Winter presents its own unique set of challenges when it comes to the safety and security of your vehicle’s occupants, as well as the protection and maintenance of the vehicle itself. And because weather conditions can shift suddenly in wintertime, being prepared is paramount.
As for winterizing your vehicle, the most important thing is regular maintenance year-round, according to Matt Boles, AMA’s manager of fleet operations. “If you follow your owner’s manual regularly, you need not worry about the seasons. And if you haven’t had the car checked out thoroughly by a mechanic in a year or more, go do it!” How you prepare for winter depends on your driving habits and weather conditions. If you hardly leave the city, you won’t need to plan the same way as someone who drives 1,000 kilometres cross country. But either way, don’t allow winter to catch you by surprise.
Ensure that your vehicle is in top shape and will make it through the winter without leaving you stranded. “Have your mechanic put your vehicle up on the hoist, pull the wheels off and check the brakes, suspension, belts, hoses and fluids,” says Boles. “You want to catch problems now because components, as they wear, become more brittle when the mercury drops.”
Mechanics designated by AMA’s Approved Auto Repair Services™ (AARS) program perform a 139-point inspection and road test and provide a comprehensive report. Or ask your trusted mechanic to do a thorough mechanical inspection ranking the urgency of repairs. Rustproofing is a good idea to protect against salt damage. Try to get this done before winter sets in. Treating your vehicle in advance allows the rustproofing product to settle into the crevices and seams where corrosion initially builds up.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
A regular visual once-over is one of the best ways to catch an issue before it becomes a problem—you can actually do this every day before you drive out. This is important yearround and even more so in winter. “Keep your eyes open for little things, like a leak on the driveway when you’re pulling out,” says Boles. “It’s the same thing with tires. When you walk up to the car, be mindful of whether one tire looks low in pressure compared to the other tires. Look for any kind of cracking or cuts that can often happen from sidewall damage due to potholes.” Boles suggests changing your wipers once a year. That way, you won’t have to deal with a sudden malfunction at an inopportune time. If you regularly drive in extreme ice-and-snow conditions, consider winter wipers, which are made with sturdier frames and thicker rubber. Check fluid levels at least every two months, year-round, and have on hand a bottle of windshield cleaner rated for extreme cold.
Because tires lose about one psi of pressure for every 5°C drop, make it a habit to measure pressure frequently— including the spare tire. Be careful not to over- or underinflate, which can cause premature wear and negatively impact performance. Winter tires will stop your car up to 40 percent sooner than all-season tires and improve handling. Look for the three-peak mountain snowflake (3PMSF) symbol on the sidewall indicating the tire passed specific medium-packed-snowtesting standards. When considering what tires to buy, Boles advises making sure the load and speed rating matches the manufacturer’s specs. “Never go under that. You can go above, but you can’t go below. It’s especially important with an EV.” Electric vehicles tend to be much heavier and produce high, instant torque, so the rubber has to be able to meet the tougher demands.
AMA MOBILE TIRE CHANGE
Did you know that AMA Mobile Tire Change provides an at-home wheel-change service for members, seven days a week? Visit ama.ab.ca/tirechange for details.
Have your battery checked to ensure it’s operating at full capacity, especially if it’s more than three years old. When the temperature is approximately below –20°C, battery voltage drops significantly. If your local temperature is regularly below –15˚C or thereabouts, consider a block heater, says Boles. It will warm the engine and oil, so the battery doesn’t have to work as hard at start-up. (If you already have a block heater, make sure the cord is in good shape and, while in storage over the summer, hasn’t been chewed by rodents.)
An EV’s battery pack exhibits similarly decreased output in cold environments. When the vehicle is plugged in, activating the preconditioning function (if available) heats the battery, allowing it to operate more efficiently, and results in decreased range loss. This preconditioning will also bring the vehicle’s interior to a comfortable temperature and result in less strain on the battery.
AMA BATTERY SERVICE
Members receive no-charge battery testing. Visit ama.ab.ca/battery for details.
SAFETY ON BOARD
Being ready for any scenario is critical, says Ken Klatchuk, manager of automotive business delivery for AMA. “Stocking your vehicle with winter gear and essentials ahead of time goes a long way in ensuring that no matter what you encounter, you are prepared.” Boles keeps a winter safety box in his garage, ready to put in the back of his vehicle each season. What you pack in your box will be determined by how far you are travelling and the types of roads you will be travelling on, as well as their level of remoteness. “If you run out of gas, you’re going to get very cold very fast,” he warns. “And we at AMA will do everything imaginable to get to you as fast as possible, but if it’s minus 40, there may be delays. You need to make sure you’re safe.”