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Do you Know How to Handle your Car in the Winter?

Car in Snow

Winter Driving


Winter driving can be serious business. Be prepared. If you do a lot of winter driving in isolated regions, consider having a citizens band radio. *9-1-1 is a free call to police and ambulance on your cellphone.

Heed the warnings from local weather offices of Environment Canada of impending blizzards, heavy snow, freezing rain or drizzle, cold waves and winds, and black ice.

Tune up your car. Winter weather presents the greatest challenge to your car and its engine. Prepare for winter by getting a complete checkup in the fall. Your tune-up should include battery, belts, hoses, radiator, coolant/antifreeze, oil, lights, brakes, exhaust system, heater/defroster, wipers, ignition system and tires.

Traction is the key to good movement, turning and stopping on wet surfaces.

Check the tires and tire pressure at least once a month when the tires are cold.

Make sure wipers are in good condition and fill up on windshield washer fluid. Blades that streak should be replaced. Make sure there is enough windshield washer fluid in the reservoir and that it is rated in the -40°C temperature range. Carry an extra jug in the vehicle.

On the Road

If you must drive in bad weather, think caution, plan ahead and make sure you have enough fuel.

  • Try to keep the fuel tank at least half full.
  • Be alert, well-rested and sober behind the wheel.
  • Check mirrors and environment controls before you start.
  • Don't forget to wear your seatbelt and ensure all children are correctly positioned in appropriate child car seats and booster seats. Children 12 and under should ride properly buckled up in the back seat.

See and be seen. Clear all snow from the hood, roof, windows and lights. Clear all windows of fog. If visibility becomes poor, find a place to pull off the road safely as soon as possible. It's best to stop at a rest area or exit the roadway and go to a protected area. If the roadside is your only option, pull off the road as far as you can. Other drivers frequently strike vehicles parked at the side of the road. In reduced visibility, you should make sure your emergency flashers are on to alert other drivers.

Check weather and travel conditions before heading out. Give yourself extra time for travel and, if weather is bad, wait for conditions to improve. Plan your route and let someone know which way you'll be travelling, your destination and expected arrival time, especially when driving long distances. If you don't turn up after a reasonable delay, people will know where to search for you. If the going gets tough, turn back or seek refuge.

Try to keep to the main roads and drive with caution, measuring your speed to road and weather conditions. Avoid passing another vehicle, if possible, when weather and road conditions are bad.

It's a good idea to take a cellphone with you. It can be very valuable, especially in an emergency or if you need help. But don't talk and drive. Drivers should not use a cellphone while the vehicle is in motion. Let a passenger call for you or pull over to a safe spot to place a call for assistance.

Winter Survival Kit

The Canadian Automobile Association recommends that you keep the following items in the trunk of your car:

  • Shovel
  • Sand or cat litter
  • Traction mats
  • Tow chain
  • Compass
  • Cloth or roll of paper towels
  • Warning light or road flares
  • Extra clothing and footwear
  • Emergency food pack
  • Booster cables
  • Ice scraper and brush
  • Extra windshield washer fluid
  • Matches and a “survival” candle in a deep can (to warm hands, heat a drink or use as an emergency light)
  • Fuel-line antifreeze

The following items should be kept in the passenger compartment of your car.

  • Road map
  • Flashlight
  • First-aid kit
  • Blanket (special “survival” blankets are best)

If you get trapped in a storm or snow-bank, don't panic!

Avoid overexertion and exposure. Shovelling and bitter cold can kill. Stay in your car. You won't get lost and you'll have shelter.

  • Keep fresh air in your car. Open a window on the side sheltered from the wind.
  • Run your motor sparingly. Beware of exhaust fumes and the possibility of carbon monoxide. Ensure the tailpipe is not blocked by snow.
  • Use a candle for heat, instead of the car’s heater, if possible.
  • Set out a warning light or flares. Turn on the dome light (overuse of headlights may run your battery down).
  • Exercise your limbs vigorously. Keep moving and don’t fall asleep. Keep watch for traffic or searchers.
  • Wear a hat. You can lose up to 60% of your body heat through your head.


Winter collisions can occur when your vehicle skids. Remember that not all vehicles respond in the same way to icy, slippery roads. You must know how to handle your vehicle and how it responds in various weather conditions. Consult your owner's manual and familiarize yourself with your vehicle's braking system and tire traction. You may want to consider taking a driver education course that teaches emergency driving techniques.

Skids can best be avoided by driving for conditions, slowing down, allowing extra time to get to your destination and anticipating lane changes, turns and curves. Slowing down in advance, making smooth, precise movements of the steering wheel and being sensitive to how your vehicle is steering are also recommended.

Even careful and experienced drivers experience skids. Don't panic! Learn to handle skids and remember that, sometimes, the vehicle will skid a second and even third time after the initial skid. Decelerate by taking your foot off the brake, step on the clutch or shift to neutral then look where you want your vehicle to go and steer in that direction.


To survive on the road in winter, proper braking is essential. Stopping on a slippery surface requires more space, so increase your following distance. Focus your attention as far ahead as possible.

The best way to stop on a slippery surface is to use threshold or controlled braking and shift to neutral. If you don't have anti-lock brakes, the best way to use threshold or controlled braking is to keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use your toes to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal. Stop just short of locking the wheels.

Under the stress of trying to stop quickly, drivers almost inevitably overreact and lock the wheels. If this happens, release brake pressure, then immediately reapply it with slightly less pressure. Do not remove your foot from the brake or pump the pedal.

By IBC <http://www.ibc.ca/en/In_the_Community/Road_Safety/Winter_Driving.asp>

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