photo: Gregor Bister/iStock

Pre-Winter Auto Maintenance: Batteries, Chip Repair and More

By Mark Richardson

You may be enjoying the last days of summer, but it’s not too early to get your car ready for winter. With a little extra TLC, you can help to make sure it’s warm and welcoming on even the coldest of days.

Whenever possible, park your car in a garage and plug in its block heater. But if you must park outside and can’t plug in, installing a remote starter is another option to ensure the engine doesn’t get too cold. It enables you to run the empty car from in your home or workplace, to warm the engine and cabin when the temperature plummets.

“In Alberta, it gets so cold that your car windows completely freeze,” says Darryl Dahl of AMARewards partner Certified Radio, which installs and services remote starters. “If you run the engine briefly and drive away, you’re probably looking through a little defrosted square in the windshield. It’s far more dangerous to drive if you can’t fully see out the windows.”

To counter this, clear snow and ice from all car windows with a snow brush. And remember: Driving is the best way to warm a car and its systems, and keep the windshield and windows defrosted.

The dos and don’ts of washing your car in winter

But make sure your windshield is in good condition. A small chip or crack can quickly spread due to the extreme temperature change of warming up your vehicle on a freezing day.

“Chips that go unaddressed in the summer often turn into cracked windshields when cold weather hits,” says Jamie Goddard of AMARewards partner GlassMasters Autoglass, describing the effect of a defroster blasting heat against a frozen wind-shield. “Hot and cold and broken glass is a bad mix.”

Your battery is another component that can get bitten by the cold. Some remote starters recognize when your parked vehicle’s temperature gets too chilly, and will automatically run the engine to reach a preset warmer level. This can be helpful if you aren’t able to plug in the block heater.

“This past February, we had -30 C temperatures for two weeks straight,” Dahl says. “So many cars wouldn’t start; the batteries wouldn’t boost.” AMA fielded more than 30,000 calls for dead batteries in just three days during that deep freeze.

How winter can affect the high-tech features in your car

It’s therefore vital to test your battery’s strength. CAA Battery Service can come to you to test your battery for free—and, if needed, install a replacement CAA Premium Battery for a member-exclusive price.*

“What our technicians look for is a battery that can achieve a full charge of 12.66 volts,” says AMA fleet supervisor Phil Dykstra. “We also want to see that it has between 500 to 700 cold-cranking amps—the amount of power the battery can deliver to start your engine in sub-zero temperatures.” If your battery is three years old or more, it may not be able to reach a full charge or have the required cold-cranking amps. That’s when you should consider a replacement.

More simple steps for a winter-ready vehicle.

Tires: Install winter tires for improved traction on cold, snowy and icy roads. AMA members save 5% on new tires from Kal Tire.

Wipers and fluid: Replace worn-out blades. Top up with winter-rated washer fluid—it won’t freeze in the reservoir and damage hoses when subzero temps hit.

Block heater: Check it with a block-heater tester (available at AMA centres) and make sure there are no cracks or tears in the cord, heater or outlet.

Roadside emergency kit: Buy a fully stocked kit from any AMA centre. And keep a few protein or energy bars in your car’s glovebox, in case you get stranded and need nourishment.