Be Prepared for Driving in Winter Conditions

Whether we like it or not, winter is coming. As Canadians we need to deal with the annual winter season and the cold, snow and ice that come along with it. The change in weather brings new driving conditions and your vehicle will handle differently in these conditions. Your approach to driving needs to change. Your ability to drive safely will be greatly improved by preparing your vehicle for winter road conditions and following safe driving practices. 

Ideally, you should prepare your vehicle before the snow begins to fall and service centres get busy. It is recommended that you take your car or truck to a licensed automotive service technician to perform a seasonal maintenance check-up. Weak batteries should be replaced. Brakes should be adjusted to maintain even braking. Hoses and exhaust should be checked for leaks and to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure your vehicle’s coolant system is filled with antifreeze rated for the coldest weather you will encounter in your area. Check that defrosters are working properly. Be sure to replace your windshield wiper fluid with winter fluid. It is also a good idea to install winter-rated windshield wipers.

Winter tires are essential in the Canadian winter season. While all season tires are designed for all types of weather, they do not perform as well as snow tires in snow, ice and cold. As the temperature falls tires will be affected. Winter tires are designed for the lower temperatures while non-winter tires lose elasticity. If you do choose to use all season tires, be aware that they do not have the same grip on ice and deep snow, and so you might want to avoid driving on those bad weather days. This is a good time to rotate your tires. Do not mix different types of tires. Be sure that all four winter tires have the correct tread pattern and are the correct size for your vehicle. Worn tires have less traction. Tire pressure must be monitored. Lowering tire pressure does not increase traction. 

When you do hit the road, observe these safety tips:

  • Do not drive when fatigued or tired.
  • Check weather conditions before you head out. Ensure that you are dressed properly for the weather in the event your vehicle does break down.
  • When planning your departure time, take into consideration slower traffic speeds due to adverse weather conditions. Leave early. Do not rush.
  • In reduced visibility, slow down and drive with greater caution.
  • Don’t leave your cell phone or other electronic devices in your car. Leaving electronic devices in frigid conditions such as inside a parked car can cause the device battery to decline faster and possibly even freeze. You will be especially grateful for a fully-charged phone in the event of an emergency.
  • Do not drive with icy windows. Always clear ice from all vehicle windows before departing. Be sure to clear snow from the entire car (roof included) so that it does not fly off while driving and create a hazard for other drivers. In Ontario, this isn’t just a recommendation – it’s the law.
  • It is a good idea to have a safety kit in your car. We recommend keeping basic winter tools in your trunk: sand or kitty litter to improve traction on ice, a snow brush and ice scraper, booster cables, warning lights (flares), extra windshield wiper fluid, a flash light, a blanket, extra hats and gloves. A few snacks are also a worthwhile addition to your kit.

Stay alert at all times. Black ice is potentially everywhere. It is a good idea to take a refresher course on safe winter driving practices and techniques. Installing proper snow tires may save you money as many insurers offer a discount on your insurance premiums. A properly maintained vehicle will be less likely to break down in the first place. Most of all, slow down and be extra cautious.

Michael Henry is a founding partner of Howie, Sacks & Henry. He practises personal injury law, with an emphasis on motor vehicle accident claims, as well as claims related to motorcycle accidents, boating accidents, recreation/sports injuries, and more. If you or someone you love have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please contact Michael Henry at 416-361-0998 or

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