Every year the same few questions pop up on this forum so our tech moderator Lomac thought he’d put together a small write up to hopefully answer all these questions in one place.
Why winterize your car?
Considering we live in or near Vancouver, which see’s maybe a couple of inches of snow every year, many of you may think to yourselves that this is an unnecessary precaution. Unfortunately you couldn’t be more wrong. Even if we don’t see snow at all during winter, many other things are happening around you that necessitates following at least a few of the tips I have.
The rubber on your tires are affected by the temperature around you. Just as soft R compound tires work best during the summer due to the high heat increasing their stickiness, they’re equally affected by the <7* weather that usually dominates our winter months. The colder the air gets, the harder the rubber in your tires become. Most snow-rated all season tires, and all winter tires, are made of a softer rubber in order to help combat this. Try interlacing your fingers together. You can see the size of the contact area and how strong it is. That’s your winter tires on cold pavement. Now try placing your hands fingertip to fingertip. That is your summer and stiff sidewall all-season tires on cold pavement. Not as much contact area, is there?
So what should you get? Considering our weather, most of us can realistically get through winter with virtually brand new all seasons, but should you get into an accident in snow, ICBC may not rule in your favour as you’re operating a vehicle in weather it wasn’t equipped for. The same goes for those of you who don’t bother swapping out your summer tires… provided you can even get out of your driveway in the first place.
Winter tires may seem like an expensive investment for us, but most studies have shown that car owners who have dedicated winter and summer tires will spend less on replacing tires over time than those who only run one set of tires all year round.
This may seem like a no brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people are caught unaware by not having the proper coolant mixture in their system. Plenty of us run straight water during the summer months due to various track restrictions (or simply because we work on our cars so often it’s easier to just use water), so it’s important to remember to do a flush and put in a 50:50 mix as soon as possible. While most cars tend to have freeze plugs that pop out when there’s a chance of straight water freezing inside the block, there are other areas where you run the risk of damage, notably the radiator itself and the connecting coolant lines running to the engine. A blockage will not only damage the radiator, but can also prevent fluid from circulating into the engine, creating the potential for overheating.
As you change your coolant, an option to do at the same time is a leak down (pressure) test of your cooling system. It will help spot any potential leaks that may come back to haunt you in the middle of a snow fall.
Another thing many people don’t consider is the type of oil you run during winter. Again, it’s not as big of an issue in Vancouver, but if you plan on driving into the Interior, hitting up one of the ski hills, or even popping down South, it’s one thing to look into. Just like rubber, oil is affected by the outside temperature. The higher the viscosity, the thicker it gets when it’s cold. Roughly 90% of all engine wear occurs at start up, meaning the thinner your oil is during this time, the better. While most oils on the market are multi-grade viscosity, you should check your favourite oil to verify what the optimum temperature range it falls under. As a safe bet, running synthetic during winter is almost always better, especially if you live in a severely cold climate. Synthetics tend to retain their molecular structures better than dino oil, which allows them to flow much better at start up.
Easily overlooked, washer fluid is something you just assume you have until you one day don’t. Make sure it’s topped up with fluid rated for sub-freezing temperatures.
Another suggestion is to keep your fuel tank as close to full as possible. As your fuel tank drains, the chances of condensation building increases. In winter time, this can equate to frozen chunks becoming stuck in your fuel lines, allowing your engine to fuel starve.
Another reason for keeping your tank full is in case you ever get stuck on a road that’s shut down due to an accident, or if you yourself become stuck in snow. More fuel means you can keep your engine running, allowing you to stay nice and warm while you sit and wait. While this is a handy tip for all year round, it can be potentially life saving during winter.
Verify that your battery is working within it’s optimal operating range. Also, make sure that all clamps and connections are secure and free of corrosion. Winter time means a larger drain on your battery (lights, HVAC, rear defroster, heated seats, etc), so you need to make sure it’s capable of handling that load.
Speaking of which, now is a good time to make sure that everything else is in working order. Does your heater blower actually blow hot air? Does your rear defroster work? And, most importantly, if you’re like me and have leather seats, does your seat warmer work? Nothing is worse than cold leather first thing in the frozen morning!
Now that your car is prepped for winter temperatures, are you ready to tackle snow? Every car should have a soft bristled brush and a plastic ice scraper within easy reach. Keeping them in your trunk is pointless if you have to sweep the snow off first in order to access them, so simply having them in your backseat or the floor is likely the best place to store them. Also make sure you have a set of jumper cables with you. While you may not need them, the chances of you coming across a stranded motorist who is in need of a jump rises significantly during winter. If you plan on driving outside of the GVRD, having a collapsible shovel and tire chains are recommended.
Most importantly, however, is to have a basic emergency kit. None of us ever plan on breaking down, but it will eventually happen. During the summer time, a break down simply means a pleasant wait for BCAA. But during winter time, it gets much more extreme. The following are a few things I recommend everyone carry with them:
- An all-in-one power inverter (usually comes with built in jumper cables, flashlight, tire inflater, etc)
- Flashlight and batteries
- First aid kit
- A couple bottles of water and non-perishables
- Cell phone and charger (while most of us have a cell phone on us anyway, it can be handy to have a cheap throw-away prepaid phone stored in your kit in case you lose yours or something happens to it)
- Tow strap (make sure it’s rated appropriately for your vehicle’s weight)
By now means is this a final guide on what to do. Those of you who live in a climate more extreme than ours will likely benefit from a more thorough tune up and much better snow/ice tires than we need. Many of you may also have friends who have vehicles capable of towing stranded vehicles, so it’s always handy to remember their numbers (and possibly a case of beer nearby) in case you find yourself stuck. You can’t always rely on BCAA to rescue you in a timely manner, especially if there’s snow, ice or slush on the ground. Chances are you’ll be but one of a couple hundred calls at any given time, so making friends with local tow companies can also be to your benefit.
One final thing is to always drive to the conditions. You may have the greatest studded snow tires in the world rotating around some nice carbon brakes, being propelled by a fantastic Prodrive-based AWD system, but there’s no escaping physics. Also remember to keep an eye out for other drivers. Just because you’re prepared doesn’t mean everyone else is.
We hope this helps answers most of your questions. Of course, if you have any specific questions about what sort of winter tires you should get, or if your oil is sufficient for winter, feel free to pop over to the respective Tech Forums and pose the question there! You can find the discuss thread for this post here.