Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

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Caring for your car in the sub-zero temperatures

Published Saturday, March 7th 2015

Extreme cold weather puts excessive demands on all components of an automobile, from batteries, engines and cooling systems to tires, alignment and shocks. It also affects a car's drivability and performance.

     Proper vehicle care during winter will ensure that a car runs more efficiently, safely and maintains its value. Here is some advice on caring for your automobile when temperatures are well below freezing, based on my experiences.

·         Avoid car washes when temperatures reach minus 20° C and colder. The sudden impact of hot water on a side or rear window could cause it to crack because those windows are made of tempered glass.

·         Clear snow, ice and debris from wheel wells and from inside wheels rims. Make sure headlights and taillights are not covered in snow. Packed ice in a wheel well could cause vibrations when driving.

·         Car batteries take a beating during winter - at minus 19° C, a car battery loses about 60 per cent of its strength and requires twice as much current to start than a car under normal conditions. To give help maintain your battery's strength, unplug mobile phones, tablets, chargers and other electronic devices when your car is turned off. These items can cause the battery to drain.

·         If your car battery is flat, don't just boost it - put a slow charge on it as soon as possible. Charging a battery will keep it lasting longer. If in doubt about when to charge a battery, consult your owner's manual or ask a service advisor at your local new car dealership.

·         When starting a car in severely cold weather, put the heater on #1, not #4 (which is for air conditioning), for the first five minutes. If a blower motor is turned on full blast, it will siphon off coolant that should be directed to warming the engine. You want your engine to be at maximum operating temperature as quickly as possible.

·         Consider a block heater for your engine. This will result in less stress to your engine, battery and starter motor. This saves on engine life. Think of yourself: you don't run at maximum efficiency when you first face the cold!

·         Keep winter tires on until spring. Don't be tempted to replace winter tires before spring. As long as snow and ice are still on the roads, you'll need the protection (and peace of mind) that winter tires offer. Now is also a good time to save on winter tires, too. Some dealers offer end-of-season winter tire discounts and the savings can be considerable.

·         Monitor tire pressure. Tire pressure decreases as temperatures drop, so check tire pressure on all tires every couple of weeks. This will allow your vehicle to grip snow and ice better and will allow for greater safety. While you're at it, check the pressure on your spare tire, too.

·         If you're driving behind a truck or car that has snow piled on its roof, back off. Flying hunks of snow or ice could land on your windshield and impair your ability to navigate your vehicle.

·         Avoid short trips. An engine operates less efficiently in the first 15 - 20 minutes after startup in frigid weather. During this time, there is a high gas-to-air ratio and water vapour gets into the engine oil and exhaust system. Longer trips allow the vehicle's fluids to warm to optimum operating temperature and minimizes the moisture build-up in the oil that could cause sludging.

·         On long drives, aim your heat flow to the floor and open a window slightly. This will allow floor mats to dry out quicker.

With a minimum of effort and caring, you can ensure that your vehicle operates efficiently during winter.

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