Okay, not quite yet. But it soon will be, and with the first snowfall will come media reports full of people stunned that it finally arrived. You know that broadcast — the first time ice and sleet and snow touches down, and traffic cameras and dashboard cameras provide an endless show of crashes, fender benders, and vehicles far off the highway — sometimes right side up, often not. Winter driving can be expensive for the unprepared. What should you do to be ready?
It’s easy to find endless lists of what you should do to your car to be prepared, and what you should be carrying. Most of us have short attention spans, so I asked mechanic and professor Chris Muir to strip it down. What are the top three things people should be doing?
“Winter tires every time. Your mighty 4WD might be able to move without them, but the problems start when you want to slow that monster down. Winter tires are the best investment you can make for winter driving. Mount them on steelies to keep the alloys fresh for the summer, and reduce year-to-year changeover costs. Tires are always the best move to improve the performance of your car,” says Muir. They are your only connection to the road; if you’re running on wrong or old tires, all the safety systems and driver training in the world will be compromised.
What’s Muir’s second suggestion? “Under oil from a reputable dealer. Some old-timers used to use old engine oil, but that’s horrible for the car. Used oils contain acids from combustion, and aren’t made to stick. They swell rubbers, make plastic brittle, and melt the insulation off of wire harnesses. The best is a product like Krown, Rust Check etc. They have rust inhibitors suspended in an oil base that will creep and distribute the product to the nooks and crannies where the rust starts. It’s a yearly expense, but 100 per cent worth it.” Those electronic rust protection boxes are garbage. They don’t work. Do not pay for them. They should be illegal.
Finally, Muir recommends getting your battery tested. “Most people think the cold is the worst thing for a battery, but most batteries are killed by heat — we just don’t see the fallout until we need the cranking power in the dead of winter. We never notice we’re relying on the corpse of a battery we killed in the heat of our family vacation until it’s too late,” he explains. Your tech can do an easy check for dead cells when you get your tires switched over. Some PartSource locations offer free testing, a great service.
Race car driver Carl Nadeau is Michelin’s spokesperson and driving expert. The best-maintained vehicle will still be at a disadvantage if the driver behind the wheel doesn’t know how to tackle adverse conditions.
If things deteriorate quickly, like a whiteout or rapidly moving storm, you’ll find yourself needing to make multiple, constant adjustments. Some drivers will continue at a high speed. Some won’t have their lighting systems on. Some slam on the brakes endangering everyone around them. “I tell people, sit in your car, close your eyes and put on your hazard lights,” says Nadeau. It’s something you should instantly be able to do without looking, but few of us know where they are. Nadeau stresses the importance of two hands on the wheel, at 9 and 3, as well as a proper seating position. Your shoulders should be square to the seat, left foot on the foot rest (if there is one), and balanced to keep control of the car.
Nadeau stresses the importance of keeping your eyes on the road. Your brain is a computer, and it is calculating everything you see to deliver information to your two hands on the wheel. Slippery roads can lead to spins and slides, both scary for most drivers. If you’re a one-hand-on-the-wheel kind of driver, you instantly risk not knowing which direction your tires are facing; it’s human nature to over-correct steering if your back end steps out. Maintaining that control is vital.
Nadeau wants drivers to consider the physics behind what they drive as well. Large SUVs and pickups are heavier, with longer stopping times. AWD and clearance are great to get you going, but drivers of bigger vehicles can get overconfident. “There can be a rural road with nothing on it, and you will see one lone hydro pole, and that is where the car will crash,” says Nadeau. Always look where you want to go. Stare at the pole, welcome to the pole. He stresses that electric vehicles are heavier and also handle differently in ice and snow, and that drivers familiarize themselves with that change.
Winter tires; roadside assistance; a battery booster pack; a safety kit that includes food, water, solar blanket and candles; the list can seem endless, but consider our changing landscape and plan for the season. Whether you unexpectedly spend 14 hours in your car like this driver in January, or you experience something like the destructive flooding and landslides that cut off thousands in B.C. late last year, view your car with a different eye. Make sure you can stay warm and safe until help can reach you.
For much more with Chris Muir and Carl Nadeau on preparing for winter driving, please join us on the fourth episode of The Driving Podcast on September 21, 2022.
Keyword: Lorraine Explains: Prepping the car, prepping the driver for winter