December is here and no matter where you live in Canada, the days have gotten shorter and cooler, and you may have already experienced snowfall. While you can't always predict the weather, it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll have to face at least a few storms during the winter season.
And whether you're a veteran in driving under extreme weather conditions or you're still getting used to the feel of a snow-covered road, it's important to prep yourself -- and your car -- for what's ahead.
If you haven't already, get your snow tires on
Your winter-ready routine should begin with taking your car in to your local mechanic or dealership to get it serviced and fix any issues that could pose a problem in severe weather. But one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself is getting snow tires installed. If you already own them, you may know that the optimal time to put them on is when average daily highs start hovering around 7° Celsius or less.
If you don't have snow tires and use summer or all-seasons throughout the winter, consider winter tires as an investment in your safety. What sets these tires apart from their summer and all-seasons counterparts are the deeper grooves within the rubber. This gives your vehicle superior traction and grip in snow, ice and cold temperatures - both in the city and in the country - all the way down to -30° Celsius or colder. In order for them to work, though, you must install all four. Only putting them on the front or the back of your car can be dangerous.
For motorists in Quebec, snow tires are not an option. Since 2008, all cars within the province must be fitted with them from December 15 through March 15. Penalties for being caught without these tires on are fines ranging from $200 to $300.
If all of that still hasn't convinced you, remember that you may be eligible for a discount of up to five per cent on your auto insurance policy for having all four winter tires installed. In Ontario, specifically, it is mandatory for insurance companies to give this discount.
Prepare for emergencies
If you don't already have an emergency kit in your vehicle, this can help keep you safe and warm in the event your car breaks down or becomes stuck in a snowbank. Emergency kits should include:
- A first-aid kit with bandages, gauze pads, medical tape and any items pertinent to medical conditions you or your family members may have.
- A portable battery charger for your smartphone or cellphone.
- Non-perishable food, snacks and water bottles.
- Blankets (regular and thermal), extra clothes, gloves and winter-appropriate footwear.
- Wind up or battery-operated flashlights, extra batteries, waterproof matches and candles
- A paper map, as well as a printed list of emergency contacts with numbers for family, friends and doctors, in case you can't access information on your phone.
- Road flares, reflective "call police" sign, reflective safety vests and a whistle.
- A folding shovel, and cat litter or sand to help with traction should your wheels become stuck.
- Heat packets for hands and feet.
- Extra bottles of windshield washer fluid and antifreeze.
- Swiss Army knife, jump starter cables, a tow chain or rope, ice scraper and brush, paper towels, screw driver, duct tape, fire extinguisher, a properly inflated spare tire, and a wheel wrench and jack.
Remember to go through the kit at least once per year to make sure everything is still in working order. Replace any items that show wear and tear or have expired.
Before the bad weather hits
Don't stress out about long term forecasts, but it's a good idea to always check your phone's weather app or local TV and radio broadcasts for weather reports covering the next 24 hours. This will give you an idea of how much time you'll need for your commute so you can plan ahead and leave early if necessary. If a storm hits, tune into local traffic reports before setting out and plan alternate routes in case you hit road closures. Wear clothing that's appropriate for the conditions (but doesn't hinder your ability to drive), so that you'll stay warm if your car should break down. And if it's an exceptionally bad storm, don't risk it and stay home.
Clean more than just your car windows
If you're getting into your car following a snowfall, do not drive off without cleaning off your roof, mirrors, or hood and trunk of snow as this can be a safety hazard. You don't want a giant piece of snow sliding over your windshield and impeding your visibility while you're on the highway; nor do you want that snow to blow onto another vehicle. Take the extra few minutes to brush off your entire car. Not doing so is dangerous and could possibly earn you a ticket and affect your auto insurance premium.
Drive with caution
Whether you're in the midst of a heavy snowstorm or a clear, crisp sunny day, it's important to be extra careful while driving in the winter. In fact, winter accidents often occur when the weather is calm and not during storms - likely because drivers feel they don't need to be as cautious. However, you can still encounter black ice or other obstacles, so it's important to stay alert and focused at all times.
Slow down and take your time under wet conditions. It's better to arrive safely but late, rather than the alternative. Don't follow the vehicle in front of you too closely, and start braking earlier when approaching an amber light, crosswalk or stop sign.
Remember: even if it appears safe, driving too fast for the conditions or following too closely could result in a collision and/or earn you a traffic violation.
And finally ... fill up often!
If you tend to avoid the gas station until the gas gauge light goes on, winter is the time to break that habit. Don't let your tank fall below half-full when the weather is at its worst. Not only does this give you extra fuel in the event you become stranded, but it also limits condensation and reduces the chance that your gas line will freeze.
Winter in Canada can be unpredictable, but properly outfit your car and brush off your winter driving skills and you'll be prepared for any situation.
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