Winter doesn't have to be so hard - if you prepare

Winter doesn't have to be so hard - if you prepare

 After back-to-school and Christmas expenses, the cost of prepping our vehicles for Canadian winters has to be at the top of our wish-we-could-avoid-it list. But with a little common sense and some smart shopping, getting our daily driver ready for Old Man Winter's worst doesn't have to break the bank.

Winter tires If you've driven on a Canadian road in winter you really shouldn't need any convincing regarding the need for winter tires. If you want statistics, consider that the first winter in Quebec under its mandatory snow tire law saw an 18% reduction in collisions. And all-season tires are really only for four seasons in California or Florida, not Canada. Winter tires don't represent any substantial additional cost as every kilometer driven on snow tires means tread life saved on your summers. When you factor in premium discounts that many auto insurance companies offer for winter tire use, the overall cost of purchasing and using snow tires is negligible.

If your ride's tires have low profile sidewalls (less than 75) or large diameter sizing (over 17 inches) you may save some dollars by going to an optional size. The profile size is indicated in the middle 2 digits of your tire size. For example a P225/65R17 tire has a profile or sidewall height that is 65% of the 225 mm tread width (the first three digits of the tire size). And of course the last two digits in our example (17) stand for the tire's diameter in inches. Generally, the lower your sidewall height number is, the more expensive the tire. If your vehicle has 19-inch or 20-inch tires as original equipment, you can save money by opting for a smaller rim with a narrower tire. A tire retailer can use a tire-size calculator to ensure you don't choose a size that will end up confusing the various on-board computers on your car or that rubs on the inner fender during turns.

When considering a smaller rim and tire combo, be certain to check that your vehicle's brakes will clear the inside of the new rims (a dealership parts or service adviser should be able to answer that question). Steer clear of winter rims that aren't direct-fit or hub-centric. Many "universal-fit" rims require special wheel nuts or spacer plates or depend on the wheel studs to carry the weight of the vehicle. In the case of a wheel impact on a curb or pothole this can lead to bent studs and may even loosen wheel nuts.

Don't try to skimp by purchasing only two winter tires. With the light weight of modern vehicles, combined with more powerful engines, installing only two snows is an invitation to a spin out on your first icy curve. Most credible tire retailers will balk at installing only two winter tires and, if forced to do so, they will put them on the rear of a front-wheel drive auto for safety's sake.

DIY and save Even with today's tech-laden vehicles, there are still some things you can do yourself to get ready for the season ahead. If your vehicle's wiper blades are over a year old, get a new set. Most auto parts stores have listings by year, make, and model, but take a tape measure and verify the length to be sure. If you're not certain how to release the blade from the wiper arm, dust off the owner's manual or run a video search on your favorite web search engine. Check the engine's air filter. During the cold wet mornings of winter a fuel injected engine can easily flood with fuel if it can't get enough fresh air into its intake. One of the easiest DIY checks you can do is to verify your vehicle's exterior lights. An easy way to check most of them solo is to turn the headlamps full on and activate your four-way flashers. This will illuminate most of the exterior lights at the same time. To check your brake and reverse lamps, use your rear-view mirror when backing towards a large window or storefront.

A view of a snow covered car in Chevy Chase, Maryland, in the early hours of February 13, 2014. A deadly ice storm stranded scores of people on slick roads and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of US homes as winter-weary Americans dug in against Mother Nature's latest blow.

A view of a snow covered car in Chevy Chase, Maryland, in the early hours of February 13, 2014. A deadly ice storm stranded scores of people on slick roads and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of US homes as winter-weary Americans dug in against Mother Nature's latest blow.
Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images

Take advantage of seasonal service specials Few car owners wish to change their vehicle's engine oil or crawl underneath it to check steering, suspension, and exhaust components among other things. Just about every dealership service department, regional or national auto chain store, and independent garage offer a seasonal inspection that includes an oil change, tire rotation (or installation of mounted winter tires), and multi-point inspection. Many times these specials are less than $100 for mainstream vehicles that don't require synthetic oil. They're a great deal and well worth it in terms of knowing what condition your vehicle is in. If the special doesn't include a battery test and yours is over three years of age, get the test completed. Avoid trying to get into a shop on the first day of a major snow-fall; they'll be overloaded doing winter tire installations



 
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