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rob's garage

Hi Rob,

I have a 2007 Toyota Yaris and my wife and I are going to Calgary to see her sister and brother in law for Christmas. I have never been off Vancouver Island in the cold weather, never mind to the prairies, so I am wondering what extra things should I get done to the car for the trip and cold weather? I have snow tires, but other than that what should I get done under the hood?

Thank you, Dan

OK Dan, brace yourself, and I don't just mean for winter. The following winter preparedness list is the most comprehensive I have ever put together.

Start with the essentials:

Emergency kit: This can always be tailored to each individual situation and should be dictated by the expected driving conditions, but at least should consist of: Blanket, gloves, spare coat, safety triangle or flares, flashlight, spare engine fluids such as oil, pre-mixed coolant (see coolants below) and windshield fluid, boots, ice scraper, battery jumper cables, light weight shovel, first aid kit, tire chains, granola bars, bottled water, paper towels, etc.

Dress for the weather: So may of use dash to the car, start up the engine, crank up the heat and turn on the seat heaters thinking we're good to go. What happens if you find yourself in an emergency, low on fuel and having to wait for help? Dressing warm will lessen the need to run the engine to stay warm not to mention, if you have to venture outside the vehicle, you will at least be dress somewhat appropriately.

The vehicle fluids:

Engine coolant: Have the condition as well as strength checked out. If the coolant is more than two years old, it's time to have it replaced. A word of caution,modern engines are very picky as to which coolant should be used. There are three types of coolant available:

- Inorganic Additive Technology (IAT),

- Organic Additive Technology (OAT) and

- Hybrid Organic Additive Technology (HOAT)

If you aren't sure what you should use, read your car's owner's manual. Coolants and anti-freeze need to be mixed with water in a 50 per cent solution and if you live in an area that has a high mineral content in the tap water, invest in a jug of distilled water. This is very cheap insurance considering the possibility of expensive repairs caused by the interaction of the minerals against the different metals used in a modern day engine.

Engine oil – get it changed if you can't remember the last time it was changed. Check owner's manual for cold weather viscosity options.

Top up the windshield washer fluid and keep the excess jug in the trunk. The liquid makes a great de-icer for frozen wipers.

Keep the gas tank full for two very good reasons:

1. You may find yourself idling in traffic for extended periods of time. How comforting to know that you won't be a feature on the evening news because you caused the biggest traffic tie-up of the season.

2. Finding yourself in a ditch on a lonely stretch of road can be frightening. Having enough fuel to run the engine for 10 minutes every half hour to keep warm is always a good thing.

The Hardware

Wiper blades: If you can't remember the last time you replaced your wiper blades – now's the time. An easy rule to remember is to replace the blades at each Daylight Savings/Standard time change. I suggest a winter blade replacement in the fall and a normal blade replacement in the spring. If a heavy snowfall is expected, pull the wiper arms off the windshield. Snow can be heavy and the weight can damage the wiper arm mechanism.

Exhaust system integrity: A leaking exhaust is another recipe for disaster. Much more time is spent idling in the winter than in the summer. With the doors closed and windows rolled up, the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning is very real with leaking exhaust pipes or mufflers.

Check the battery: A three year old battery in the cold will let you down. The only question is when. Batteries are good for three to five years of service in a perfect world and unless you live in Arizona or other hot locales, how perfect is what we get dealt every winter?

Get the brakes checked: Poor braking performance is dangerous enough in the summer – imagine how much worse things can get if you throw in snow, rain and ice!?

Install four new-tech winter tires as opposed to the old fashioned "snow tires." The new compounds are amazing in adverse conditions but a word of advice: don't install them too soon. The compounds are soft and the tread wears out much more quickly on dry pavement than summer or regular all-season tires.

Check your tire inflation pressures. Pressures drop drastically in the cold causing the sidewalls to collapse and pinch the tread together as it comes in contact with the road. This lessens the "bite-ability" of the tire.

Check the air pressure in the spare tire – is there a spare tire and do you have tire changing equipment on board?

Make sure that all your running lights work – especially the four-way flashers.

Inspect engine drive belts and hoses. What may have worked well enough in the summer may not work well in cold conditions. Old rubber components harden quickly in the cold, losing their flexibility which can lead to failure.

Have an air conditioning performance check done. I've mentioned this before – the A/C system is used in most vehicles during the defrost mode and aids in the de-humidifying of the cabin.


Keep a container of lock de-icer handy. It not only helps unfreeze a frozen lock, it works on frozen wipers and window rubbers.

Power antenna: Clear away ice that may have formed overnight around the base of the antenna. Last year my wife learned the hard way. After turning on the radio, she noticed a loud grinding noise coming from the front fender – where the power antenna was located. That spring I go to replace the antenna mast drive.

Do yourself a favour and don't try to pull open a frozen door. You could damage the latch and/or hurt your hand. Instead, push on the door with your hip or shoulder. The inward force will break away the ice that may have formed around the weather stripping.

Don't add weight to the trunk of a FWD car. You could actually make front drive traction worse. With a rear drive, consider using bags of salt if you feel that adding weight is an advantage in your particular situation. It doubles as a slippery surface quick fix.

Before you pull out of the driveway, please clear all snow off your car. Blowing snow can blind the driver behind you, and the added weight of the snow, especially on the roof, will adversely affect the handling of the vehicle.

If you own an SUV, test the AWD or 4WD system now before you end up in an emergency. Discover the operating dynamics AND limitations of the AWD/4WD system, and please remember that all the AWD/4WD systems in the word will not make your vehicle corner or brake better than a two-wheel drive vehicle. Although you may be able to accelerate more effectively, braking and cornering are still a function of tire grip.

Slow down.

And finally – if all else fails – keep your cell phone charged and handy.

Procrastinate no more - prepare early – good luck out there!

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