Getting Ready For Winter

FTLComm - Tisdale - October 2, 1999
  For the second day in a row we have looked out to see leaves falling like snow and the thermometer showing temperatures below freezing. These are sure signs that now is a good time to make preparations for the coming difficult conditions we all face. For most of us we will have a check list of the things we have to do such as put away the garden hose and the lawn chairs but the low temperatures of fall and early winter can really sneak up on us and a little planning and action can save money and inconvenience when it comes to operating a car or other vehicle.

So, let's consider the things we need to check on to make sure that our car works when we need it and it is still running come spring.

  If you do not already have a motor club deal now's the time to get one. One way or another you are almost certain to require either a tow, a boost or help of one kind or another before this time next year. Shop around for what looks like the best auto-club deal for you. Besides the AAA and similar operations most of the fuel companies have some plan or another as does Sears and some other department stores. No matter how good your preparations things can still go wrong and a snow drift can put a quick end to a trip or just getting out of the driveway.

Check over your package policy and see that you have glass coverage, the cheapest situation is $100 coverage on glass. I realise most of us associate broken and shattered windows with summer driving but fall is the time for those little nicks to turn into wandering cracks. The average windshield replacement will set you back heavy money and with $100 deductible on your insurance you can get those stone chips fixed at SGI's expense before they wander off to the other side of the car.
----------Vehicular Winterisation

You have seen the signs and advertisements for you to take your car in and some service business will check it out for winter. Sounds like a great idea but ultimately the responsibility and the need to be assured that your vehicle will work falls on you and you are further ahead to follow your own fall preparations rather then count on someone selling you a bunch of parts. Below is a simple check list.

  • Battery - modern batteries have a rather finite life span and they either work or they don't. For efficient and cost effective operation use it until it quits. So many people replace batteries when it is unnecessary and they might just as well keep the old one in until its life ends.

  • Plumbing - Coolant lines to and from the radiator and heating system wear out from the inside and a skilled mechanic can spot the signs of failure long before you have ethylene glycol splashing all over the engine compartment. Get a mechanic to go over those lines and replace those that are going soft.

  • Belts - Most modern vehicles have very few belts which means if one goes your vehicle is disabled. Have a mechanic check over the belts and replace the ones that are endangered. Keep the one that was on your vehicle as a spare. Going off the road into packed snow can often send debris into the belt system and snap a belt so having a spare is a good idea it could save your life in dire temperature situations.

  • Electrical - Don't leave this to someone else, get some one to do the walk around with you and check yourself that all lights are working, turn signals, head lights, license plate, what ever, there is no excuse driving around with light bulbs burnt out. All are easy enough to replace that you can do the task yourself with the exception of the head lights which need a bit of perseverance so you might get someone to help with them, but give it a try yourself first.

  • Windshield fluid - Time to top up the windshield washer fluid tank with winter (blue) fluid.

  • Fluid Levels - Though you can worry yourself about these things your mechanic will check them at your oil change time and see that you have the right level of coolant (check to see that it will withstand very low temperatures), oil, power steering, brake fluid and transmission fluid.
  • Air Filter - When you have your oil changed insist that the mechanic check the engine's air cleaner. Modern fuel injected engines require clean air filters for their fuel economy.
  • Tires - Books could be written that discuss this issue as it relates to winter traction. Issues about snow tires and all weather tires just make most our heads spin. There are two issues with winter driving; temperature and traction related to snow. Once a vehicle's tires warm up they are remarkably close to standard temperatures all year round so it is only that first mile or so when the tires warm up that are important. With very low temperatures air will escape from the tire around the bead so you just have to check them for inflation at that time. With regard to traction it is a matter of tread depth and pressure which is the same for summer driving. Bald tires are prone to loose air and have much less traction either for stopping or in snow so you decide. If your tires are safe now they should do well in the winter. Keep the wheels aligned for good tire wear and reduced gas consumption. Studded tires are not appropriate for Saskatchewan driving conditions. We are on pavement almost all of the time and you want as much tire in contact with the road as possible. Snow tires are appropriate for vehicles having to drive on roads with some snow cover all the time and for most Saskatchewan drivers they are unnecessary and waste money in fuel economy.
-------------Vehicle Support Systems

There are two kinds of car owners, those with a garage and those without. If you are a have not you can expect to spend a little more each year on your car's upkeep and you have to pay considerably more attention to what you do to keep it ready to run in low temperatures. For those folks with a garage your vehicle will rarely experience temperatures below -20C. Since a block heater really has no effect in temperatures above -20C you are wasting your electricity when you plug in a vehicle. But those with their cars out in the cold let's make preparations.

