Hot Winter Maintenance Tips To Protect Your Car From Extreme Cold

The Canadian winter can be fantastically cruel on your car. Certainly, modern cars are built to take the stress; there are still a few winter car maintenance tips that you can keep in mind, however.

Go easy on the engine

Modern cars are designed to take a cold start and run smoothly when the temperatures outside drop to -50°C. Just because your car does spring to life at the first press of the button, however, doesn’t mean it’s happy doing it. When it gets frighteningly cold, the oils and other lubricating substances in your engine thicken and flow less freely. In the minutes that it takes the engine block to warm up sufficiently to get the oil runny, those fast-moving parts undergo some unnecessary wear.

Warming your car up before you actually use it also wastes fuel, and pollutes; an engine that’s very cold doesn’t operate at optimal levels.

With winter driving, anytime the temperatures go below -15°C, it makes sense to prepare your car prior to starting it (unless it’s one of those cars with an insulated heat preserver for the oil). All you need to do is to plug in your car’s engine block heating a couple of hours before driving. If your car doesn’t have it, you could buy an aftermarket device.

Of course, if your car uses synthetic oil, or if you park in a heated space, you won’t need to worry.

Go easy on the battery

When a car won’t start in cold weather, a dead battery is the number one reason. Ultracold temperatures can freeze the electrolyte in the battery, causing it to lose about a third of its strength. Even worse, a frozen car battery can crack. Protecting the battery in deep winter should be a priority.

Making sure that your battery is in good condition should be your number one priority on your winter car maintenance checklist. If the battery is more than 3 years old, or if there is visible corrosion, you should consider getting a new battery. A number of other options exist, as well. You can buy a battery blanket or an electrical heating device for your battery that you plug into the wall in your garage.

You could also equip yourself with a portable car jump starter, a pocket-sized unit with a high-powered battery inside.

Think of your tires

For each drop in ambient temperature of about 10°C, your tires lose about a pound of pressure — the air contracts when the temperature drops. When you don’t have snow tires, a little low pressure improves traction. Driving with excessively low pressure is risky, however, because it undermines your ability to steer. In general, it makes sense to drive with snow tires; if you don’t have them, you should make sure that you don’t let the pressure drop too much.

Plan ahead with your wipers

Your wipers are essential equipment in helping visibility in cold weather. Every time you park your car outside, make sure that you take the wipers off the windscreen. This will help make sure that the wiper blades don’t collect ice, freeze and develop cracks. You also want to make sure that your windshield wiper fluid is properly topped off with quality stuff. It costs a few dollars a gallon, but it’s doesn’t freeze and clog up the washer nozzles.

Make sure the four-wheel-drive mode works

If you don’t go off-road driving much, it’s likely that you never touch that 4WD mode button. In winter, however, 4WD is always a good idea, even when you’re driving on a properly paved surface. You’ll have better traction and control even when it’s icy and slippery. If you haven’t used your 4WD mode in a while, you need to make sure that it does work before winter arrives.

A final tip: keep your gas tank full. A half-full tank invites condensation and water contamination.

Taking your car in for a pre-winter service check can cover these areas, and more. The mechanic can make sure that the belts and hoses are good, that the windscreen defrosting units work, and that there is enough antifreeze.