Entering the deep freeze

Maintaining your vehicle’s health and your safety for the winter months

Photo by Carolyne Kroeker

Getting from point A to point B has never been easier. With a push of a button and a turn of a key, you’re barrelling down the motorway in a comfortable sardine tin with a few pillows that eject in the case of a crash.

This all comes to a screeching halt at the first snowfall, when our streets are full of motorists who struggle to grasp the concept of winter driving, with cars that are ill-prepared for the weather.

We can make our roads safer by spending a bit of time winterizing our vehicles to make them more reliable and easier to drive. I spoke to a local automotive technician, Benjamin May of Automotive Connection, to ask what we can do to help our cars to stand up to the test of winter.



His first recommendation is to change the regular engine oil for full synthetic oil. It not only flows better, but also lubricates in a superior fashion. Choosing the right type of motor oil for your vehicle plays a vital factor in the health, durability, and strength of your engine. The lower the viscosity, the better.

In oil terms, a viscosity rating has two parts: shear and flow. Shear is how an oil’s viscosity changes under stress, or how an oil thins while under pressure or mechanical stress. The flow is how fast an oil flows. The better the oil shears, the lower the viscosity and the higher the flow, and, in turn, the better the lubrication.

For example, Mobil 1 10W-30 motor oil at 4 C has a viscosity of 63.2 centistokes (cSt). It maintains the characteristic viscosity of molasses, and flows much the same. Most new vehicles call for Mobil 1 5W-20, and a Mobile 1 5W-20 Advanced Full Synthetic motor oil contains a viscosity of 49.8 cSt at 4 C. The 5W-20 has a viscosity rating of 13.4 less than the 10W-30, meaning that it lubricates better, flows faster, and the viscosity is reduced under stress.

When in doubt of what oil to use, check your owner’s manual, or in some vehicles, it will be written on the oil cap.



An essential part of winter maintenance and preparation should be coolant. Coolant, similar to oil, has different ratings for different temperatures. The recommended coolant for vehicles in the winter months is 60/40: 60 per cent coolant and 40 per cent water.

The coolant and water mix does the job of not just cooling, but preventing rust and corrosion in the vital organs of the cooling system of your car. The water in the coolant is what removes heat from the system and runs it through the heater core, where the cabin heat is generated.

If your heater isn’t blowing warm air, your coolant and motor are still cold. A way to avoid this is to let your vehicle warm up for a set span of time. Letting your engine warm up to an efficient operating temperature reduces the wear inflicted on your engine. Warming up in excess of 10 minutes is not advised because not only does it wastes fuel, but your engine is not operating at peak performance levels, which in turn may harm your vehicle.



A big part of winter driving is tires. Advances in tire technology have made strides, a quarter mile at a time. The compounds used in tires have come a long way since the days of all-season tires, rendering them inferior to a proper approved winter tire for driving in low temperatures.

All-season tires are not safe for the winter months, and not only do they endanger you and your vehicle, but other motorists too. The rubber tire compound that is used in making all-season and summer tires becomes harder and stiffer at temperatures below 9 degrees Celsius. This leads to longer stopping distances, loss of traction, and a great deterioration of the handling of your vehicle. Winter tires should be installed once the temperature is consistently below 9 degrees Celsius.

When looking for the right winter tire for your vehicle, be sure to look for the snowflake on the sidewall, which means that the tire is approved by Transport Canada. A tire that is approved by Transport Canada is eligible for the Manitoba Public Insurance Tire Program, which allows consumers to pay monthly pre-authorized payments for their tires. This program not only saves consumers from having to front a large bill in one payment, but it makes our roads and vehicles safer.

In addition to changing your vehicle’s tires, be sure to check the tire pressure regularly. Fluctuation in temperature can cause inflation or deflation of the pressure of the tire. Information pertaining to the pressure can be found in your vehicle’s owner manual, or in the driver’s doorjamb.



Finally, it is always a good idea to get a winter inspection for your vehicle. This covers a wide range of components, ranging from an exterior light check, battery crank strength test, and ignition system check, right down to testing your vehicle’s block heater.

After you equip your vehicle with the essential tools and perform the necessary maintenance for winter driving, you and other motorists will be safer. Your car will thank you by starting and running strongly throughout the barren months of winter.


Thanks to Benjamin May and Auto Connection for providing their time and information for this article.