Winter Driving: What You Need To Know

Get your vehicle ready for winter

Winter weather can be had on your vehicle! You need to prepare your car for Winter during Fall, by following the tips below:

  • Battery: Your vehicle needs a fully charged battery in order to start in cold weather. Have your battery tested in the Fall and Spring, and if your car battery is weak, replace it before it fails.
  • Ignition system: Replace any defective ignition wires, cracked distributor caps and worn spark plugs, as they can make starting your vehicle difficult and can cause a sudden breakdown.
  • Lights: Make sure all your lights work and that your headlights are properly aimed.
  • Brakes: Ensure your vehicle has even braking by taking your car to get checked. Pulling, change in pedal feel, or unusual squealing or grinding may mean they need repair.
  • Tires: Winter tires are mandatory. Your winter tires should have a pictograph on the side-wall of a peaked mountain with a snowflake. Check pressures often. Tires should be properly inflated. Since having four matching tires improves vehicle handling, don’t mix tires with different tread patterns, internal construction and size.
  • Exhaust system: Check for leaks that could send deadly carbon monoxide into your vehicle.
  • Heating and cooling system: Check your radiator hoses and drive belts for cracks and leaks. Make sure the radiator cap, water pump and thermostat work properly.
  • Windshield wipers: Make sure that your wipers are in good condition. Replace blades that streak. Purchase wipers designed for winter use. Fill up on winter washer fluid in the -40°C temperature range and carry an extra jug in your vehicle.

Keep the following items inside your vehicle:

  • Ice scraper and brush
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit

Watch the weather

Avoid driving in bad weather conditions, especially if you are not used to driving in winter. Environment Canada issues warnings when it expects blizzards, heavy snow, freezing rain or drizzle, cold snaps and winds.

  • Snow and ice are more slippery at 0°C than at -20°C or below.
  • Watch for black ice at temperatures between +4°C and -4°C, where the road surface ahead looks black and shiny. It is often found on shaded areas of the road, bridges and overpasses long after the sun has come out.

Prepare for driving

The safest strategy is to avoid driving in bad winter conditions. If you must drive, check the conditions before heading out.

  • Give yourself extra time for travel and, if the weather is bad, wait for conditions to improve.
  • Always be alert, well-rested and sober behind the wheel and always wear your seat belt.
  • See and be seen. Remove all snow from your vehicle’s hood, roof, windows and lights. Clear all windows of frost and fog.
  • Stay on main roads and drive carefully: Match your speed to the road and weather conditions. Avoid passing another vehicle when weather and road conditions are bad.
  • Wear warm clothes that do not restrict movement.
  • We recommend students to avoid driving on the highway during winter. The Coquihalla can be quite dangerous, and conditions on the highway are often changing. Even if you are an experienced driver, winter conditions are very dangerous.

Avoid collisions

As a new driver in Canada, you may consider taking a winter driving course. There are many dangers of winter driving, and skidding is the most common.

Skidding: (of a vehicle) slide, typically sideways or obliquely, on slippery ground or as a result of stopping or turning too quickly.

The danger of skidding is greatest when you are taken by surprise. Since not all vehicles respond in the same way to icy, slippery roads, learn how to handle your vehicle in all types of weather. You may also consider taking a winter driving course.

How to avoid skidding? Even careful and experienced drivers can skid, so be prepared. A good way to avoid skidding is to slow down. Allow extra travel time and be very careful when you brake, change lanes, make turns and take curves. Avoid forceful braking or sudden, jerking movement of the wheel.

Proper braking is important to safe winter driving. Since it takes longer to stop on a slippery road, you should:

  • Leave more distance than normal between and your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you.
  • Pay close attention to the road – as far ahead as you can.
  • If you don’t have anti-lock brakes (ABS), the best way to stop on a slippery road is to brake but not so hard that your tires stop turning. If you brake too hard and cause the wheels to lock (stop turning), release the pedal just enough to get the wheels rolling.

For more information on Winter Driving, please visit Transport Canada’s website.