10 winter car maintenance and driving tips

After more than a month of winter, your car has weathered some foul conditions, with more likely to come before the season is over.

Ensure your vehicle remains dependable with these 10 tips for avoiding costly damage and staying safe on wintry roads.

1. Check your lights

Winter weather can cause limited visibility while driving, and lead to accidents. Regularly check your indicators, brake lights, and front and rear lights to ensure they are in working condition. Also, clean any accumulated ice and road grime off the lenses periodically.

2. Check tire pressure

Tire pressure should be checked at least once per month during the winter. Every 5-degree-Celsius change in temperature results in about a seven kilopascal (kPa), or one pound per square inch (psi), change in tire pressure. Properly inflated tires last longer and will improve your car’s fuel efficiency.

3. Keep the car clean

Road dirt, snow sludge, and salt can cause limited visibility and exterior corrosion. Protect your car’s exterior by visiting the car wash when you start to see a build-up of sludge. But be mindful of properly drying the windshield wipers, door and trunk seals, and locks to avoid freezing them shut.

4. Don’t let your gas tank drop below half

Limit condensation from forming on the walls of your gas tank by keeping it at least half full. Cold temperatures can cause condensation. Once that water drips to the bottom of the tank, it can freeze your gas line and block gas flow to the engine.

5. Regularly top up your windshield washer fluid

You can quickly go through windshield washer fluid on messy, snowy days. Keep the tank full and have an extra jug on hand in the trunk in case you run out.

6. Keep an emergency kit handy

Be prepared for any emergency in unpredictable weather by keeping a well-stocked winter emergency kit in your car equipped with items like a first aid kit, flashlight, small shovel or snow brush, and a warm blanket. Go through your kit regularly and replace any worn or expired items.

7. Avoid the excessive warm-up

The best way to warm up your car’s engine is to drive gently at the beginning of your trip. Idling for more than a few minutes is generally unnecessary and wastes gas. While older vehicle models may have benefitted from a short warming period to lubricate the engine, modern vehicles don’t require this step and can actually be damaged by the process. Driving the vehicle can warm it up just as fast.

8. Clear the snow off your car

Take the time to properly clear your car’s windows and lights of snow that may have accumulated, or risk getting a ticket.

In Ontario, for example, section 74 of the Highway Traffic Act is pretty clear: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle upon a highway, (a) unless the windshield and the windows on either side of the compartment containing the steering wheel are in such a condition as to afford the driver a clear view to the front and side of the motor vehicle; and (b) unless the rear window is in such a condition as to afford the driver a clear view to the rear of the motor vehicle.”

9. Avoid using cruise control

Never use cruise control on wet, snowy, or icy roads. If you hydroplane or skid, your tires will spin as your car accelerates to maintain its speed, resulting in a potential loss of control.

10. Double the space between you and the next vehicle

Double the two-second rule during the winter to give plenty of space between you and the person ahead. Doing so will account for ice that may not be visible and prevent you from miscalculating your following distance.

Proper maintenance and weather-conscious driving habits go hand in hand with keeping a clean driving record — one of the main factors in your control that affect how much you pay for car insurance. Whether you have tickets or claims in your history or not, all drivers can benefit from comparing car insurance rates before securing a new policy. It’s the best way to ensure you’re getting the lowest rate for your coverage.

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