  • Extension chord - Work out a plan and have a chord available to plug in your vehicle where it is parked if the temperature falls below -20C. Keep that chord inside until you have to use it and bring it inside when you unplug it. If you plug in at work then keep a second chord in the trunk for that purpose.
  • Block heater - when you have your oil changed have your mechanic check on the block heater that its chord is plugged in and that it works. About 90 seconds after you plug in a block heater it will begin to make a cooking sound. Many people splice a Christmas light onto their block heater chord so that they can visually check to see if there is power going to the block heater.
  • Battery Blanket - If you vehicle does not have one, buy one, they are inexpensive and will give your battery much better starting power.
  • In car heater - A luxury and expensive extra, these things use the same amount or more, electricity as a block heater and for the few minutes of discomfort before the car comes up to temperature it is more costly then its returned value.
-------------Ultra Cold Options

For the most part Saskatchewan winters, though even severe ones rarely have the kind of temperatures that require anything more then described above. Your block heater and battery blanket should get your car going down to -40C but if you have to deal with temperatures lower then -45C for several days you have to add on significant support to keep your vehicle operating. Below are the add on things for -54C conditions. Many years in the Yukon assisted in acquiring this knowledge.

  • Dip Stick Oil heater - These electric dip stick heaters are very inexpensive and draw very little current but when installed after you have shut down your vehicle they will keep the oil warmer and improve chance of starting.
  • Engine Robe - That's right, when you shut a vehicle down in really cold temperatures the temperature in that engine is rapidly radiated and you can save that heat by wrapping the engine up as soon as you park it for the night. Just remember to remove the covering before you try to revive it.
  • Preheat the transmission pan - In -54C temperatures the oil in the transmission will not flow sufficiently to move the vehicle so you can install a magnetic contact heater or just before you try to start your vehicle slide under it with a blow torch and warm up the automatic transmission pan. Failure to apply heat to a very cold transmission can have catastrophic results.
-------------Emergency Equipment

Driving conditions on Southern Saskatchewan and Manitoba's open prairie are far more dangerous then other places because of the energy robbing affects of cold winds. Temperature wind chill factors of 2000 and greater will freeze exposed skin in seconds. So if you go off the road or you vehicle is disabled in a high wind you had better stay inside that car until you are rescued. The difference between life and death from the cold is actually only a small amount of heat and you can equip your car to handle emergencies that you will encounter for certain. Put together an emergency kit for your car and do not venture out on the highways after mid October without this in the trunk.

  • Candles - A large candle or two and matches to get it going will keep you warm enough to survive inside your car.
  • Sleeping bag - Every car should carry one or more sleeping bags in case the vehicle is disabled.
  • Shovel - If you go off the highway in a storm a shovel is not going to get you going again but much more common is getting into snow that will stop your vehicle's movement and a shovel will get you out.
  • Methyl Alcohol - You can buy this in mixtures designed to dump into your gas tank or for freeing a frozen lock. Gas line freezing with cars is very miserable and often comes from gas with water in it or some odd contamination of your tank but fuel injected engines and carburetor ones both can suffer from line freezing and alcohol will clear up the problem.
  • Extra Cloths - Most often we set out dressed for the amount of time it takes to get from the house to the car. Pack in your emergency kit, socks, mitts, a hat and a parka.
  • Flares - Sets of highway flares can be purchased at Canadian Tire for little money and they are really handy to have along. Most accidents that occur on winter roads involve other people and you can be a big help and increase your own safety by having three twenty minute flares in your trunk. They will light under any condition and will light a camp fire or signal oncoming traffic of vehicles in their path.
  • Flash Light and batteries - A simple flash light is a must in every car and requires attention, low temperatures will zap the energy in the batteries so you should take it inside and put it back in the car when you are going some where. Women who carry purses often carry their flashlight among everything else in their trusty survival kit and I carry a small pen light in my jacket. These things are cheap and completely invaluable in an accident.
  • Cell Phone - They don't work everywhere and you should not skip the list above because you have one but they are handy and worth having with you out there when its cold and dark.
  • Jumper Cables - Most us do not need them but if you have some put them in the trunk they will do you more good in your car then in the shed at home.
  • Tow Rope - Not really necessary but like jumper cables can be a real help in one of those incidents that seem to surprise us every so often.