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(Bill Grove/iStockphoto)
(Bill Grove/iStockphoto)

Ask Joanne

Is your vehicle set to go dashing through the snow? Add to ...

I've seen lots of signs posted at service shops lately offering to "winterize" my vehicle. Do you think this service is necessary, and what are the things I really need to think about to prepare my car for winter? - Cathy in Toronto

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Unless you migrate south or hibernate for the winter, there's always a chance you could end up high-centred on a snowbank. Switching your tires is one thing, but there are many other important considerations for driving safely and in comfort this season.

For households without a resident grease monkey, taking the car to a shop is perhaps the only way to prepare for winter. It may come as no surprise that many shops advertise a winterize service package. So what does this entail?

"Everybody should do a winter maintenance package," says Dan Boutcher, owner of two Speedy Auto Service shops in Burlington. "Ours includes oil, lube and filter, rotating the tires, inspecting the steering, suspension and brakes, wiper blades, lights, fluids, belts and hoses, and lubricating all the door latches and hinges. All those inspections, plus anything else that needs maintenance. And, of course, coolant needs to be tested for strength."

So is this really necessary? "Our suggestion is to be pro-active. We're all busy, but to drive safely this winter, you've got to have a basic mechanical inspection, check the hoses, belts, brakes, tires, and battery. How else do you plan to test the battery if you don't own a tester?" says Dave Weloy, manager, vehicle inspections and approved auto repair service for the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) in British Columbia.

"The number one thing we see with our Roadside Assistance is the battery - a simple thing, but it's overlooked all the time. People assume every time they turn the key, their vehicle will start - and then on one extreme cold day when you're miles from nowhere, it's toast."

"Another big thing is winter tires," says Weloy. "People often ask: are all-season tires good enough? Winter tires are what you need.

"Putting four winter tires on your vehicle is the best way to go. Some people only put two winter tires on the front, and two all-season tires on the back. But when they try to stop or manoeuvre, the winter tires in front grab and the back end starts kicking out on them. People will try and see what they can get away with, but your safety is worth the extra cost."

Keeping an emergency kit in the back is also important. You never know where, or for how long, you may get stuck. Make sure you're travelling with a charged cellphone, blanket, warm clothes, food, water, matches, flares, jumper cables, a brush/scraper, shovel, bags of sand or salt, gas line antifreeze, a flashlight and even chains for extra traction. And of course, make sure your gas tank is full.

So you've readied yourself for dubious weather conditions with the essentials. For those who want to go an extra mile, there are a few more things to consider.

Slush mats, and perhaps an interior heater with a timer - which can be set half an hour before you use the vehicle. As a replacement for jumper cables, a battery jumper pack holds a charge and enables you to give yourself a boost. Some even come with a built-in air compressor and trouble light, for those roadside emergencies.

My advice is to pay a few dollars to winterize your vehicle and compile that emergency kit, so you don't unintentionally end up walking in a wonderland this winter.

Joanne Will welcomes your questions. E-Mail Ask Joanne at globedrive@globeandmail.com

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