optimal PSI levels in accordance with a vehicle’s weight. Information on inflation is provided on the sticker on the inside of the driver’s side door.
“You need to make sure you’re using a proper winter windshield wiper fluid,” said Haggeman.
Regular wiper fluid should be swapped out with winter rated fluid that can handle -45 C or lower to keep it from freezing up.
When your windshield is cold and you are driving against a [cold] wind, you have to work against all those factors, said Rust.
Engine oil is integral to replace, as its viscosity drops over time of use and makes your oil “sludgy like molasses” due to carbon contamination.
“Your engine is a component that requires lubrication everywhere, and if it can’t get the lubrication that it needs, then you start talking about big repairs with costly bills.”
Synthetic oil is best for the winter season as vehicles that have been running regular oil for greater length of time could potentially develop oil leakage issues.
“Synthetic is oil on steroids. They clean better, maintain their viscosity and flow really well when it’s cold.
“However, for high mileage vehicles, you might want to reconsider,” said Haggeman.
Block heaters help to keep the engine block warm when the vehicle is not running, especially at temperatures below -25 C, which will guarantee a smooth start-up in the morning.
Car batteries should be tested at a service shop around winter time to check for dead cells and overall power draw as healthy battery lifespans usually only last three to four years.
“You might not notice until it is too cold,” said Garret Farlick, another second-year student in the Ford ASSET program.
Having a set of booster cables on board is invaluable in case you’re caught in -40 C and have to get out of the situation when the cold has completely drained the vehicles battery.
“It’s always a good idea to have a winter safety kit of some kind,” said Rust.
Some suggested items for a kit include warm clothing, extra blankets, a snow brush and an ice scraper.
“It’s more than just the highway you want this for. If there is a pileup of traffic for an hour in the city, people can freeze,” said Haggeman.
In situations of survival, drivers should have tea candles, a tin can, and matches or a lighter.
“Put the tea candle inside the tin can for it to generate heat inside the vehicle in case it breaks down and you can’t start it,” said Rust.
When tires are stuck and spinning out, it’s useful to keep a collapsible shovel on board or even a bag of kitty litter.
“If you get stuck on ice, you can throw kitty litter in front of the tires and it’ll give you some traction to get yourself out of there.”
Drivers of older carbureted automobile models may want to carry gas line antifreeze, as condensation tends to build more quickly than in newer fuel injection engines.
Keeping the gas tank full also helps to fight condensation.
Other precautions would be basic maintenance checks, such as brake pad thickness, transmission fluids and spark plugs at recommended mileage intervals.
“A lot of it comes back down to how well you maintain your car and how well you take care of it when it is not winter time,” said Rust.
“The more you take care of it, the less money you’re going to have to spend on it. That’s what it comes down to.”