By Isabelle Martel
With the snow finally sticking around, drivers need to adjust how they drive in order to stay safe. Russ Belik, chair of the automotive service technician apprenticeship program, provided tips and tricks to stay safe while driving in the winter.
So what’s the deal? Do we really need winter tires? Or are all-seasons a-okay for our winter roads?
Belik says there is actually a significant difference in all-season tires and winter tires. Not only are they made from different rubber compounds, they also have different treads.
“Winter tires actually have blocks [within the tread] that are able to open up. This is called siping, and it allows the tires to have better grip on ice and snow,” said Belik.
He explains winter tires are going to be safer during the cold months, because braking and traction are extremely important.
So, you have your winter tires on already. Good to go? Not quite. Belik recommendeds you replace your tires every six years, but due to road conditions in Canada it is important to monitor the amount of tread left on your tires and to replace them as soon as it’s worn away.
Another thing to monitor regularly is the pressure of your tires. During the cold temperatures, it is likely that the pressure in your tires will decrease more quickly than the summer months. Every kind of tire should have the correct pressure written right on it.
Before you head out on the road this winter, Belik points out how essential it is to maintain the mechanics of the vehicle.
“Check the brakes, suspension, steering, battery, lights and wipers to make sure they are all functioning properly. It takes much more energy from the battery to start your engine in the winter, so make sure it’s in ideal shape,” said Belik.
“Also, if your heater isn’t working well in the cooler weather, it’s definitely not going to work in the winter,” Belik said. “You should definitely get that fixed before our freezing temperatures!”
Speaking of our freezing temperatures, if you have an engine heater (most vehicles do) it’s a good idea to plug your vehicle in.
“Once it’s -20 you should be plugging your car in. The cord is usually hidden somewhere in the engine bay, and so it’s a good idea to find yours before it gets too cold. You should also ensure that the outlet you’re plugging into is working. If your battery dies and you need to get towed or replace the battery, this is not under warranty,” said Belik.
“Synthetic oil offers better starting performance in the cold too.”
Make sure all your fluids are at the proper level. Contrary to popular belief, antifreeze can actually freeze, so it’s important to check the strength and whether or not it will withstand our extreme cold.
Belik added that drivers should always leave early to have extra time, ensure to keep more than a quarter tank of gas at all times and to remember that the snow will effect braking time.
“Just because your car has ABS (automatic braking system) doesn’t mean you can stop the same as on pavement. There is still gravity and friction to consider,” he said.
Leave a good distance between vehicles and don’t brake too aggressively. Drivers cannot rely on ABS to stop the vehicle.
Belik recommends keeping a winter emergency kit in your trunk. This should include a blanket, clothes, first aid kit, snowbrush, jumper/booster cables, a small shovel, gloves, a candle, high calorie food and lastly something that can be used as a traction aid. Kitty litter can help sliding tires regain traction when stuck.
“Don’t forget to know your emergency contacts, you should know who you’re going to call if something bad were to happen.”